It was Mrs. Figg who suspected first.
She noticed many things, sitting on her side of her fence with her cats chasing butterflies and nuzzling her ankles, Mundungus and the other watchers dropping by for tea now and then.
Mrs. Figg noticed that Petunia was a nosy bit of work with insecurities hanging from her every harsh angle. She noticed when Dudley learned the word MINE-- the whole neighborhood noticed that one. She noticed that Vernon glared at owls.
She noticed that when Petunia gave Harry a truly horrendous haircut one year, it grew back in at a normal rate. Harry was uneven and weird-looking for ages, hiding under beanies when he could.
When Mrs. Figg had Harry over for carefully miserable afternoons of babysitting, she noticed nothing moved that shouldn't. He didn't accidentally make flowers out of fallen leaves, or levitate anything during tantrums, or turn toys funny colors.
Mrs. Figg called up her mother, interrupting the wizarding bridge game she was winning against the nursing home staff, and asked her how she had known, decades back, that her youngest daughter was a squib.
When Albus Dumbledore received Mrs. Figg's letter he wrote back a polite thank you and then went to talk with Minerva McGonagall, who inhaled sharply in horror when he told her the news.
Finally, McGonagall gave a gathered sigh. "I suppose we can ask one of the wizarding families to homeschool him," she said. "We can't have the Boy Who Lived not knowing about his own world."
"No, he'll come to Hogwarts," said Dumbledore.
"Hogwarts is not a place for--" Her voice fell. "--squibs, Albus."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Harry must be taught."
"Be taught what, Albus?"
But Dumbledore just sighed and offered her a lemon drop.
Years later, the owls and the letters came to 4 Privet Drive. The Dursleys ran, dragging Harry with them, and the letters and one stubborn gamekeeper followed-- none of this would change with a magicless Harry.
When Hagrid asked Harry in that little cabin on that little rock in the middle of the sea if weird things always happened around him, Harry couldn't tell him about vanishing glass and setting captive snakes free, about ending up somehow on the school roof, or growing his hair out overnight.
"Strange things always happen around you, don' they?"
"Um," said Harry, racking his brain. "Well... I live in a cupboard under the stairs..."
Harry could tell him about how snakes sometimes talked back, because that had never been Harry's magic, but when he did Hagrid just blanched and changed the subject.
Hagrid held out hope, even against Dumbledore's quiet warning explanations, until they made it to Ollivander's Wands. Harry marveled at Diagon Alley, got his hands shaken in the Leaky, pressed his nose up against shop windows. Hagrid watched the scant boy-- looked at James's messy hair, Lily's eyes, Harry's own wandering gaze-- and he wondered how this boy could be anything but magical.
In the wand shop, Ollivander said, "James Potter, yes... mahogany, eleven inches. Pliable. A powerful wand for Transfiguration.” He said, “And your mother, Lily... strong in Charms work, ten and... yes, ten and a quarter, willow, swishy."
Harry picked up stick after wooden stick. They remained just that-- wood with bits of feather or scale or hair. Harry wondered if the creatures who gave these offerings were still alive-- if they were given or taken. What did it do to your wand when they died? He waved a maplewood wand (unicorn hair, eleven inches) and a gust from the door opening blew some receipts off the counter.
"Well, said Ollivander. "I think that's as close as we're likely to get."
He sent them out with the maplewood. Hagrid bought Harry a snowy owl and a fudge sundae and tried not make it too obvious that these were condolence gifts. The next day the Prophet's headlines read: The Boy Who Lived-- A Squib? Various magical medical experts weighed in on how it might have happened. Fingers were pointed at childhood trauma, at his upbringing, at his family lineage.
Harry still met Ron on the train-- Ron was still smudge-nosed and Harry still bought enough candy to share. When Molly had helped him through the platform entrance, her voice had been a little softer, a little more pitying-- but it was still better than the laughter that had been in his aunt and uncle's voices when they dropped him here to find a platform they didn't think existed.
Hermione Granger dropped by their compartment, looking for Neville's toad, but got distracted when she spotted Harry. "I've read about you! In my books, and in the paper," she said. "You're the Boy Who Lived, and you're a squib."
Harry sank down in his seat. Ron hid Scabbers under a candy wrapper.
"Squibs have never been allowed in Hogwarts," Hermione announced. "According to Hogwarts, A History, squibs try to sneak in now and then-- the furthest anyone's ever gotten is to the Sorting Hat before they got found out." At eleven, Hermione still believed in expulsion being worse than death. Her voice was thrumming with sympathetic horror.
"But they already found out about me," Harry said, alarmed.
"It's alright, mate," said Ron. "You're Harry Potter. Oy, Granger," he added. "What's this Hat? Fred and George were trying to sell me some story about having to fight a mountain troll to get your House..."
Harry sat back and watched the countryside rush by. Yes, he was Harry Potter-- his aunt's useless sister's useless child, the boy in the lumpy hand-me-down sweaters who named the spiders who lived in his cupboard. And here, in new world, he was apparently useless too.
When they got to Hogwarts, Harry clenched his fists and stood in line with the other first years. He barely twitched at the ghosts or Peeves, just stared ahead and thought about how far he would get before they turned him around and sent him back to Vernon and Petunia.
They opened the Great Hall doors. They called the first years one by one. Harry clenched his teeth and walked up to the Hat when they called his name.
As he turned to sit down on the stool, he really caught sight of the Hall for the first time-- the hovering candles, the big wooden tables, the black robes that swallowed the light. Translucent ghosts gossiped with the students beside them. The paintings on the far walls-- were they moving?
Harry's jaw had unclenched, falling open. His fists curled open, curving around the stool's seat as he leaned forward to stare. If this was it, if this was as far as he'd get in this world, then he wanted to drink it all in. The candles were floating, in mid-air.
The Hat dropped down over his eyes and blocked out the light.
Well, said the dry voice that had been hollering House placements all night. What do we have here?
Ron had been begging for not-Slytherin. Draco from the robes shop had been scornful of Hufflepuff, desperate in his disdain. Neville had begged for Hufflepuff, sure he was not brave enough for Gryffindor.
Please, thought Harry. Don't send me back.
Of course not, lad, Dumbledore's already spoken to me about the extenuating circumstances, the Hat said. But where to put you?
It tried to make a case for Slytherin--you want this, this world, so badly--and ah, the ruckus that would cause! (I was, after all, Godric's hat). You would do something, in Slytherin.
But Harry had liked Ron's smudged nose, humor, and grounded practicality. He had not liked the way Draco had sneered-- Draco had looked like Petunia, and then like Dudley, in quick ugly succession.
Not Slytherin, he thought at the Hat.
Well then, better be-- GRYFFINDOR!
If the applause from the Gryffindor table was a little quieter than it might have been if whispers hadn't already gone up and down the benches about Harry Potter, the squib, the freak-- well, Harry really had nothing to compare it to.
When Draco snatched up Neville's Rememberall, Harry, magicless, still saw Dudley's sneer and still demanded he give it back. When Draco hopped on a broomstick, Harry still followed.
Brooms are magic unto themselves. Invisibility cloaks are magic unto themselves. Little boys who believe in fighting for other people are magic unto themselves. Harry would never cast a charm or a hex, but he would throw a lot of punches, he would laugh at a lot of midnights, and a lot of people would raise their wands in his name.
But for now-- Harry went after Draco by broom. Harry had inherited no magic from his father, but he had inherited a knack for flying. From his mother, he had inherited a distaste for bullies.
People would find Harry in the hallways and squint at him. "Squib," hulking Slytherins sneered and shouldered past him.
"That's what happens when you marry out into Mudbloods," two girls whispered to each other.
People bumped him in hallways, or stared at supper, or asked him what it was like being different-- it was a very ordinary Tuesday at the library when Harry snapped. A Ravenclaw kept shooting him glances from the next table over so Harry dropped his Herbology book and stomped over.
"You got a problem with me being a squib?" Harry asked of the Ravenclaw, who he thought was named Anthony Goldstein. "You've been glaring for weeks."
Anthony considered him. "Why're you asking me? I'm not the only person unhappy to see you here."
Harry felt his shoulders rise, then let them fall. "Yeah but you don't seem that likely to beat me up or yell at me. You seem like talking might fix it. Or help. So, you got a problem?"
Anthony's eyes flicked to his scar, then down again. "Not with squibs," he said.
"Then what's the problem?"
"My big sister's a squib," said Anthony. "Should've seen her face when my parents had to tell her she couldn't go to school with all the other kids. But here you are."
Harry blinked, his own gaze dropping to his toes.
"So, no, I don't have a problem with squibs," said Anthony. "Just special little kids who get things handed to them. It's probably not even your fault, Potter, but I still don't have to like it."
Harry nodded and walked back to his table and Anthony, surprised, watched him go.
Teachers pulled him aside to pat his head and tell him he was doing well, all things considered.
"Harry Potter, our local charity case," Snape murmured coldly on the first day of class. He told Harry to go sit in the corner-- his class was for witches and wizards only.
McGonagall pulled him aside, too-- but she gave him a stack of books and worksheets that almost bowled him over. "You may not be able to Transfigure anything, Potter, but I'll be damned if you don't learn something while you're here."
While his peers worked at transforming needles into matches and vice versa, Harry sat near where Ron and Seamus were squabbling about whether Ron's match seemed pointier and he read.
He read beginner 'how to's' on Transfiguration ("even if you can't perform, understanding how the process is meant to work might be illuminating," McGonagall explained). He read theory while the rest of them sweated over practice.
Hermione turned in three shining needles, Ron turned in a match that was a bit heavier than wood alone might be, and Harry turned in six meandering inches on the history of Transfiguration. The first recorded Transfiguration was of rock to wood by unnamed wizard...
When Harry got left in Filch's office and found the 'Qwikspell (TM) for Squibs!' papers in his desk, he didn't have to wonder what the word squib meant. When Filch got back from dealing with Peeves and the Vanishing Cabinet, Harry was still standing there, holding the Qwikspell papers carefully.
"Do these work?"
Filch saw the little messy-haired boy standing there--coveted Hogwarts robes on his shoulders, famous scar, a life ahead of him--and the hope brimming in his eyes.
Filch felt his heart grow a couple sizes in his chest. He tore the papers from Harry's hands, snapped, "Clearly not," and slammed the door behind him.
Magicless, Harry still peeled off the back of the gaggle of first years Percy was leading when he heard Hermione didn't know about the troll in the dungeons-- and Ron still followed. Even if one of you is magicless and one of you is Muggleborn, there are some things you can't share without becoming friends afterwards.
Hermione started sitting with them at supper and during class, and complaining jealously about the cool magical theory McGonagall kept shoveling onto Harry's plate. She turned a mouse into a tea cup and Harry turned in a shaky twelve inches on the intersection of identity and form in Transfiguration theory. Hermione got full points. Harry got a red ink corrections covering half his essay, another book to read, and a small 'good work, Potter' on the bottom left-hand corner of the page.
When McGonagall figured out Snape was refusing to teach Harry, the resulting fight shook the teacher's lounge walls and bled over into the hallways. Only by calling on Dumbledore was she able to get him to let Harry sit at a table with other students, instead of alone in a corner. She called Harry into her office after class soon after and thrust a pile of books at him. Beginning Potions. Ingredients: the Why and How of the What. History of the Brewing Arts.
"I can do less, so I have to do more?" Harry said.
McGonagall looked at him sternly. She didn't know what she was going to say before she opened her mouth and she tried, when the words hit air, to not look surprised with herself. "What you can do is not less."
When Harry, Hermione, and Ron figured out about Fluffy, Voldemort, and the Stone, Harry did not hesitate any more than he would have had the wooden stick in his pocket been anything of use. If Hermione and Ron hesitated, they had the grace to keep it to themselves.
Hermione burned down the Devil's Snare, still the best witch of her age. Still Gryffindor's youngest Seeker, Harry chased down the flying key. Ron won the chess game and Hermione solved the potions riddle, though they argued longer, in this world, about who should take the one mouthful of potion and move on to the next challenge.
"At least I have a wand!" Hermione said.
"Yeah," said Harry. "But I survived him before, somehow. Plenty of people with wands didn't manage that."
Harry swallowed the potion and stepped through the flames alone.
The boy had no magic except what other people hung on him-- Voldemort's fragmented soul, snake whispers, nightmares; his mother's shielding love; his father's cloak.
He had no magic except what he made, what he earned-- the way he asked his friends to raise their wands for him and they did.
But he still did have what they had given him-- he had talked to the boa in the zoo, even if he had not managed to wish it free. He and Ron and Hermione had snuck here under his father's Cloak. When Quirrell reached out his hand and touched Harry in that last chamber, Lily's love and life reached out and killed him.
Harry woke up in the medical ward to a furious McGonagall, followed shortly by a pleased, enigmatic Dumbledore. In the heap of summer reading she and Flitwick sent home with him, McGonagall included a little volume about common sense and safety. Harry read it aloud to Hedwig.
Oliver Wood had still snatched Harry up, squib or not, during his first year, so when Harry got back to school his second year he threw himself into Quidditch practice.
His professor had been possessed by the ghost of the guy who killed his parents and then the prof had died trying to kill Harry; his aunt and uncle had locked him in his room all summer til his friends had rescued him in a flying car; a tiny weird elf creature had told Harry Hogwarts was too dangerous to return to, but Harry had lived through bigoted shoves all the year before; McGonagall and Flitwick both had new stacks of books for Harry to read on magical theory and construction and glints in their eyes that said they expected work from him-- so Harry threw himself into Quidditch.
Quidditch, at least, made sense. Flying felt like something that had been built into him. High in the air, the Snitch in sight, Harry felt magical in a way he didn't anywhere else in this world.
One of the few magics Harry had been left with, however, was Parseltongue, so Dueling Club went about as usual. He told a snake to leave Ernie alone, everyone else heard hissing, and then the castle was filled with whispered rumors about Harry Potter, squib, Dark Wizard slayer, Quidditch star, and murderous Heir of Slytherin.
"Yeah he sicced that monster on his own self," said Ron, rolling his eyes, when people whispered "Heir of Slytherin" in the hallways.
Ernie Macmilliam puffed up his chest and stuck out his chin. "He, he just-- Potter just wants to be the only one!"
"He is the only squib at Hogwarts," Anthony snapped,and then stormed off to Potions.
The halls kept staring and jeering and sidling away from Harry. He tucked his chin over McGonagall's latest pile of assigned reading and kept walking.
Anthony Goldstein watched this, for months, as Hogwarts fell into its intensive and absurd obsession with Christmas. Anthony did his homework, shared sympathetic long-suffering glances with Cho Chang (Buddhist), the Patil twins (Hindu), and Lee Jordan (also Jewish), and wrote home to his parents and his big sister Leah. Then Anthony cornered a fairly alarmed looking Harry on the way to Charms.
"You stay here over the winter holidays, don't you?"
Harry nodded slowly.
"Want to come home with my family? It would get you out of this madhouse."
Harry was eyeing him warily. "Why?"
Someone's voice drifted down the hall: "... heir of Slytherin..."
Anthony shrugged. "Well, your life sort of sucks."
"Well," said Harry. "That sounds great, thanks, Anthony."
The Cohen-Goldsteins lived out in the wizarding part of Bristol, but Mr. Cohen-Goldstein had come from the Muggle part of it and he was still rather fond of it even if he had largely come over to his wife's magical world. He made sure the kids got an education in mathematics and science past age ten and that they knew how to use a telephone, balance a checkbook, and drive a car.
They put Harry in a little green-carpeted guest room and Harry put his little satchel down on the comforter and stared. There was a knock at the door--it didn't open until he went over and turned the knob.
Anthony stood there, rumpled, having clearly been dragged down the hall by his sister. "Leah," said Leah Cohen-Goldstein, thirteen years old, fiercely homeschooled, and magicless down to her bones. She thrust a hand out at him. "And you're Harry Potter, and you're a squib, and you're in Hogwarts. You have to tell me everything."
Hannukah fell over winter break that year, so Mrs. Cohen-Goldstein invited some of their friends and neighbors over. Harry trailed around the bright kitchen, looking at the cases of butterbeer and bowls of fruit salad and platters of sufganiyot, looking and carefully not touching. Leah handed him a paper plate and told him to help himself. Harry stammered, "Thank you, this is wonderful."
"It's nothing," said Anthony, embarrassed.
"You should see the house at Pesach," said Leah.
But Harry sat quiet, in a chair as soft as anything in the Gryffindor common room, and watched people walk and laugh, eat latkes with sour cream and so much applesauce that Mrs. Cohen-Goldstein had to send Anthony down into the pantry and get more. The lights were soft and warm. No one snapped at him for staring. No one yanked plates of dessert out of his hands, or made jokes about coal in a stocking, or sent him to his room. When the other kids came over to ask him to a convoluted game of hide and seek, he went.
"No magic," Leah said, grinning at him. "It's the rules."
"Well," said Harry, grinning back. "If it's the rules."
The whispers were worse when they got back to Hogwarts after break, but that wasn't what chilled Harry most. Kids were dropping, going frozen with mirrors and cameras clasped tight in their hands.
The whispers were worse-- the students hissing suspicions, but also the voice that no one else could hear, the hissing in the pipes. Maybe the squib had finally gone mad. But Harry hunched his shoulders, ignored one set of whispers, and followed the disembodied voice like maybe he could find an answer at the end of it.
He found red writing on the walls. They found Mrs. Norris, and Justin, and Colin. Hermione got petrified and Harry and Ron went and read Harry's magical theory homework to her in their free moments.
Then they found the note-- basilisk, pipes. Then Ginny, who had been shrinking all year, vanished.
When Harry got down to the belly of the Chamber, Ron and Gilderoy stranded behind him, there was the ghost of a boy standing there, waiting.
Tom Riddle looked across Ginny's unconscious body at the boy who had been meant to defeat him. The boy had eyes like him and hair like him. In a different world Tom crowed about the power they shared, the strength-- in this world, Harry hadn't even bothered to bring the useless stick of maplewood they called his wand.
Tom flashed hot, then cold; amused, then horrified, then gravely offended. This squib was meant to be his equal.
"Well," said Harry, tapping his scar. "You're the one who marked me."
Wandwork had never been how Harry won this fight. Fawkes came, the Hat in his claws, and the sword fell out into Harry's young grasp. The Hat did not ask for magic, just bravery, just daring, nerve, and desperation.
Harry killed the snake, then the diary. If he'd had a moment to breathe, to think, he might have expected to feel powerful. A sword in hand, a fang, an evil diary spurting ink like thick black blood-- but all he felt was tired.
When Ginny sat up, inhaled, cried, Harry felt himself breathe in with her, desperately relieved. He didn't feel powerful, but he did feel useful and that was something.
When Harry went home that summer, he was prepared to be lonely. No Hermione, no Ron, no overflowing Great Hall meals. Hedwig brought letters all through those long, hot, unfriendly days at Privet Drive. Ron wrote about Egypt and Hermione about summer reading. Leah had gotten his address somehow-- Harry supposed the owls all knew it, somehow-- and she sent him long rambling anecdotes about her lessons and helping mother with potions and her father's book club.
It helped; but when Harry was done reading, he was still sitting in the Dursley's second bedroom, counting the days until school started up again.
One day, out to get a bit of air free from Aunt Petunia's latest perfume, Harry was stopped by Mrs. Figg, craning out over her garden gate. "How are you doing, Harry?"
"Um, alright, Mrs. Figg?" Harry said. "...How are your cats?"
"Fine, Whiskers' asthma's been acting up, but well." Mrs. Figg waved a hand and unlatched her gate, waving for him to come closer. "I mean with Hogwarts, lad. It must be tough. How are you?"
Harry stared at his old, blinking, cat-lady neighbor. "You're a witch?"
Mrs. Figg smiled pityingly. "I'm a squib," she said. "That's why they've had me watch you all those years. Would you like to come in for some tea?"
When Aunt Marge came to visit, Harry lost his temper and nothing happened. He squeezed his fingers around the spatula he was using, rounded his shoulders, and tried to block out the thick sound of her voice. When he finally snapped back, raising his voice, he ended up in a three way screaming match with Vernon and Marge (Petunia shrilled counterpoint, and Dudley shrugged and went for thirds).
They sent him up for bed without supper and left him grounded there for the rest of the summer. Harry snuck down to the kitchen at two a.m. most days and snacked under the Invisibility Cloak, getting crumbs in its intricate, invisible linings.
"How did you do it?" Harry asked Mrs. Figg, on one of the summer afternoons he spent in her little, sunlit house. He found cat hair on his jeans for days, after.
"Well, I wasn't in Hogwarts, dearie," said Mrs. Figg. "They didn't put me somewhere I didn't fit."
Back at school that fall, Harry sat at the Gryffindor table with Ron and Hermione like he always did. Fred and George were enchanting salt and pepper shakers to dance with each other. Seamus was missing his eyebrows again, and Neville was poking at his Herbology homework thoughtfully next to his eggs and toast.
At the Cohen-Goldstein's, Leah had talked Harry and Anthony through their History of Magic homework, craning over Anthony's paper and teasing him about his bad spelling. She hooted back at the owls when they brought letters in the morning. Anthony and Harry had followed after her when she went to go pick up her mother's potions ingredients from the local apothecary shop. Harry had more than a year of McGonagall's reading lists under his belt, but Leah plucked up powdered mouse bones and newt's eyes with a careless practical ease.
In the Hogwarts Great Hall, the owl post came swooping in. Harry watched the wing beats, the back of Anthony's head over at the Ravenclaw table, the handful of empty plates scattered up and down his own. Dean Thomas said something to Seamas and Seamas almost fell into his porridge, laughing. Leah would have fit here just fine.
Hedwig landed calmly, giving a quiet hoot. Harry hooted back and fed her some orange juice.
Hermione had signed up for every conceivable (and a few non-conceivable, if you didn't own a Time Turner) electives for their third year. McGonagall had signed a protesting Harry up for Arithmancy (Hermione beamed at him. "We can study together!").
Dementors had searched the Express on their way to Hogwarts and Harry had gone down like a stone in still water. The magic in you has nothing to do with how well your worst memories can rise up and drown you. A ragged, tired man in tweed rose up with a brilliant Patronus, then sat down kindly and passed out chocolate. Harry had nothing to compare it to, but in this world Lupin's face held no more or less pity than it had in other worlds.
The Dursleys had never signed the permission form, so Harry was not allowed in Hogsmeade. That first trip, Hermione and Ron just brought him back treats. Then Fred and George gave him a gift.
With the Marauder's Map (which someone else had to activate and deactivate for him) and his father's Cloak, Harry met his friends out in Hogsmeade. The Cohen-Goldstein's had dropped Leah off to meet with her brother there.
Ron stared at Leah until Hermione elbowed him. "You room with Harry," she hissed. "What on earth are you staring at?"
"That's Harry," Ron said.
"And this is Leah," said Harry, while Anthony glared quiet daggers at Ron and Leah blushed unhappily. "Ron, Leah. Leah, Ron. Ron'll get his foot out of his mouth eventually."
"He better," said Anthony.
Harry was still studying Charms and Transfiguration theory, as well as whatever Potions texts McGonagall pushed on him. Things that had been memorized random gibberish his first year were beginning to feel old hat, to make sense. When Ron and Hermione practiced their Charms homework, enchanting objects and throwing sparks, Harry watched their form and enunciation and understood, to a basic degree, where it had come from.
When Neville's Freezing Charm turned the pincushion he was practicing on into weird green slime, Harry came over and uncertainly offered correction to his wand form.
"It's more of a flick," he said. "There's a, well it has to do with solidity, a request for form... just, flick a little firmer, okay? Try it again..."
McGonagall caught him helping Neville one evening and gave Harry ten points for Gryffindor and three new books to read.
DADA class with Lupin was like nothing Harry had ever done before. Lupin didn't give him theory. He didn't give him different goals or different assignments, just different methods. When they learned how to Riddikulus a boggart, Lupin just talked to Harry about laughter in the face of fear-- you can laugh a boggart into oblivion without a spell to make it ridiculous. It's just a little harder. You have to carry that certainty inside yourself, because you can't write it into the world outside of you the way you can with a wand.
When they went up against a grindylow, a red-cap, a hinkypunk, the other students drew their wands and Lupin offered Harry a knife. He told the other kids about good spells and hexes, and he told Harry about brittle grindylow fingers, easy to break, and how red-caps were cowards if you just nicked them once.
“I’m supposed to teach all of you,” said Lupin. “This is Defense.”
Dementors came to the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch game and Harry went down, hard. He woke up furious-- his broom splintered, the game lost, the only place he had ever felt right in this world stolen. He went out on a shaky old Cleansweep at practices, and in his freetime, just to get a jittery taste of it-- the air under his feet, his hands on broom wood, the wind in his teeth.
He went to Professor Lupin and asked for help. Patronuses were as outside his power as Wingardium Leviosa, but Harry read books and books on dementors all year, on Patronuses and herbal supplements and all the myths and rumors about how to survive them. What were Patronuses except for the glowing knowledge that things had not always been this dark?
He didn't learn much other than how to hold on just a little longer, to breathe through it-- but it was enough that if they came to a Quidditch game, he might be able to land safe.
"You didn't have to be this... accommodating, with me, in class, or with all this," said Harry. It was a word he'd learned from Leah. "Why are you?"
"I don't have to be," said Lupin. "But I can." He looked at Harry for a long moment-- the mess of his hair, the green of his eyes. "You don't have to be so brave," he said. "Why are you?"
"I'm not brave," said Harry. Lupin waited and Harry flushed and said, "I'm just me. I'm not making choices here. I'm not trying to be brave."
"There is always a choice," said Lupin.
The mess with Sirius, Scabbers, and the Whomping Willow went about the same. What in that was magic? This was about old grudges and withered friendships, fears and petty jealousies and rage fermented in thirteen long, cold dark years. Harry still stood up in front of the snivelling man who had handed his parents over for slaughter and told Sirius and Remus that James would not have wanted them to be killers. They still looked at him standing there and saw James's messy hair and stubborn chin, Lily's eyes.
Lupin had still taken the Map, so Snape still came to interrupt them. Lupin still turned, Peter still got away, and the dementors still came for them.
When Harry, struggling to stay conscious, looked across the lake and saw a silver Patronus racing toward them he saw two figures-- one looked like his father. The other, a woman-- was it his mother? But the silver shape streaking toward them wasn't a stag. It dipped in and out of the water, sinuous, small, and speedy. Harry blacked out and woke up in the infirmary.
The Patronus had not been his father's or his mother's, but Harry didn't know that until he was standing on the lakeshore hours later (hours before?), watching Sirius go down onto his knees with a dementor looming over him, until he saw his father wasn't coming. But he also knew it wasn't his own. There was only one working wand on his lakeshore. "Hermione," he said. "You've got to."
Her face went pinched and terrified. Hermione squawked about advanced magic and learning levels.
Harry had read books and books on Patronuses, how they worked, why they worked, the swish of a wand and the type of joy that survived even in darkness. He told Hermione the best he could, repeating things over and over in different words until they sunk in. Sirius was dying on the opposite lakeshore, their past selves were dying, but Harry knew they survived this. He knew how.
"C'mon, you're the best witch of our age, come on," said Harry, and a silver otter burst from Hermione's wand and went streaking across the water.
That summer, Harry used Sirius's name to threaten the Dursleys into decency. He had tea with Mrs. Figg and read The Daily Prophet with one of her cats curled up in his lap (the ginger cat Poppycock had taken a liking to him). Leah, who had been getting news from Anthony and Harry all year about the good new DADA teacher, wrote spitfire angry letters about Lupin's forced resignation.
(Leah also talked to her mother, who talked to her friends with squib children and other homeschool cases, and who then called Remus Lupin up for lunch. Mrs. Cohen-Goldstein called him "professor" and gave him a list of contact information for potential new jobs.)
When Harry met up with the Weasleys for the Quidditch World Cup he discovered that Leah and Hermione had also exchanged contact information. He arrived at the Burrow to find Hermione in the middle of a passionate speech which sounded a lot like the letters he'd been getting from Leah all summer. Mrs. Weasley looked put-upon, Mr. Weasley eagerly fascinated but not quite following, and Ginny was lying in an armchair laughing delightedly.
"Every citizen of the wizarding world deserves an education," Hermione said, hands waving. She was going to make buttons, and Ginny would wear them happily all over her bookbag. "This is about more than magic. You don't deny people their basic rights to community, culture, and learning just because their abilities are different than the norm."
The Death Eaters came to the Cup-- the kids ran, which takes no magic. It went about the same, except that Winky (or, rather, the invisible Barty Crouch Jr.) had to steal someone else's wand to cast the Mark. Harry had not bothered to bring his useless stick of maplewood to the Cup.
In Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts his name came out of the Goblet of Fire even though he had not put it in.
"Maybe the Ageing Circle doesn't work on squibs..." someone whispered in the crowd as he made his way after the other champions.
"Four champions! Ha, well, one for Beauxbatons, one for Durmstrang, one for Hogwarts, and one for squibs..."
Madame Maxine betrayed the first task (dragons) to Fleur, and Karkaroff to Krum. Hagrid betrayed it to Harry, and Harry betrayed it to Cedric.
Harry's greatest skill in this world was still flight. He poked around at bottled hexes for awhile, toyed with his Invisibility Cloak and some of Fred and George's nastier toys, but eventually Hermione just shrunk his Firebolt down small and gave him a spelled twig to break when he wanted it to spring full size again.
Harry outflew the dragon, ducking flames and snatching the golden egg up like a large, stationary Snitch. Easy as a Quidditch game with a particularly nasty beast of a Beater.
High in the air, with flames chasing him and the crowd screaming below, Harry felt magic rising up in the pit of his stomach the way he always did on a broom. He felt most nights like he didn't belong in Hogwarts, among the easy magic, the witches and wizards, the ghosts. He wondered if it would have been better to be in some Muggle boarding school, away from the Dursleys but stuck in a dorm with people who were like him. High on a broom, a deadly fall of air below him, was the only time he knew for certain that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
The halls were still full of whispers. The whole castle was staring at Harry, again, and even in this world Ron Weasley had a variety of jealous bones in his body. It had never been Harry's power that was the problem. The castle stared, the world stared, and Ron pushed his toast around and around his plate at breakfast.
But that was the thing about Ron-- he came back. He always came back.
They studied late the nights before the Lake task. Ron had fallen asleep on Hermione's shoulder when Neville Longbottom tip-toed hesitantly in and sat by Harry.
"Planning for the task?" Neville asked.
Harry nodded, paging through books that were growing less and less likely to be helpful with every new stack of them.
Neville sat quietly for a moment. "I thought I was a squib for a long time," he said eventually. "My uncle kept trying to shake magic out of me. My grandmother... "
Harry patted him uncertainly. "You're not, though."
"I know, that's not..." Neville floundered uncertainly. "You are, and I don't think I could have done what you have, Harry, if I'd been a squib."
"You could've," said Harry and hesitated over the rest of that sentence-- but they wouldn't have let you.
Neville shook his head. "Anyway," he said. "I just... do you know what you're going to do, for the next task?"
"Even if I could do any magic, I don't know how to breathe underwater," Harry said glumly.
"Um," said Neville, scrabbling around in his book bag. "This doesn't need wandwork or wizardry, or anything. It's just herbology," he said and pulled out a little tangle of slimy weeds. "This is gillyweed..."
Harry brought a knife with him, instead of a wand. When the grindylows came after him he slashed at their brittle-thin fingers instead of stupefying them. It worked-- he and Lupin had worked it out in the practical DADA classes the year before. Harry came in last, but with both Ron and the little Delacour. Fleur kissed him on both cheeks and Harry went bright red.
Harry went home with the Cohen-Goldstein's for winter break again. He talked to McGonagall and Madame Pince and then brought a stack of his favorite (least unfavorite?) textbooks to lend to Leah.
They went through them all sitting cross-legged on the living room floor. "This one's awful wordy, but I learned a lot," said Harry, squinting at the purple cover. They had just arrived from school, so he and Anthony were still in their uniforms, black robed and hatted.
Leah traced her fingers over the glinting stamp of the Hogwarts library. "I always wanted to get Sorted," she admitted. "It's one of the things that sucks most about all this. Everyone always talks about the Houses like they matter. Mom sees someone with a Gryffindor scarf in the market and they stop to say hi even if they never knew each other."
"Huh," said Harry. "Well--" Harry snatched his hat off his head and put it on hers, where it listed hesitantly. "GRYFFINDOR!" Harry announced and Leah smiled at him.
"Excuse me." Anthony knocked that hat off and replaced it with his own. "Ravenclaw, clearly," Anthony said. "Have you seen how she studies? She isn't one of yours, Potter."
"Have you met Hermione?" Harry said. "You have, I know you have--"
Leah laughed and pulled the hat off her head, handing it back to Anthony. "Hufflepuff, actually," she said. "Unafraid of toil?"
They both squinted at her.
"What? It doesn't say nice anywhere in the Puff motto," Leah said and grinned.
Back at school after break, Potter Stinks badges still roamed the hallways, flashing support of Cedric, "the real wizard."
"I'm sorry about that," said Cedric, and Harry, who had been dealing with Ernie Macmillian's self-important gossipy sniffs, remembered that he actually quite liked Hufflepuff. He thought Leah and Cedric would probably quite like each other.
"It's nothing new," Harry told Cedric, shrugging.
"Then I'm especially sorry," Cedric said. "Best of luck with the third task, yeah, Potter?"
"Best of luck," said Harry. "Let's have a Hogwarts champion bring this one home, alright?"
Cedric grinned. "Yeah," he said, and they shook.
Harry got through the maze mostly on the basis of a well-tuned sense for ducking. He'd brought a few packets of Peruvian Darkness Powder and flash bang pellets from Fred and George and his small shrunken Firebolt from Hermione. He left Krum coughing in darkness, dodged monsters and waveringly answered the sphinx's riddle.
The last stretch, with Cedric, was a race and then a competitive sense of fair play. Even with the high walls of the maze around them, they both recognized the grass of their shared home Quidditch field under their feet. "Together?" said Cedric and Harry agreed.
But just because you play fair doesn't mean the world will, too. They were two schoolboys, two too-young athletes who loved their sport, and they didn't know that this had stopped being a game as soon as Harry's unlucky name came out of the Goblet. The Cup portkey sunk hooks into their guts and dragged them out to the graveyard where Tom Riddle Sr. was buried and where Cedric Diggory would die.
In the graveyard, Harry faced down the Dark Lord with a wand that, even if he had been able to wield it, was no match for Tom Riddle's. Fawke's second wand was still bundled up in the back of Ollivander's, waiting for a chosen one who wasn't coming.
Harry could dodge, escape, grab the Portkey and go-- but he couldn't bring Cedric back, not with no ghosts to help him. He landed on his knees on the Quidditch pitch grass empty-handed, crying, bruised. The Aurors went back through the Portkey later to find a graveyard empty but for dry grass, some newly-cracked headstones, and Cedric's cooling body.
Harry saw Amos Diggory weeping. Harry sat through Dumbledore's speech about easy choices and right ones, and wondered if a true wizard would have been able to save Cedric.
"When you are facing the choice between what is right and what is easy--" Dumbledore said and Harry thought, but none of this has been easy.
Anthony came over and sat with Ron and Hermione and Harry one breakfast, after. "I could hear him being mopey all the way from Ravenclaw table," he said. (A letter arrived the next day from Leah, reading, "Anthony says he can hear you being mopey all the way from Ravenclaw table.")
Harry shrugged. Anthony shrugged, too, and took some eggs.
"I'm not even a squib," said Harry eventually, pushing his bacon around his plate. "I'm a Muggle."
"You're not--" Ron started.
"My parents were wizards, yeah, but they didn't raise me. It's not like with Leah. She's a witch whose wand doesn't work. Hermione, you're a Muggleborn with magic. Me? I'm not magic and neither is my world."
"You're here," said Anthony, frowning at his eggs. "This is your world."
"I'm here," Harry agreed and decided not to argue the rest of it.
No one wrote to Harry all summer. He didn't get angry. He got quiet. He looked around the beige walls of 4 Privet Drive and knew he didn't belong here either.
Maybe if he left-- maybe if he went far, far away, people would stop dying at Hogwarts.
But he went back in the fall. He went to 12 Grimmauld Place first, with the Order. He didn't go before the Wizengamot, because he had cast no underaged magic. When the dementors had come to Little Surrey, Harry had held himself together long enough to grab Dudley and run. The dementors had caught up to them on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Figg's house, but not before Harry's hollering had gotten her to Floo the Order to come.
Harry had passed out on the sidewalk concrete. When he woke up, he was in a dusty old room with Hermione and Ron peering over him. They told him Dudley was fine and then they dragged him downstairs to meet the Order.
Sirius wrapped Harry in a massive bearhug. Lupin squeezed his shoulder and asked him about school. Harry shrugged. "No one's ever been as good as you," he told Lupin. "How's tutoring?" He'd been getting letters from Leah and Anthony all summer about Leah's lessons with Lupin, who was proving quite popular on the squib circuit. Harry was almost jealous.
Harry had to catch doxies in canvas bags and scrub the moldy walls by hand instead of by wand, but Mrs. Weasley still determinedly put him to work. The painting of Mrs. Black shrieked whenever she saw him. "A squib! In my own house!"
Their fifth year in Hogwarts, Hermione still dragged Harry and a passel of potentially interested students out to the Hog's Head to talk about extracurricular Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. Harry brought a stack of DADA theory books that came all the way up to his chin.
"Him?" said Cormac McLaggen. "He can't even cast a spell, how's he supposed to teach us?"
Ginny looked like she might be about to roll up her sleeves, but it was the next oldest Weasley who stepped forward. "You can cast Wingardium Leviosa, right, McLaggen?" Ron said.
"Sure," said Cormac. “That’s a firstie spell.”
"You know why it works?"
"It's magic, Weasley."
"Uh huh," said Ron. "But why you gotta swish and flick like that? Why Win-GAR-dium Levi-OH-sah? Yeah, it's magic, but there's still reasons. You've spent the last four years memorizing junk. Harry's learned it. There isn't a class here except maybe Potions that he hasn't passed on merit. If you don't want him teaching you, you can go back and memorize whatever drivel Umbridge gives you. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Hermione was beaming at him. Ron flushed. "Anyway," he said. "Shut up, McLaggen."
Dolores Umbridge liked squibs about as much as she liked half-breeds. She would have had Harry kicked out of Hogwarts entirely, except Fudge talked her down. He liked the PR of the Boy Who Lived at Hogwarts. Umbridge did send him to sit out DADA classes by himself in the library, but Harry didn't really mind that. He asked McGonagall for more book recommendations and started drawing up more lesson plans for the DA.
Harry taught them Expelliarmus, which he thought sounded quite useful. He corrected Hannah's pronunciation of Stupefy, fixed Neville's aim, complimented Ginny's Bat Bogey Hexes. "The twist you put in there, see, it's non-standard but it enhances the..." He taught them the things their teachers hadn't bothered with-- not just what they were doing, but why.
For Christmas that year, Harry got his Weasley sweater, some inedible cakes form Hagrid, the standard-- but he also found a massive gift-wrapped box at the foot of his bed with a tag that read F&G. Inside were boxes and bundles of adapted prank toys and tricks: transformation spells, levitates, shrinkers, petrifiers. "Use it to fight evil, not do evil, okay, mom would kill us," Fred told him when he went to thank them.
Harry had bad dreams all year. Magicless or not, he was still Voldemort's mirror, still a vessel to a small unintentional piece of his soul. He dreamed he was the snake who went after Arthur, and the snake went after Arthur. He dreamed Sirius was trapped, taken, tortured, and when he woke he got his friends.
Harry could ride thestrals, and see them-- that was about understanding death, not about magic, and he could do that. He could hurl darkness powder and punch Death Eaters and duck Stupefys. He and his friends charged down into the bowels of the Department of Mysteries, looking for Sirius.
Harry fancied himself powerful. He fancied himself ready for the fight. He felt the way he did high on a broom, with his friends at his back here. After months of chafing under Umbridge's rule and unable to do anything about it, stepping into the Department with his pockets full of Fred and George's more dangerous tricks, Harry felt like he could finally breathe.
They didn't find Sirius. He wasn't there. Well-- they did find him, because he came later, to find them. Bellatrix Lestrange hit him square in the chest with an avada kedavra, and Harry watched his godfather slip behind the veil.
When they sent him back to 4 Privet Drive for the second to last time that summer, Harry sat in his room and looked at the beige walls. He wondered if he went away, far away, if people would stop dying. He had stale fruitcake at Mrs. Figg's house and he wondered.
Dumbledore came to pick him up for school at the end of that summer. Harry remembered being eleven, standing in the Hogwarts library while Anthony explained that he didn't have a problem with squibs.
Dumbledore Apparated them out, fetched and tempted Slughorn, and took them to the Hogwarts gates. Harry wondered if they had had to apply some sort of exception to the Hogwarts wards for people like him and Filch.
Slughorn went on and on about Harry's mother's skill with potions, but he at least let Harry participate in class. Harry was five years behind on anything practical, but he knew the theory and use behind each ingredient and each counter-clockwise stir. He went through the Half Blood Prince's notations one by one, looking for the rationale behind each edited instruction.
"That's so clever," Harry told Hermione, who was fascinated, and Ron, who was patient. "See here, he realized that the hoof and the farrow root here were canceling some of the potency of each other out, so he swapped it out with troll fingernail..."
Harry was still invited to the Slug Club. Slughorn didn't care about Muggles and squibs, or at least he didn't care about that kind of thing at the expense of power and potential. Harry had power, in his name, his history, his perfect potions. Slughorn was hardly going to overlook that just because his wandwork was nonexistent.
Harry was magicless, but so many magical things had been pressed into his hands, his skin. Dumbledore had given him his father's Cloak and he would leave him a Snitch with a secret at its center. Sirius had given him his Firebolt. Lily had given him the protection of her lifeblood until Voldemort had burned it out of him. And old Tom himself-- Voldemort had given Harry a little ugly piece of his soul. They were gifted to him, but they were not gifts. They were things to carry.
But Dumbledore didn't tell Harry about that yet. He told Harry about the Gaunt ring, the Hufflepuff cup, the burned-through diary. He told him about Nagini and the locket and Voldemort's arrogances. Albus didn't tell him about the fragment of ugly soul that he suspected lived (and that would one day die) in Harry.
Instead, Dumbledore just took Harry out to the cave in the little island in the cold sea. Harry clutched at the useless maplewood in his back pocket and wondered why-- was he supposed to be learning something? Helping? How could he help? The last time he had tried to be brave, Sirius had gotten killed.
By the end of the night, after Malfoy's wavering betrayal and the battle of the Astronomy Tower, after the Death Eaters had fled and Hogwarts' student body had gathered silently around Dumbledore's fallen body-- Harry thought he knew. He had been meant to be a witness.
But he took a lesson from it anyway, something lost, something learned. He tucked the false locket in his pocket and when he set off to go find the Horcruxes he asked Ron and Hermione to go with him.
Albus Dumbledore had wanted Harry in Hogwarts not because he had saved the wizarding world from Voldemort, but because he was going to. Harry needed to fall in love with this place. Harry had to know that Hogwarts, the wizarding world, the wizards-- that this was worth dying for.
Love is a weapon. It can be a shield, sure-- the way Lily's love followed Harry through his life and kept him safe when it could; blue-bottle flames and laughter during a long hopeless journey, hunted and hiding and desperate; the Weasley sweaters Molly sent out to all her children, knitted armor against cold days.
But love is a weapon. It kills you. It killed Severus Snape-- Dumbledore found those handleholds, the power of Lily's name and Harry's eyes, and tempted Snape to his very useful doom. It killed Bellatrix when she hurled a curse at Molly's only daughter. It would kill Harry Potter when he walked out into the Forbidden Forest, not planning to come home.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione went out to find the other Horcruxes. Hermione left notes at drop spots for Leah to get to her mother, to Dean, to Lee Jordan, to all their contacts spread out around the country. Hermione put up their shield spells each night and Ron threw heavy curses when they had to run, but it was Harry's mission and they all knew it.
The DA sunk their roots deep into Hogwarts, their curses going just a little bit farther, their shields holding just a little bit longer. Neville had to be holed up in the Room of Requirement from nearly day one, the halls unsafe for him. Others joined him: Hannah Abbott, Padma Patil, Parvati, Lavender Brown, Ernie Macmillian.
Anthony Cohen-Goldstein had sat for long months that darkening summer, deciding whether or not to go back to Hogwarts. Leah had sat him down in late July, almost Harry's birthday. "I can't fight for Hogwarts, not on the ground," said Leah. "I can't go, so you've gotta, Anthony."
"You can't go," Anthony agreed, staring at his knees. "So is it really worth fighting for? Maybe they can just have it, Leah. Maybe it's not worth it."
"It's worth it," Leah said. "We're gonna make it worth it."
While Anthony faced down Death Eater professors for the sake of first years, Leah shook up all her mother's contacts for old books, for old mentions of Horcruxes, old news clippings of Voldemort's childhood. She sent what she could through Hermione's drop spots.
The trio picked up the news where they could, trying to find the Horcruxes Dumbledore hadn't been able to track down. Something with Ravenclaw, Hermione wrote to Leah. He was obsessed with Hogwarts.
Polyjuice Potion still worked, even on a squib-- they made their way into the Ministry and out again, narrowly, the true locket tucked in Hermione's fist.
They still got nabbed by snatchers-- no more quickly and no more easily than before. They still got taken to Malfoy Manor and Harry still won the Elder Wand from Draco in a swift little wrestling match that ended with Draco's bloody nose.
The Cloak was Harry's inheritance. The Stone was a gift, hidden, to open at the close. The Wand Harry won-- and wasn't that the funny thing? Here he was, the Master of Death, this knobbly-kneed boy who couldn't even cast a Lumos. The Elder Wand promised power, and Harry tucked it in the bottom of his satchel, where he kept discarded gum wrappers, some Muggle spare change, and other useless knick-knacks.
Umbridge and her people were rounding up Mudbloods and squibs, but only the ones who lived in the wizarding world. The Ministry hadn't bothered keeping tabs on the others. Harry showed up, invisible, on Mrs. Figg's doorstep and she let him in without asking any questions but "how can I help, laddie?"
There were squibs strewn throughout Muggle Britian, living as teachers and botanists and plumbers. To the Ministry, they were basically Muggles. But when Harry, Hermione, and Ron showed up on their ordinary, magicless doorsteps using the list of addresses Mrs. Figg had scribbled out for them, they recognized the Boy Who Lived.
The squibs had family in the wizarding world. They had friends who had stopped owling. They made the trio fried eggs and safe beds and passed them down the line-- "Old Franny, she's an accountant down in Surrey, she can take you for the night."
Harry counted Horcruxes, scrubbed at his aching scar, and watched these men and women. Words like Floo, Hogwarts, kneazel fell off their lips easily, familiarly, a native tongue. They did their dishes by hand. They read Muggle papers beside the Prophet, argued Quidditch in the same breath as football. It was the middle of a war, a long tiring search. Ron was snapping and Hermione was going exhausted and quiet, and so was Harry, but all the same he looked around these little safe houses and felt like he might fit.
They got the locket, the cup, the sword, and then they headed back towards Hogwarts. Anthony had tracked down his House's diadem. War came to Hogwarts-- war had been there for months now, in the steps of scurrying children, in the resistance biding quietly in the Room of Requirement. Ron thought of the basilisk fangs, and remembered the house elves, and Hermione snogged him silly on the damp Chamber floor.
The DA was gathering in the Great Hall when Harry and his friends made it there. They were a militia of school children. There were two wands, equally useless, knocking around the bottom of Harry's bag and he felt both powerless and responsible as he saw all those faces turn toward him.
Filch was scowling and squinting at all the commotion. Harry drew away from the rest of the crowd, reaching in his bag for one of his packets of Weasley doctored tricks and traps.
"Weasley nonsense," Filch sneered, when Harry offered them to the wandless man.
"Yeah so you probably know exactly what damage all these things can do," said Harry. "C'mon, Mr. Filch. You love this school as much as I do."
"But it doesn't love us, see, boy," said Filch.
"Yeah." Harry shrugged. "But it needs us," he said, and left Filch standing there, hands full of tricks, staring after him.
McGonagall woke the statues. Kids checked their wands. Teachers cast experimental shields, curses. Harry checked his pockets for Weasley tricks. Then the Death Eaters hit the perimeter and the Battle for Hogwarts began.
Cho Chang hurled Stupefys-- she'd always had a talent for that particular elegant flick of the wrist. Luna Lovegood and Anthony Goldstein had gotten Harry the diadem, and now the two Ravenclaws were fighting back to back. Luna did nearly every spell she ever touched in an atypical manner, but somehow they still always worked for her. Anthony was precisely textbook, his shots sizzling cleanly through the air.
"Flick and jab!" Harry hollered at Ernie, who was hurling curses from the shelter of a stairwell, but they weren't quite hitting. "Jab, yes there you go--"
Harry had once taught Colin Creevey to enunciate, had sat with him while the kid worked through all the proper syllables of Stupefy. Harry could say it perfectly, but nothing happened when he did. He found himself mouthing along with the kid now though, even as he hurled his own nastier Weasley tricks at the feet of Death Eaters.
Colin's last Stupefy was perfectly executed. A Death Eater slammed down on the courtyard stone. But his partner whipped a line of green fire out and Colin's body hit the stone too.
Harry flung petrifying charms disguised as joke toys and blinding hexes trapped in little glass bottles at the men who had killed Colin. These had been a present, once. Two mischief-makers, two inventors, two kids had left a brightly-wrapped box at the foot of Harry's bed one Christmas like it was nothing-- a lark, a fancy. It had taken them years to invent them, and months to adapt their work for Harry's needs, and seconds to shrug away his thanks and waggle their eyebrows and tell him not to be evil with it.
Weasley tricks had weighed down his pockets for years now. Here in these hallowed halls, dodging curses and kicking in knee-caps, it was giving Harry magic he could grab onto and use. Harry's magic was what other people gave him. Fred and George had given him this.
In a corridor fifty feet from Harry, Percy Weasley watched his brother Fred die mid-laugh. Harry didn't know until a lull in the fight came, until they retreated to the Great Hall again, until they carried their dead in and laid them all out on the stone.
The air shook. Voldemort offered his trade-- Harry's life for all of theirs.
Mrs. Weasley was crying over Fred. George was sobbing over Fred. Mr. Weasley had tears running down his cheeks. Dennis was sitting next to Colin, staring.
Tonks had gone down. Her hair had turned back to its natural mousy brown. Remus had barely outlived her by a moment.
Remus-- Remus had given Harry lessons, real and actual lessons. McGonagall had given him theory and Flitwick had given him theory, and he had taken it, but Remus had given them a grindylow to deal with, all of them, even Harry. When Harry had stepped back as usual, to let the real students get to their lesson, Remus had caught him kindly on the shoulder and given him a knife. "Not the classical approach," Remus had said. "But when I said you'd all learn this today, I meant all of you."
Harry was crying over Remus. He left the Hall before the echoes from Voldemort's ultimatum had finished ringing. Someone might try to stop him, and he couldn't have that.
Harry walked out into the forest.
If this was it, if this was as far as he'd get in this world, then he could live with it. Or, well, he supposed-- he could die with it. Harry walked out past Hagrid's giant pumpkin patch and little hut. The forest was dark and cool.
If this was it, if this was as far as he'd get in this world, he wanted to drink it all in-- the night sky, the wet grass, the castle rising behind him, its windows golden. If this was it, it was enough: Ron's smudged nose and the way Oliver Wood had loved Quidditch so hard he forgot sometimes Harry was a squib. He could fly, and that had been what mattered to Wood.
It was enough: Neville practicing Stupefys in the Room of Requirement over and over again; Fang slobbering all over Harry's robes while he tried to politely decline Hagrid's rock-like baked goods; Leah hooting at owls over her mother's breakfast table, tearing open a letter from Hermione all about all the ways they wanted to change the world.
The candles in the Great Hall were floating, even now, even above the dead and the tired and the living. The pictures moved. The ceiling was the night sky, the same one he was walking under now, black and starlit. He had gotten seven years of magic, and it had to be enough. It had to be worth it. He would make it worth it.
Love is a weapon. Love is magic, in any universe. Harry stepped out into that clearing, willing to die for a world he loved, whether or not it was his, whether or not he belonged here or if it belonged to him-- he was willing.
It was what killed him, and what brought him back, and what brought Voldemort down. The moment Tom Riddle started paying more attention to death than to why we die, he was doomed.
(Harry met Dumbledore in an eerily clean King's Cross Station. "None of it was easy," he told him. "I didn't have a choice."
"You always had a choice. You have a choice now," said Albus. "You can go back, or you can get on a train. There will be people who love you waiting. It will be easy."
But Harry shook his head. "No," he said. "It's not a choice.")
Harry and Voldemort were meant to be matched in power. It was prophesied-- the one with the power to vanquish him, marked as his equal. Hagrid carried Harry's secretly breathing body back to the Hogwarts courtyard.
Harry had no magic but what other people gave him-- the Horcrux Voldemort had just killed himself, the love and protection that he had burned out of Harry's skin, the Invisibility Cloak Harry had left with Hermione. He had no magic but what he made-- the way wands rose in the air when Harry shouted "now!" and the green light that brought Voldemort down.
As soon as the last Death Eater had fled, Hermione slammed into Harry's side, crying furiously, then Ron. Harry gripped at Hermione's sleeve, Ron's arm, and buried his face in Hermione's shoulder. He thought maybe he should feel powerful, with Tom Riddle dead at his feet, but he just felt tired.
After the war, Anthony Goldstein opened a school for squibs, werewolves, and other students barred from attending Hogwarts. McGonagall and Flitwick both took sabbaticals to help him set up and organize his curriculum and administration. His first full-time staff member was Ron Weasley.
They started out in a little three-room house, giving daytime classes to kids and nighttime ones for adults. Ron trimmed the grass with flicks of his wand. Anthony put up a sturdy sign in the front yard with a post-holer, a shovel, and a mallet.
Harry dragged a humbly protesting Mrs. Figg to the evening classes. "I'm too old to learn new tricks," she told him. "What tricks could I learn, anyway? I'm just a little old squib."
"You're not too old," he said. "And you can learn this."
Leah and Hermione joined the Ministry. They met often for lunch and had paired meteoric and controversial rises through respectively educational policy and civil rights reform.
"We're just trying to put you out of a job," Leah told Anthony. "Get all your squibs and weres into Hogwarts where they belong."
"Dashing all my dreams," Anthony told her, grinning, and she leaned down and kissed her little brother on the cheek.
When Prophet reporters asked Hermione why she and Ms. Cohen-Goldstein were fighting so hard for their educational reform bill, Hermione quoted statute, ethical texts, diversity studies.
When they asked Leah why they fought so hard, Leah smiled and said, “They need us. You need us. The wizarding world is less without us.”
Harry became the first squib Quidditch player. He and Ginny Weasley had a competitive and slightly violent courtship, much of it mid-air. His name got in the papers for something other than terrible gossip and/or saving the world.
He spent free afternoons escorting Luna out to search for various magical animals, visiting the Weasley house, helping Ron bully Hermione into leaving the office and having a spot of food, and teaching kiddie flying lessons at Anthony's school. He had tea with Mrs. Figg every month or so and mostly remembered all the names of her cats.
He helped with the school's curriculum, digging through all his old school notes and readings. He let Hermione and Leah drag him to Ministry hearings and speeches and propositions like the poster child for squib immersion he sort of was.
When little squib kids sidled up to him, clutching replicas of his Quidditch jersey, Harry smiled big and asked their names. When reporters asked him how he had managed to persevere, to do so much when he was so limited, to push past his disabilities and flourish, he shook his head and cut them off. "What we can do," he said, "is not less."
On hot summer afternoons, Harry sat sprawled on the lawn in front of Anthony's school, drinking in the sunlight while he watched kids on training-wheel brooms kick off and bob around. He couldn't tell the squibs from the weres from their visiting magical siblings.
He called advice and correction and praise up at them. In a bit he would hop on his own broom and zoom around them, to demonstrate and correct a little closer at hand, but for now Harry leaned back against the sign in the yard.
The letters Anthony had painstakingly chiseled there read the R. J. Lupin House for Magical and Magically-Adjacent Education.
It was ten years before the Cohen-Goldstein-Granger Bill for Educational Equality Reform got pushed through the Ministry. The first Hogwarts class of squibs and other atypical wizards also saw its first squib professor.
Harry hiked out to the Quidditch pitch, feeling off-balance and fake in his teachers' robes. He wasn't carrying a wand, but he was carrying a twig that, if snapped, would bring his Firebolt blooming to full-size.
When he reached the pitch, a few dozen small faces turned to him, going mostly quiet. There was one smirker still whispering to his friends. There was a staring round-faced girl who had a pin on her robes with Harry's old Quidditch team's name on it. There was a boy who looked desperately like he never wanted his feet to leave ground. The sun was beating down on the grass and on the brooms laid out in neat rows.
Harry liked to watch the candles float overhead at dinner. He coached Quidditch, went on long solitary hikes through the Forest, tutored kids in the library-- “swish and flick”--but this was his favorite part.
He looked around, starting to grin, his hair a mess, his eyes his mother’s, his hands magicless. The round-faced girl with the Quidditch pin’s-- her hands were magicless. The boy standing next to her-- so were his. The kid next to him liked to Wingardium Leviosa plates at dinner and lose tens of points from Ravenclaw on the regular.
But all of them, right now, were standing here on the Quidditch pitch grass. Magic can be earned. Magic can be given, and Harry had been given so much.
"Well?" said Harry. "Are you ready to learn how to fly?"