Harry was horrible at Occlumency.
He had never been able to “clear his mind”. His attempts at occluding had done nearly nothing to block Voldemort’s access to it, and vice versa.
Harry had tried incredibly hard to stop the nightmares, the visions, and the blazing pain whenever Voldemort was angry.
He couldn’t stop Snape from seeing his memories, nor his private thoughts.
Night after night he would be terrified of sleeping, knowing that when he closed his eyes he would be trapped in the mind of a madman.
Harry felt too deeply–was too much of a Gryffindor–to hide behind walls and wait it out.
But, he couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if he could’ve learned, then maybe he could have a part of himself that was his and his alone and not exposed to the world.
(everything about himself, everything he owned, it was all defined by someone else)
So, no, Harry’s mind couldn’t be called particularly organized.
When Harry found out that he was a wizard, it was like–
It was like he was free. He wasn’t a freak. The names that his family called him didn’t define him anymore. He could be anyone. He could do magic. There were people who understood.
He could fight back against those who would rather hide him away than acknowledge his existence. He could be somebody; he would never be the awful words his family called him again.
He would go to a whole school of people just like him! He would have friends who thought it was brilliant that he turned his teacher’s hair blue that one time.
(maybe he didn’t have to stay with the Dursley’s anymore)
Hagrid–the half-giant!–had defended him from his uncle. He had said his parents weren’t drunks, they were heroes. He had grown a pig’s tail on Dudley with his umbrella. He had given Harry a real birthday cake.
Harry didn’t pinch himself because he never, ever, wanted to wake up from this dream.
When Harry Potter walked to his death, he did not wake up in a bleached King’s Cross to find his Headmaster ready to impart one last bit of wisdom.
Harry did not find the shreds of Lord Voldemort’s soul desperately clinging to existence beneath a track-side bench. He didn’t make an attempt to touch it, and he didn’t try desperately to ignore it’s whimpers.
Harry was not given the option of boarding a train “on,” or going back to win the final showdown of Good vs. Evil in the early hours of the morning.
(and it may not have been an adventure, but Harry didn’t really mind much)
That evening after Hagrid took him to Diagon Alley, Harry was in his new bedroom trying to fall asleep.
He wasn’t really used to this much space still. Having a window was a little odd, but nice. His trunk of school supplies was in his old cupboard, but he kept the ticket to the Hogwarts Express under his pillow, so he could touch it to make sure this was all real.
It wasn’t exactly what he had expected. Everything was so new and exciting. It was like one of those fairytales they used to read in class.
Villain and all.
You-Know-Who, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, The Dark Lord, Voldemort.
The man who killed his parents. The man that he, Harry , had apparently defeated when he was just a baby. He’d saved the Wizarding World. He’d gotten revenge for his parents murder.
He was the Boy-Who-Lived.
And in the dark hours of a warm August night, Harry couldn’t help but start to silently cry.
It was something he hadn’t done since he was little, when he’d realized that it did more harm than good. Uncle Vernon wouldn’t stand for it, said it was weak to snivel. Aunt Petunia would scowl and make him get back to his chores. Dudley would hit and pinch his skin so he would cry louder. Crying didn’t make him feel better, it didn’t get him kisses and hugs. So, he stopped crying quickly in life, because what was the point?
However, Harry had been given something dangerous. Something that breaks people down as quickly as it builds them up. Intangible, yet powerfully addictive.
(All those dangerous things in Pandora’s Box, all those evils that Zeus packed away, why was Hope in there at all?)
All those people who had come up to him in shops and on the street to shake his hand knew him. They thought of him as a hero. There were books written about him. He was famous in this world he’d only known for a little more than day. People had stared at him, at his scar–and hadn’t that been a surprise–and they saw someone Harry hadn’t even realized he could be. It had been similar, almost the same, to how people had looked at him when he was gardening on Privet Drive because of the rumors spread that he was a delinquent.
And then Harry had realized something.
He was still Boy here.
He looked like his father.
He had his mother’s eyes.
Dumbledore, Hagrid, Mrs. Weasley had his vault key.
His broom had been bought by McGonagall, then Sirius.
His cloak had been his father’s, but Dumbledore had kept it for a while.
Mrs. Weasley had bought most of his school books for him.
His clothes were Dudley’s.
His wand was brother to Voldemort’s. The feather was from Fawkes.
The mirror had been his father’s.
He had been monitored his whole life by Mrs. Figg.
He’d become Seeker without knowing the first thing about Quidditch.
His patronus was his father’s Animagus form.
He had chosen the same electives as Ron.
He was a parselmouth because of Voldemort.
Hedwig was from Hagrid.
Sirius thought he was James sometimes.
Dumbledore knew what Harry saw in the Mirror of Erised.
He had scars from Voldemort, Pettigrew, Umbridge, the Basilisk, a dragon, the locket.
The Marauder’s Map was given to him by Fred and George.
Gryffindors had to be brash, reckless, loud, brave.
Voldemort, Snape, and possibly Dumbledore had been in his head.
Voldemort was in his soul.
They called him the Boy-Who-Lived, the Boy-Who-Lied, the Chosen One, Undesirable No. 1, Triwizard Champion, the Saviour, the Master of Death.
(who are you?)
He’d actually given a lot of thought about death. It was difficult not to, living for most of the year in a castle filled with ghosts and talking portraits of people who had died decades ago.
Why did ghosts stay on? Did they have unfinished business, like in the stories? Would they go, well, on if it was completed? Were there only magical ghosts? Were the portraits really alive? When there was more than one how was it only one person between them? Was it actually a whole separate dimension of paint and canvas?
Harry thought about asking these questions sometimes, but became inexplicably shy when he made a move to try and ask. It would probably be incredibly rude, he didn’t want to bring up someone’s death if it would be traumatic, and they might start shouting.
However, especially so in his first year, he would look at a ghost, or The Fat Lady, and wonder if he could talk with his parents like that someday.
Later, Harry would wonder about the soul after his encounters with dementors. They supposedly ate it when they gave you a Kiss, but wouldn’t that mean a person should die? How could someone survive without a soul? He’d seen some of the victims when he was in St Mungo’s, and they were more like blank slates. Everything significant about them was just….sucked out. Gone.
Dementors made you relive your worst memories, and they drained the happiness right out of you. The Patronus Charm was the embodiment of happiness, using a happy memory to come to life and defend against them.
Maybe….maybe Dementors took all your memories? Everything you ever were, just gone? Lockhart was sort of like that after he accidently obliviated himself. So were Neville’s parents. Almost childlike in their interactions with the world.
Was that what the soul was? All your memories, thoughts, hopes, dreams in one place? Did souls even exist in the first place?
In a tent hidden in a forest, surrounded by the soft, sleeping breaths of his best friends, a heavy locket over his heart, Harry would wonder.
Because the diary of Tom Riddle had been forever 16.
Because Voldemort hadn’t actually used a Horcrux to resurrect himself that night in the graveyard.
(what would you give to reset the clock?)
And what was immortality, but your memory living on forever?
Harry knew Sirius was a little broken. He didn’t naively think that after 12 years in Azkaban, Sirius would be a functioning member of society.
If he told Sirius that, he’d probably burst his spleen from laughing so hard.
Of course Harry wished it could be different, but he would take anything he could get from Sirius’ almost-desperate affection. They were both trying so hard to fit together, and it was working, for the most part.
There were still times when Sirius would call him James, and sometimes a joke or comment would fall flat. Sometimes Harry would catch Sirius looking at a photograph, or some trinket in on a shelf, and his eyes would be glazed over. Lost in the past, or disbelief that he was really, truly out of Azkaban.
Sometimes, when Harry’s dreams would cause him to jolt awake with Cedric’s name on his lips and a high-pitched laugh ringing in his ears, Harry would go for a walk through the halls of the Ancestral Black Manor. He would have to be quiet or else he would risk waking Kreacher or Mrs. Black, but it was nice to be able to move around and try not to think about anything especially important. Inevitably, he would end up in the kitchen to grab a glass of water or an apple before making an attempt to go back to sleep. Sometimes, Sirius was there too.
Sometimes, they would give each other a sheepish smile and be on their separate ways.
Sometimes, there would be a quip about how they had to stop meeting like this.
Sometimes, they would chat about nothing until dawn filtered in a dusty window.
Sometimes, Sirius was a dog.
On those nights, when Sirius hurt so much by the memories and the guilt that he just couldn’t be real anymore, Harry would just look at him lying in the kitchen for a few moments before going into the living room. Sirius would follow, and they would settle on one of the mouldy couches in front of the fireplace. It was something new to Harry, because Aunt Marge’s pit bulls had always hated him. There was something about lying on the couch with Sirius as a dog, and just so affectionate and needy that Harry found a guilty pleasure in. He could bury with fingers and his face so deep in Sirius’ fur that it felt like the world couldn’t touch him. It felt so real and good and like home , that sometimes it would almost be too much and Harry couldn’t stop shaking, and couldn’t bear to tear himself away from connection.
They were both hurting, and they were both alive, and they were both surviving.
Hours later, Harry would be woken from his doze by either Kreacher’s mutterings or Mrs. Black’s screeching. He and Sirius would separate easily, and Sirius would go back to being a man. They would both go back to the kitchen, and have a cup of tea while sleepy people trickled in, and Mrs. Weasley would get started on breakfast for everyone.
They wouldn’t ever talk about it, but Sirius would usually grin a little easier, and Harry wouldn’t think about what-if’s as often.
(nothing comes back through the Veil)
And that would be it.
As Harry walked through the immense trees of the Forbidden Forest, the spirits of his parents, Remus, and Sirius float silently around him. He supposes it should be comforting that it didn’t hurt to die, and it is in a way, but Harry is still terrified. Something in his mind is telling him to turn around, go back, that it was all Dumbledore misunderstanding.
He wants to believe that it is the horcrux in his head, but he knows it isn’t.
Harry has always been the hero, he’s always had to save the day. What’s one more time?
It doesn’t hurt, after all.
Harry’s mind is racing, and he thinks he might vomit as he and his companions draw closer to Voldemort’s meeting place. He looks at them desperately beneath his invisibility cloak, but they don’t see him. He thinks they only know where he is going because he’s holding the stone. They didn’t try to stop him earlier, so he doubts they would now. They all look, not happy, but content. He wonders if death does that to a person.
He could summon Fred. Fred wouldn’t want him to do this, he doesn’t think.
Maybe he should summon Snape, he’d probably try and kick him in the arse for moping.
A thought enters his mind just before he reaches Voldemort and his followers, and he pauses. It’s ridiculous, and he doesn’t know where the thought comes from, but now he can’t get it out of his head.
Do they actually know what he’s doing? Are they really encouraging him to die, or are they expecting to see him finally defeat Voldemort for the last time?
All of them, each and every one, sacrificed themselves in order for him to live .
Did death take that away?
He didn’t exactly make himself clear earlier, he just asked if it hurt. That could mean anything. He could’ve just been asking to make himself feel better about their own deaths. And if they thought that, of course they would answer no.
He remembers the story from Hermione’s copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and how the second brother’s resurrected fiancee was sad and cold. Separated by a veil. She wanted to go back to where she was. He couldn’t bear to part with her again, and killed himself. Harry supposes the story would have definitely changed over time, but...
Maybe because he didn’t do a full resurrection, they were...less? More?
Were they even real?
Does it matter?
This was the only way. He had to die. It doesn’t matter what happens to him afterwards. His friends know to kill the snake. They would live. Everyone would live. They had to. They were going to.
He would take what comfort he could get from these shades of the people he loved.
But, Remus wanted Teddy to know–
It doesn’t matter.
If they don’t know, if nobody knows, if he truly is going to die while his enemies grin and laugh, then he doesn’t want his parents to watch. He doesn’t want Remus and Sirius to see him go down. It would be better to meet them on the other side, where they seem so happy to be.
So Harry drops the stone, and the spirits disappear.
His mind whirling, his hands shaking, Harry steps forward.
(bow to death, Harry)
It was over in a second.
It went on forever.
(it was blinding)
in the darkness
(it was so dark)
(he was numb)
very small and
It was like he was a star
(in the vacuum of space)
(after, and always)
it went supernova
He was flying
and he was
(it is infinite)
Is anyone there?
(There is no one)
Where are you going?
(Goodbye, Harry Potter)
When Harry opened his eyes, his mother was combing her fingers through his hair.
“Did you have a nice dream?”
“I think so. I don’t really remember.”
“Really? It feels like it was important.”
“So, shouldn’t I remember? I think….I think I lost something, but I don’t know if it was important.”
“All lost things are important, love. We never value what we have as much as what we have lost.”
“I’d never really thought of it like that.”
“That’s normal, too.”
“Is this real?”
“Yes and no.”
“We are in the inbetween.”
“Oh…why are we here?”
“You’ve done so much, for so many people.”
“I- Yes, I suppose. Why?”
“You didn’t have to. You didn’t have to do any of it.”
“But,....what about the prophecy?”
“It was still a choice, love.”
“Was it the right choice?”
“Always. There is no wrong choice.”
“Dumbledore told us that we had to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.”
“Nothing about this was easy for anyone.”
“How do you know?”
“I know these things, love.”
“....Mum? Can I ask you something?”
“You can ask me anything, Harry.”
“Am I going to be in the– in the in between, here, with you, forever?”
“I could tell you it’s already been that long, but, no, you won’t be here forever.”
“Where will I go?”
“Nowhere. Everywhere. Any direction you choose. It’s all about choices, Harry.”
“How will I know what choice to make? How will I know when to go?”
“That’s quite easy, love. You’ll go when you’re ready.”
“Am I ready now?”
“I think so. I’m a bit tired.”
“Well then, Harry, where would you like to go?”
Harry told her.
And then he went.