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Find Strength In What Remains Behind.

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1.

Mr. Harry Potter of number four, Privet Drive, was disappointed to say that he was perfectly normal, thank you very much. He had never done an ounce of magic in his life. When he tripped down the stairs, he did not bounce. When his aunt shaved his head in punishment, it did not grow back overnight. The most young Mr. Potter could do was talk to snakes, and even then, his cousin Dudley told him off for pretending.

Sometimes Harry wondered if maybe he was pretending and was too invested in the fantasy to realize it.

But Harry, late at night, locked in his cupboard, would dream of being magical. He dreamed of an evil man and a green light and he dreamed of being the hero.

And then he would wake up, no hero after all.

(Elsewhere, they told the story of James and Lily Potter's baby, a dear boy named Harry, who defeated Voldemort and used up all his magic doing it. Elsewhere, they whispered that Harry had died soon afterward; that was why he was never seen after that night. Losing all your magic, they said, would kill you with shock. That poor baby, the hero. The Boy-Who-Gave.)

(And then Harry Potter turned eleven.)

 

2.

On Harry Potter's eleventh birthday, he received a letter. It bubbled up through the floorboards when no one was looking and Harry shoved it into his pocket. That night, he opened it carefully. Inside was a thick piece of parchment that, nevertheless, had the look and feel of a form letter. Harry read:

THE MERLIN MEMORIAL ACADEMY FOR MAGICAL AND MUGGLE SQUIBS
Headmaster: Marius Black

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at the Merlin Memorial Academy For Magical And Muggle Squibs. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. If you are unable to obtain them, you will be provided with school copies. We highly recommend purchasing your own.

Term begins on August 29th. We await your response by no later than July 31. If you are not capable of responding, we look forward to seeing you at Platform Nine And Three-Quarters, King's Cross on August 29th.

Yours sincerely,
Marius Black
Headmaster


Harry read through the list of books and his eyes widened. Another piece of parchment slipped out, folded into eighths.

Mr. Potter, let me be the first to welcome you back to the magical world. I am pleased that you will be joining us at the Merlin Memorial Academy this year. Our deepest apologies if you received your Hogwarts letter in error.


And it was personally signed, very elaborately: M. A. S. Black.

"What's a squib?" Harry asked.

 

3.

The next day, the Dursleys went to the cinema, leaving Harry with Arabella Figg. Harry had been dreading this since he'd been told about it, but instead of showing him pictures of her cats, Mrs. Figg took Harry's hand and then threw him through the fireplace.

Harry landed on all fours, coughing, and then Mrs. Figg came in behind him, more careful on her crutches.

"W-where are we?" Harry asked. It was dark and chilly. This certainly wasn't Mrs. Figg's house; there was no smell of cabbage. It was more like an abandoned basement in one of Dudley's scary movies that Aunt Petunia didn't know about.

"Diagon Alley," Mrs. Figg said briskly. "We're here to purchase your school things. Dumbledore says you're to go to the squib school this year, and who am I to argue?"

"How do you know about my letter?" Harry asked, brushing off his trousers. "What's a squib?"

"We are," Mrs. Figg said and she refused to say another word on the subject. But Harry was soon too distracted by the sight of Diagon Alley to press her on it.

 

4.

Diagon Alley! Imagine the sight of it! Imagine how it appeared to a boy who had only dreamed of magic. Imagine the shops, imagine the street, imagine the people.

Imagine the promises it made.

Imagine how it seduced young Mr. Potter.

Imagine how the magic in its cobblestones reached out to touch Harry, to welcome him back, to welcome him home -- and could not.

 

5.

Diagon Alley was -- it was magic. It was everything Harry had ever dreamed of. Mrs. Figg took him through it quickly. They went to Flourish and Blotts, where Mrs. Figg asked for "the academy package". They went to Madam Malkin's, where Harry was provided with the academy uniform. When Harry grew hungry, Mrs. Figg reached into her bag and gave him a chocolate bar. It was old and stale, but Harry was surrounded by magic. It was delicious. It was the best chocolate Harry had ever had.

"You mean I'm going to learn how to do all this?" Harry asked as they passed yet another storefront showing things that, until now, Harry had never thought were possible.

And Mrs. Figg stopped walking. She looked at Harry. "No," she said. "You're not. Now come along, it's time you were home."

 

6.

Mrs. Figg must have spoken to Aunt Petunia, because on August 29th, Aunt Petunia told Harry she was going to take him to Stonewall High to meet his new teachers and be properly cowed, and instead she took him to King's Cross. On the way, she made it clear: she would not truck with magic. She would not allow it in the house. If Harry was going to insist on being magic -- and she would not understand when he insisted that he was not, that he could do no magic -- then he would no longer be welcome. When he went away to school, he would not come home. She would not have him influencing Dudley, she would not have him being a scandal in the neighborhood. When she said goodbye to him at the station, it would be the end of it.

And that was the end of it.

There was a very odd man standing at Platform Nine, who looked to Harry like he was wearing a suit, but when Harry looked through the corner of his eye, Harry saw magical robes. He stared.

Aunt Petunia said, with great effort, "good luck at school. Goodbye, Harry." And then she turned and left and did not look back.

Harry glanced up at the man, who offered his hand. "Remus Lupin. I teach Care of Magical Creatures. I'll help you through the barrier."

And then Professor Lupin took Harry's hand and walked through a wall.

 

7.

It was inevitable that young Mr. Potter would, upon entrance to the magical world, learn of the fate of his parents and of the heroic deeds he himself performed as an infant. One shudders to think of him learning of such things on the schoolyard or in his History Of Magical Britain course. Instead, the task fell to Professor Lupin, a childhood friend to Lily and James Potter.

Harry took it well, Lupin thought. He asked several questions about his parents, none about Voldemort. He did not cry.

On one thing, though, Lupin was firm: Harry would not recover his magic. Great witches and wizards of the Hogwarts School For Witchcraft And Wizardry had thoroughly tested Harry after his defeat of Voldemort, and they were certain of their conclusion. Harry had been born with magic, yes, but he had used it all up. Harry Potter would never do magic again.

Lupin had never been convinced of the wisdom of not raising James Potter's son in the magical world, but at that moment, he understood why: Harry could not mourn the loss of his magic if he had not spent eleven years waiting for it to bloom. To young Harry, he had never had magic. Surely he could not miss it?

 

8.

The Merlin Memorial Academy -- or, as everyone on the train called it, the Squib School -- was located somewhere near Stonehenge. It was once believed that the magical locus of Stonehenge would help the squibs become less squiby, Harry's books had told him. It hadn't worked out that way, but by then, it was too late to move the school. Unlike Hogwarts, the school Harry slowly realized he was meant to have gone to, except something went wrong -- unlike Hogwarts, the Squib School took children of all ages. Some families threw out their squibs young, and some muggles only discovered they were squibs when they were teenagers and walked into a magical shop by mistake.

But most students entered at eleven like Harry was, so he didn't feel so weird. He wasn't even the only one who was a muggle, or as good as one. He found a compartment in the train where there was still some space. There were two girls inside, both of them reading through the Care of Magical Creatures tome. That seemed a good idea. The book about the school had said that COMC was the most important course taught in the school, and most graduates went on to work in magical animal care. It didn't require a lot of magic, the day-to-day stuff. You just had to have a magical person come by every so often to do the parts you couldn't.

Harry liked the COMC book. He'd leafed through it, reading sections that looked interesting. The pictures moved and if you tickled them the right way, some even made noise.

No, they told him, there wasn't anyone sitting there, and he was welcome to join them. The girl on the left, who was already in school uniform, was Trudy Prewett. The girl on the right, who was wearing a pretty purple dress, was Charlotte Spinnet. They were both magicalborn.

"I've got some second cousin who works for the ministry, but I'm three generations a squib," said Trudy. "I've been down for the school since forever. Poor Charlotte was a shock to everyone."

Charlotte shrugged and pushed her hair behind her ear. "Not really a shock. My family always shows magic late, so it was bound to happen eventually. They always think we're squibs and then we're not, eventually one of us was going to actually be a squib." She decisively bit the head off of her chocolate frog. "They've been preparing forever for the worst and then it happened. So they're shocked, but I'm not. My sister's at Hogwarts, I think she's telling people I died."

Harry shuddered. That sounded horrible. He couldn't imagine how bad that must be, to be rejected by family you actually loved, and who loved you until you were a disappointment. Harry'd been a disappointment his entire life. He was used to it; he'd never known anything else. He was aware that he should probably be more upset about his aunt kicking him out than he actually was. In a choice between his family and living in a magical world even without having magic, he would never choose his aunt. "I'm, um, not going home over breaks, or, well, ever," he offered. "My aunt dropped me off and said goodbye, and I think that's it, she doesn't want to see me again. They're muggles, though."

Trudy and Charlotte exchanged a mystified look. "Then what have they got to be upset over?" Trudy asked.

"They don't like me," Harry said. "Oh, and magic, I suppose. They only like normal things. I'm not normal, so they don't like me."

 

9.

They were met at the train by magical carriages, and Harry thought it was strange that a school for those without magic would greet them with what they couldn't do. But one or two students pointed at the air, like they could see horses that Harry couldn't, and he wondered then if this was some kind of test. Maybe he should have studied his COMC book better.

"Do you know anything about invisible horses?" he asked Trudy, who shook her head.

His first view of his new school was a disappointment. He had expected an ancient magical castle, something where he could imagine King Arthur, or the Merlin of the school name, proudly walking the halls. Instead, the school looked like any normal old building. It was big, with room for a dormitory along with classrooms and kitchens, and there were extensive gardens and grounds and a couple outbuilding. But it -- it wasn't magic.

Harry told himself to get used to being disappointed by things not being magic. Things were going to keep not being magic for the next seven years, and then for the rest of his life. Might as well get used to it now.

 

10.

On the first day of school, they took exams. There were only four of them starting this year; Harry's friends from the train and a fifteen-year-old muggleborn named Vera-Lynn Wing, who had been obliviated five or six times by the local quidditch shop before the Ministry noticed and sent her to school to keep an eye on her. "My parents think I'm doing a program for very perceptive teens," Vera-Lynn said. She was already planning on trying out for one of the school quidditch teams, which mostly played each other. They didn't want to risk what could happen if magical students knew they were playing squibs.

The exams were for aptitude, mostly. Most squibs could do Arithmancy and a handful could do Potions. Some came in with a comprehensive muggle education. Some came in with whatever their parents had decided to teach squib children. Harry had a muggle education and no ability whatsoever with Arithmancy or Potions. Professor Chang, administering the exam, gave Harry an inscrutable look and then handed him an exam on his language skills.

"Snakes talk to me," Harry wrote carefully. He couldn't do Potions. He couldn't do Arithmancy. If this was the only magic he could claim, then he was going to claim it.

Their papers were collected at the end of the session. They got their schedules the next morning.

The school arranged classes by skill level, not age, and everyone's schedule was a little bit different. The school had a dual curriculum, muggle and magical. Harry's days were split. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, he had his magical classes. They pushed all the muggle ones in his course of study to Thursday and Friday; his normal year all packed into two days, but it was okay, though, they told him. And if it wasn't, he'd have the summers to catch up. The school offered practical hands-on coursework over the summer for the students who stayed, and some of it was magical and some of it was a muggle. That would help him keep up with where he would be if he'd gone to Stonewall High.

Harry looked over his shoulder and decided that they made it so packed so he didn't have any free time to miss having magic. He wondered how effective that would be.

 

11.

Harry had never really liked school. It was a place where he got beaten up, a place where he had to hide from Dudley, a place where he could never allow a teacher to look too closely at him in case they took him away from his relatives.

Harry was surprised, therefore, to like this school. It was hard, harder than anything he'd ever done in his life. He'd never read ahead in his textbooks until now. The classes were mixed and an eight-year-old had known something Harry didn't in their Ancient Runes class. There was a certain humiliation to being shown up like that. Harry started studying harder.

Things were interesting here in a way they never were at home. Herbology was like gardening, except fascinating, there was all this magic in the world, and Harry couldn't make any of his own, but he could grow magic. Astronomy was probably useless since Harry would never be able to do divination, except that Harry was discovering that the night sky was its own gift. He couldn't read the stars, but he could appreciate them, and they had an otherwordly beauty that chilled him to the bone. He stared at the constellations and they did not tell him the future; they told him about the universe, which was so much larger.

And then there was Care of Magical Creatures.

 

12.

Lupin started them off, not with the classification system in the first chapter of their books, but with a more basic question. What made a magical creature magical? It was, after all, a salient question at an academy such as this.

Not all magical creatures could do magic. Not all magical creatures were magically useful; some magical creatures couldn't be used in Potions or wand-making and some non-magical creatures could. Lupin said, if a magical creature was one that was magically useful, their textbook would be twice as long.

Some of them just seemed to be considered magical creatures because they'd always been considered magical creatures. But why weren't others? The most common familiars were cats and toads, which weren't magical creatures. Owls would carry your mail, sure, but muggles had managed to use birds to send messages as well.

What made something magical? What made something not?

"For our purposes right now," said Lupin, "a magical creature is any which appears in your textbook. But at exam time, I will expect an essay from each of you on how you would define a magical creature. This is a question that has baffled the magical community for centuries. I'd like to hear what you think."

 

13.

Harry did the reading twice, trying to understand the Ministry's classifications. At times, things were magical creatures because they'd always been magical creatures. But then there were problems. Anyone would put centaurs in the same category as humans. They book said they were thinking, rational creatures who form societies and have language, and have magic more advanced than humans do. But the Ministry called them Beasts, not Beings, just because the centaurs didn't care enough about jumping through the Ministry's hoops. But why would the Ministry need the centaurs to come to them in the first place? The definition in the book said Beings had the intelligence to understand laws and to take part in shaping the laws. Harry didn't know much about centaurs, but they were a society, and they must have their own kinds of law? Why would their decision not to take part in shaping the human world's laws mean that they should default to being Beasts?

Was the Ministry that petty, that they needed to be petitioned?

But the centaurs didn't care, one of his classmates pointed out. They didn't care what humans thought of them.

"And we're vindicating their low opinion of us by grouping them as Beasts," said Charlotte. "It's obvious they're Beings. They're people."

And then there was lycanthropy, which was a disease. The book wasn't clear on if there were born werewolves, but it didn't seem likely. Lycanthropy was transmitted by bite and could be given to muggles and magicals. Werewolves weren't really a magical creature at all, except for how they were some of the most dangerous beasts.

It was a disease, that was clear, and even if it passed on to the kids, well, some diseases did that. it doesn't make them another kind of creature.

Harry thought: I'm the same as a werewolf. I was born normal, but then something happened. It was something he didn't control, and maybe Voldemort was his own kind of disease -- and now Harry wasn't a wizard. He was born normal; now he's a squib.

But being a squib wasn't a disease, but maybe it used to be. Maybe that was Lupin's lesson: the classifications aren't really real, they're just political. That means they can change. Don't put too much trust in how the books arrange things, you can argue against them and still be right. He was giving them a year to say: the books are wrong and I can prove it.

Harry wondered what other kind of divisions weren't really real.

 

14.

In Harry's second month at school, he was called to the Headmaster's office and given the key to his Gringotts vault. There were rules, Harry was told, to make it very hard for squibs to inherit. But, fortunately, at the time Harry came into his fortune (and it was a fortune; they'd already covered the exchange rate in Magical Studies), he had not yet become a squib.

This meant he would have to take business and finance classes starting in his third year, and that he'd have to start paying tuition. The school charged those who could pay to make up for those who couldn't, the Headmaster explained. Harry nodded. Professor Lupin had told him how no one had to pay to go to Hogwarts, they only had to buy their books, because the Ministry cared about educating young witches and wizards. The Ministry didn't really care about educating squibs. They mostly just wanted people like Harry kept out of the way. The squib school was the only place in magical British specifically enchanted to not appear to magicals unless they had been given specific permission. You didn't do those kinds of things when the magical world loved you, Harry knew. He'd gone from a place where his family didn't like him to a place where the entire world didn't like him.

But he had his school and he had his friends, and now he also had a fortune. That was going to have to be enough. He thought the fortune might come in useful, in some dim future. If nothing else, he could keep helping the school for a long time. It was his new home, and he didn't really have another one anymore. He wanted to help.

 

15.

One day during Christmas break, Lupin found Harry in the dormitory and brought him down to his office. Former students often kept in touch with the school, and ones who went into animal-keeping often sent specimens and samples to the school to help the COMC program. What could be priceless potion ingredients on the magical market became, instead, lessons for students.

There was a runespoor egg on Lupin's desk. "I talked it over with the faculty and we decided you should have this," said Lupin.

Harry was the first parselmouth to matriculate at the school in its history and the faculty, Lupin told him, had been discussing the best way to teach him how to develop his talent. The egg was a stroke of good luck. It would allow Harry to both work on his only magical talent and teach him how to care for dangerous magical creatures. No one could remember a parselmouth squib before, and Headmaster Black thought that Harry could have a bright future ahead of him working with magical snakes. Parselmouths had not completely died out in the Black family and the Headmaster was familiar with what adult parselmouths could do with their snakes, so he was to supervise Harry's independent study personally.

The runespoor hatched a month later. Harry named her Sally.

 

16.

Half of the independent study was learning how to take care of Sally. The other half was learning how to talk to her.

Generally, speaking to a runespoor was not encouraged. They were a common familiar with dark wizards and some of the books Harry was given to read suspected that the runespoors themselves had something to do with wizards going dark. Certainly runespoors were cunning and good planners, but Sally's main concerns were much more, well, snake-like. Sally didn't care about ruling the magical world.

She cared about Harry feeding her correctly and then, as she grew, about Harry letting her roam free far enough to hunt her own food. Harry learned more about runespoors from listening to Sally's heads talk to each other than from any of the books. By March, he was correcting the textbook.

The headmaster told Harry: start writing your own book.

 

17.

A lot of students went home after exams, and a handful went off to apprenticeships and other summer programs. The school had their own programs, and Harry chose the one that would build a new Herbology garden and integrate it as a habitat for as many magical creatures as possible. Sally had a lot of ideas about how to make it a nest for her future eggs and Professor Vance, the Herbology teacher, was very interested in her input. With that and writing The Care And Feeding Of Runespoors, he kept busier than he thought he would. He had anticipated being bored.

He very quickly made a new friend, Russell Turpin, who was a few years older. Russell was educated privately by his halfblood parents, who disagreed with the school's educational philosophy, but still wanted Russell to socialize with other squibs. Russell had a little sister at Hogwarts, and they'd thought she was a squib for ages, too. "But she showed magic a week before her Hogwarts letter came," Russell said, disappointed.

Russell was fascinated by Sally, but refused to touch her, even after Harry explained about the biting.

The second summer, though, Harry showed Russell how to scratch Sally the way she liked it, and Russell went home with one of her old skins for his Potions practice.

 

18.

In Harry's fourth year, the older students first invited him and his friends to one of their wakes. It was a student custom, one the professors pretend not to know about. But they got together and they wondered about the missing.

They'd covered squib rights and place in society in Magical Studies. They'd talked about the history of it in History Of Magical Britain. They all knew, sometimes first hand, about violence, about abandonment. Muggleborn squibs were considered rare by magical society; half the school was muggleborn. There was no accepted, polite reason for why.

They all knew: squibs die.

It was hard to know how many or what percentage. Maybe most squibs died, maybe only some, maybe only one or two. But it was hard to know how rare it really was to be a squib when the families... prevented it.

But one thing they knew: half the school was muggleborn. And, they suspected, it really shouldn't be that way.

There were more muggles than magicals in the world, that probably helped. But magical squibs didn't always make it to school. Some went to muggle schools instead. Some were kept at home like Russell. Some were quietly adopted out. Most of the ones adopted out, the students thought, came back to school as muggleborn squibs. But others simply vanished.

The hope was: they were living as muggles somewhere.

The hope was: they had been sent to a muggle school, where they ignored all the magic they could see around them.

But they knew they were hoping too much. And they would never really know and so they held wakes.

The muggle adoptees knew they might have been born to magical families. Sometimes they tried to track them down. Sometimes they didn't tell anyone what they found. They embraced their new families, made new lives for themselves far away from their birth parents, and they didn't say a word. They kept their silence.

In Harry's fourth year, he found out that one of the graduating students was his first cousin.

On the Potter side.

 

19.

Harry asked Lupin; James Potter had no siblings. But James Potter's parents were older. Maybe there had been one. (Maybe there had been more than one.) Maybe, Harry thought, being generous, maybe his father hadn't known.

But purebloods don't like squibs. And the Potters had been a very old, very pure house.

"Would my dad have been okay with me?" Harry asked Lupin. It was a stupid question. If Harry's father were still alive, Harry probably wouldn't have ever become a squib. But he still wanted to know.

"You father loved you," Lupin told Harry.

"Yeah, but would he have liked me?" asked Harry.

"He would have loved you no matter what," Lupin said firmly. "It might have taken him a little while to come around, but he would have eventually. James was stubborn and he was loyal to his friends and to his family. He would have loved you, magic or no magic."

Harry wasn't really convinced, but he dropped it. Lupin wasn't going to tell him what he dreaded to hear: that his family would have hated him, that his father was no better than any pureblood bigot who sent their children away and pretended they died (or maybe more, maybe worse), that his mother would have written him off as a failure. The only family Harry had ever known had hated him for being different. He shouldn't sit here and wonder if his parents would have hated him for being different, too.

But it was easier. It was easier to think his father was a bully, his mother focused on magical ability above all. It was easier to think they'd hate him than dwell on what he'd lost.

 

20.

And what had he lost, really? Magic, but magic wasn't everything. Harry had friends, he had classmates, he had Sally. He was writing a book that no one in the world could write, and he was thinking about writing a second one. A dictionary of parseltongue would be revolutionary. Harry could do it. Harry could make his mark on the magical world and never do a lick of magic in his life except for what he'd already done, except for what had cost him his magic.

And yet--

After four years at the school, he understood thoroughly why Russell's parents had 'differences of opinion' with the school. Because the school was a bubble of acceptance: it was a beautiful lie. Most of the teachers and staff were squibs. The headmaster was a squib. There were only a handful of magicals around, and they were like Lupin, who was kind and gentle and frequently ill -- no danger to the squib students.

They lived in a school that magical people were not able to find unless they were shown. Most of the magicalborn students did not go home on school breaks. They knew that the bubble of acceptance was a lie. They were safe here; they were not safe anywhere else in the magical world. Magicals looked down on them, pitied them, hated them, would love to kill them.

And that was why parents sent their children to muggle schools. Why choose being half a person in the magical world when you could be a whole person in the muggle one? Why do that to your children? Why would magical parents send their children here, to be able to see the magic in the world but never use it?

But the magical world was Harry's world, too. It was Charlotte's world and Trudy's world and Russell's world. It was the world Sally didn't quite believe existed. It was a world that was Harry's by birthright. Squibs can see magic, but not manipulate it. They could breathe it, but not exhale. But why should that matter? Why must that mean they could not attend magical schools? Why must that mean they must leave?

Magic did not throw Harry Potter out. Magicians did. Wizards and witches did. They discarded Harry Potter, their savior, because he did not have magic. They discarded all these children. They discarded their failures.

They kicked the squibs out. But that doesn't mean squibs had to leave; the school was here. The school was a bubble. The school was a bastion of hope: they didn't have to leave.

Squibs built this school. Squibs built apprentice programs, zoos, circuses. They carved a place in magical society for those without magic. They built their place and they defended it.

But every year, some left. They went home, home to muggle Britain, and they pretended to forget magic. They pretended to forget that something else existed.

They did not send their children to the squib school. But some--

Some sent their children to Hogwarts.

Being a squib was like being a werewolf, after all. You didn't always pass it to your children. And it didn't make you an animal.

 

21.

Harry Potter was sixteen the first time he picked up a wand. It was made of yew and phoenix feather. Nothing happened when he picked it up. There were no sparks or birdsong. His fingers curled around the wand for one tempting, mournful moment.

Then he snapped Voldemort's wand.

There was a chilling wind through the trees, but it was a normal wind. Nothing happened when he snapped the wand. Evil did not pour out like smoke, there were no flashes of green light. He did not hear screams.

Distantly, Harry realized he was crying.

 

22.

And before this?

Before this: Harry was fifteen and he was dreaming of Voldemort.

Before this: Neville Longbottom, the other chosen one, was attacked at Hogwarts.

Before this: Neville Longbottom told the world that Voldemort was back.

Before this: no one believed him.

Before this: Harry Potter, the squib, wrote to Neville Longbottom, the wizard, and offered his help.

Before this: Neville accepted.

 

23.

When Neville came, he brought students and no teachers, and Harry was not surprised. When Neville came, he brought magical weapons that did not require magic to wield, and Harry was surprised.

But in the end, the weapon Harry held in his hands was pulled out of the bottom of the sack in absolute haste in the middle of an attack. It was a sword, beautiful and well-crafted. It was like an extension of his arm. It was like what Harry had been promised a wand felt like.

After the battle, Harry would be told it was Godric Gryffindor's sword. After the battle, Harry would be told that only a true Gryffindor could wield it. After the battle, Harry would be told he shou-- would have been in Gryffindor. After the battle, Harry would respond that, well, we'll never know, will we, and he will hate himself for the way his voice will break. After the battle, Harry would keep the sword.

(They will not let him keep it. It will find its way back to him all the same.)

But here, in this clearing, Harry fought with Voldemort and he won.

 

24.

With Gryffindor's sword clenched in his hand, his eyes shut tight, Harry thought about magic. He tried to imagine it all around him. He tried to imagine it inside the sword. He knew it was there. He could not feel it.

He had killed Voldemort with this sword. With Gryffindor's sword, the sword of a Hogwarts founder, a sword he, by all rights, should not have been able to wield.

They would never know if he would have been a Gryffindor. They would have known had squibs been allowed to matriculate at Hogwarts. But they weren't.

But there in the clearing, Harry's hands were sweaty and he was thinking about every muggle swashbuckling film he'd ever seen in his life. They'd taught him that it was easy to kill someone. They had lied.

Voldemort died. And nothing happened.

 

25.

Harry Potter, still a squib, twice vanquisher of Voldemort. Harry Potter, sixteen and still a squib, sixteen and still holding out the last ounce of hope. He had given his magic to defeat Voldemort the first time; Voldemort was now truly defeated. Perhaps his magic would come back. Perhaps he could be whole again. Perhaps he could be real.

He waited. He waited, with a sword of heroes in one hand and Voldemort's snapped wand in the other.

He waited for the magic to return.

And when it didn't? When magic did not choose Harry Potter?

Harry Potter chose the magical world and returned to school.