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the girl who lived

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They told the story differently. When they spoke in hushed whispers and in exultant shouts that Halloween about the Girl Who Lived, they did not wonder how she survived. They did not ask what hidden strengths of prophecy might lie under her skin. They talked of innocence. They spoke of purity. They murmured about blessings.

Harriet Lily Potter was left on the doorstep of 4 Privet Drive. They called her ugly and gave her Dudley's hand-me-downs. They would tell people that she went to a boarding school for troubled young women. Dudley still offered to stick her head in toilets, and she still learned to snap back, "Really, Duds? The poor toilet's never had anything as nasty as your head down it, it might hurt it," and run.

Harry was the kind of girl who came home with scabby knees, who snuck the kitchen shears in the dead of night to snip her dark messy hair short. She wondered, as she curled up in her cupboard, if Vernon and Petunia would have loved a niece who was pretty instead of scrappy, who had soft hands and never burned the bacon at breakfast.

The story did not go much different.

When a giant banged down the door of the little shack on the little rock in the sea, Harry stood her trembling ground. When Hagrid offered her a happy birthday, a cake, a kindness, a hand, a new life, she took it.

When Harry stepped into Madame Malkin's, Malfoy ignored her, eyes glazing over. Hagrid bought her an owl, eleven birthdays all wrapped into one.

When Harry asked if there was room for her to sit in his compartment on the Hogwarts Express, Ron said yes. She shared her candy. She told him he had a smudge on his nose.

When the first years all lined up on the steps, waiting to be let into the Hall and the Sorting, Ron went so pale all his freckles stood out. Harry shifted next to him, and then a girl with a flat nose, a round chin, and a sure twist to her mouth stepped in front of her and stuck out one bitten-nail hand. "Parkinson," she said. "Pansy Parkinson. What are you doing hanging out with trash like Weasley, Potter? I can show you a better class of wizard."

Harry curled her hands softly in her robes, still feeling like she was wearing a bathrobe and not real clothes. "I think I can figure that out just fine by myself, thank you."

The story did not go much different. When the Hat called "POTTER, HARRIET" the hall went quiet, then filled with murmurs. It offered her Slytherin, but she thought of Parkinson's sneer, of Ron's smudged nose on the train, the way Molly had helped her through the platform entrance, and told it no.

"Then better be GRYFFINDOR," it said and the red and gold table burst into noise.

There were five beds in the first year girls' dormitory in Gryffindor Tower. Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown, both from good wizarding families, bonded immediately over Lavender's sparkly purple nail polish.

Hermione's hair was as bushy as Harry's was a rumpled mess. "You could keep birds in there," Parvati giggled to Lavender.

Nevy Longbottom was short, with rounded shoulders, rounded cheeks, plain brown hair. Her grandmother expected her to be good, but not brave. When the Hat had fallen over young Miss Longbottom's eyes, it had sat even longer on her head, arguing silently with her small clenched fists. "Hat stall," Ron had told Harry sagely in line, just as the Hat shouted out GRYFFINDOR.

"Is your name short for something?" Hermione demanded upon first introduction, as all the first years followed Percy Weasley up to the Tower, the girls clustered in the back. "It sounds short for something."

Nevy went a slightly miserable red. "No," she said. When they reached the dormitory proper, the first thing Nevy did was tuck Trevor the toad's shoebox safely under her bed.

When Draco Malfoy stole Nevy's Rememberall, Harry hopped on a broom. When McGonagall saw her snatch the tiny, glinting ball from the air, she dragged her off not to detention but to Wood and a new era of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Fred and George tracked her down to give her a congratulations and a pair of twinned grins, but at dinnertime the Chasers swooped down on their newest team member-- Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell, and Alicia Spinnett. "Oh my god, you're adorable," said Alicia. "I want to ruffle your hair, can I ruffle your hair?"

"It's not going to make it worse," said Harry.

When Draco challenged Ron to a duel, Harry jumped in as his second as soon as someone explained the concept to her. Pansy, sneering still, always sneering, her face was gonna stick like that, cornered Draco and made him kick Crabbe out as his second and take her on instead. It was a trap, anyway, and Harry and co. just ended up running into a three-headed dog while running from Filch, but Pansy cared about the details of things.

When a troll got into the dungeons, Harry overheard Parvati and Lavender talking about Hermione crying in the bathrooms. She peeled off the back of the group to find her, Ron grumblingly and loyally at her heels.

The story did not go much different, except-- when a dragon was born in Hagrid's fireplace, it was Pansy who peeked through the windows, and Pansy who earned her own detention by catching them after hours without Harry's Invisibility Cloak.

The story didn't go much different, except-- Hermione stayed up late studying, reading beneath the covers by light of a Lumos, chewing on the ends of the ball-point pens she had brought from home and only took out behind the closed doors of their dormitory room. Lavender curled up on Parvati's four-poster and they painted each other's toes. It turned out Nevy could do these tiny beautiful flowers picked out in nail polish, so they invited her up, too.

When the Yule Ball came, three years from those awkward first few weeks, Nevy wouldn't practice her dance steps with an invisible partner. Hermione would enchant music to play and read her books while Lavender spun Nevy round and round their cluttered floor, leaping askew cauldrons and piles of scarves.

When they figured out about the Sorcerer's Stone, they guessed wrong about Snape, they guessed wrong about Quirrell. Lavender and Parvati slept through the whispered argument Hermione and Harry had with Nevy, and the Petrificus Totalus that left her rigid in bed. They met up with Ron in the Common Roon and headed to the forbidden third floor corridor, three eleven-year-olds out to save their little part of the world.

Fluffy was already charmed. Ron hollered, "Are you a witch or not?" and Hermione set the world alight. Harry flew. Ron beat the chess game, Hermione beat the riddle, and Harry stepped through cold flames. When she looked in the Mirror of Erised, she saw herself slipping the Stone in her pocket because all she wanted to do was find it.

The story did not go much different. Harry had her father's hair, her mother's eyes, and all their love. When Quirrell reached out to touch her, he burned. She woke up to a quiet infirmary, Albus Dumbledore's smiling old face, and a table piled high with sweets (and a toilet seat, thank you Weasleys).

The story did not go much different, except that when Ron, his brothers, and his father's flying car rescued Harry from a locked, barred bedroom that next summer, Mrs. Weasley hugged her warmly (that was the same), tutted over her short unladylike hair, and had her sleep on Ginny's floor instead of Ron's.

"Um," said Harry from under her quilt on the floor, as the muffled sounds of thrilled panic hadn't faded, a good twenty minutes after Molly'd flicked the lights off. "Are you okay up there?"

"You're Harriet Potter," Ginny whispered. "You defeated You-Know-Who."

"Uh," said Harry. "I was a baby. I don't think I really did much."

Ginny was still hyperventilating a little bit, so Harry said slowly, "So how about those Chudley Cannons?"

"Harpies," said Ginny promptly, still a little breathless, voice squeaky and certain. "Ron's the only one fool enough to root for the Cannons."

Harry tucked her blankets more firmly around herself. "So you like Quidditch, then?"

"I'm going to be on the House team," Ginny said, the words still in a rush.

"You play? Ron didn't mention."

There was a long silence. "Well," said Ginny, quietly. "Don't tell, okay? The boys aren't good about letting me play with them, so I sneak out some nights, to the broom shed, and borrow their brooms."

"Borrow," said Harry.

"Well," Ginny said. "I put them back, after." There was another silence, then she said, "I'm good, too. And I'm gonna get better."

Harry smiled up at the dark ceiling. "Hope you don't want to be Seeker, then," she said. "I'd hate the competition."

"No, I like playing Chaser," she said. "Seeker's sort of lonely, don't you think?"

"Huh," Harry said. "I hadn't thought about it."

"Well," said Ginny, voice going drowsy in the small, dark room. "And what if I don't get into Gryffindor?"

Ginny got into Gryffindor. A whole block of Weasley red, plus Harry and Hermione, stood up and cheered.

They called Harry the Heiress of Slytherin and Pansy rolled her eyes. At Dueling Club, Harry urged a snake away from Ernie and the whispers grew louder. She was twelve years old. People had been hissing things at her all her life, crueler things than this, and louder, and at home.

Harry got her first period on an unremarkable Wednesday in the fall of that second year and didn't know why there was blood on her sheets. She cleaned up, bundling the sheets at the foot of her mattress, breathing shallowly, thinking about dying, thinking about bleeding out, thinking about how she'd ruined the bedding forever and how were they going to punish her for it? Then Hermione woke up, took in the situation, and dug through her dresser for pads while she explained that no one was dying. "Did your aunt and uncle never give you any books about this kind of thing?"

The story did not go much different, except that when Ginny started fading, Harry noticed.

When Ginny tried to say something and Percy, terrified it was his own embarrassing secrets on her tongue, shushed her, Harry followed her up to the first year girls' dormitory. Ginny stared back at her, tiny and pale and tongue-tied, so Harry said, "Want to go flying? Madame Hooch has got spare brooms."

Ginny's hands were as freckled as the rest of her, and they had been shaking on her quills for weeks, skewing her handwriting. Her hair, which was normally a little bit of a mess, was perfectly brushed because Ginny kept waking up too early in the morning with nothing else to do.

They found Mrs. Norris frozen, tied up by her tail. They found Ernie Macmillian and Nearly Headless Nick. They found Colin Creevey frozen behind his camera.

It took three stilted trips to the empty Quidditch pitch before Ginny, lying on her back on the grass beside Harry, said haltingly, "There's this book. A diary."

It didn't go that different. Harry went to find a teacher and Ginny went to find Tom Riddle's diary-- but his strength was already simmering in her blood, the fibers of her muscles, her bones. This fragment of Tom Riddle still had tricks up his sleeve, and he was so determined not to die again. They found it written in red paint on the floor of the first year Gryffindor girls' dorm: her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.

Harry told McGonagall the shape of it, everything she knew. They still decided to close the school. They still didn't know where the Chamber was. They still huddled, scared, in corridors. Ron still went pale as snow, freckles standing out stark. McGonagall drafted apologies in her head, trying to figure out how she would tell Molly and Arthur about their youngest.

It didn't go that different-- Hermione, unfrozen still, guessed about the bathroom entrance and the basilisk. She, Ron, and Harry went down, dragging a reluctant Lockhart behind them. Lockhart turned on them with Ron's broken wand. Old and unstable, the walls of the entrance tunnel tumbled down, and Harry went on alone, gripping her wand, pushing her bangs back out of her eyes.

It went the same-- a lump of sodden black robes and red hair discarded on the Chamber floor, but still breathing. A snake, a bird. A fang driven through empty pages, ink pooling like from a wound. Tears, and a flight up and homeward.

It went different. When Ginny woke up in soft warm sheets in the infirmary, she knew someone had believed her. Someone had come for her. Someone had listened.

The next summer went the same, except that when Fudge found Harry in Diagon Alley he tutted additionally about "a girl out all alone."

When Lupin woke on the Hogwarts Express, he still, for a terrible split second, saw James, messy-haired and thirteen and breathing. But Lupin still said, "Harry," didn't say anything about her mother's eyes or her father's friendship, just offered her some chocolate.

Dementors ringed the Hogwarts grounds and they still sent the same debilitating chill into Harry's sternum. They came to the Quidditch match and sent her slamming into the hard ground, saved only by the lifting spells of spectators. She went to Lupin's office to ask about Patronuses, because she could handle her world going dark, her ears filling with her parents' last words, but they couldn't take Quidditch from her. She couldn't bear that.

Harry had her mother's eyes. In every world, Harry had her mother's eyes. Lupin didn't tell her so, but he sat there in his office and remembered how very badly Lily had wanted not to be afraid. He remembered how much James had loved to fly. But James had liked it when people watched, and Lupin didn't think this young woman did.

"You look just like your mother," people told Harry--strangers told her, and teachers, and parents, and people who she might have known if she had gotten to grow up calling Godric's Hollow home. "You look just like your mother," they said. "Except for the hair, of course."

Harry felt like people were parsing through her body, taking bits and pieces and putting them on display. Here, the eyes that belonged to her mother and not to her. Here, the hair that was messy just like her dad's. Here, the scar their murderer had left on her face.

Harry scowled through Divination. Lavender and Parvati hung star charts all up over the dorm room and read each other's tea leaves in the morning, while Hermione simmered and snapped.

They told Harry she couldn't go to Hogsmeade. They didn't tell her why. She had lived before with bars on her windows, until Ron and the twins and their father's car had yanked them off and flown her away. They saved her again, here, with the Map, but before that she stomped downstairs to the Gryffindor Common Room. Second years weren't allowed to go to Hogsmeade either.

"C'mon," she said to Ginny. "Let's go flying. I'm gonna snap if I don't get some air."

Scabbers vanished, leaving just a few ginger hairs and blood drops on Ron's sheets. He and Hermione didn't speak for weeks, until Hermione found Scabbers in a milk jug at Hagrid's and a big black dog dragged Ron off by the leg when he wouldn't drop the rat.

Harry and Hermione followed. The dog became Sirius, the escaped mass murderer. Remus arrived. There were reunions, confusions. Everything settled down, just a bit, and then Snape shoved through the door.

Sometimes, when Snape looked at Harry, he saw Lily's eyes. Other times, it was just James's mess of hair, his surety and his disdain. Sometimes he looked and all he could see was that night-- the baby shrieking, unheard; a lump of red hair strewn on the nursery carpet.

But in the company of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, in the Shrieking Shack, spinning lies? Severus saw James's skinny, arrogant ghost. In the years of the war before James died, they had been on different sides. Severus was Dumbledore's, bought and paid for; was Lily's, whether or not she had wanted him; but here in this old shack he was a kid drunk on the power to finally bring his old bullies to justice.

But Harriet Potter was thirteen years old and she was not her father, not her mother, not anyone's ghost. She was not here for Snape, for Sirius, for Lupin's story. She was here because her omen had dragged Ron off into a nightmare house and she intended to get him back.

Snape went down under joint Expelliarmuses, and then Harry and Hermione turned to Sirius and Remus. They pulled stories out of the men-- young men, still. At thirteen, the kids would not have called them young, but they were. Sirius's face was gaunt, hollow, masked. Remus's was lined and scarred with hurts and sorrows. They did not look their age, but neither did Harry, as she stood there, unshaking, between their rage and Peter's life, demanding mercy.

She didn't know what her father would have done, here. She didn't know what curses her mother would have spat. But she told them, "My dad wouldn't have wanted to see his two best friends turn murderers, not for him."

Ron perched on the bed, white with pain. Hermione hovered, her wand ready, the brightest witch of her age. Harry could imagine them hollow-cheeked, gaunt, scarred. She could imagine them this full of justified rage, raising their wands in anger. She could imagine them doing it in her name and she didn't want it.

Harry had her father's messy hair, her mother's eyes, and the last of the Marauders listened.

It didn't go that much different-- the moon rose, as moons do. Remus changed, Peter shifted and ran. The dementors came. Harry thought she could see her father on the far shore, a bright white shape rushing toward her as everything went dark.

It didn't go that different-- it rarely does, with time travel. Hermione spun the Time Turner three times. They set two innocent lives free. Harry stood on the shore of the lake, quietly burying her parents again in her heart, and called her full Patronus-- a stag with blazing silver antlers. Prongs. The ghost of James Potter, the shield of his daughter.

Hermione held her hand while the dementors dissipated, fled. Then they went back to the infirmary to sit with a sleeping Ron and eat chocolate until Madame Pomfrey made them go to sleep themselves.

Sirius sent Harry a letter on the train ride home, carried by a tiny owl he said for her to give to Ron, since he'd deprived him of his pet rat. They let Ginny name the creature, and she chose Pigwidgeon.

When the Quidditch World Cup came the summer before their fourth year, the Weasleys got an extra ticket each for Hermione and Harry. The girls slept on the carpeted floor of Ginny's room-- well, slept eventually, after Hermione threatened to cast an underage Silencio spell if Harry and Ginny didn't shut up about the Ireland team's Chasers at three in the morning.

When Cedric Diggory strode his broad shoulders out to the Portkey that next morning, Hermione and Ginny blushed just a little. Harry jogged up the hill behind Ginny's swirl of red hair, chattering about the broom capacities on each team.

When the Death Eaters came to the Cup, Arthur told them to run and they did.

When a fourth champion came out of the Goblet, Dumbledore did not ask if she had put her name in.

Faced with dragons, Harry summoned a broom and flew. The magicked wood under her hands felt like cheating, felt stolen, but the crowd was screaming. Hermione was breathless with it, Ron whooping, Ginny rocketing to her feet to shout.

Faced with water, Harry wasn't sure what to do until Nevy poked her head shyly through her four-poster hangings and told her about gillyweed.

When Harry saw Fleur's little sister Gabrielle floating, pale and water-logged, in the lake, she cut her free. When they reached land, Fleur wrapped her sister in arms and dry towels. She kissed Harry's cheek and offered to show her how to do something "nice" with her hair.

The school halls began to buzz about the Yule Ball, so Harry started squinting around. She looked at Dean's jawline. She eyed Seamus's forearms. She squinted at Ron's freckled cheekbones, curious, and nothing happened.

But Cho Chang had a quiet little giggle she hid behind her hands. Cho carried her books on her left arm so she could push her straight black hair out of her face with her right. She had a butterfly sketched onto her Charms notebook.

When Harry faced off against Ravenclaw, staring down the other Seeker, Cho looked so serious that Harry could barely recognize her as the softly smiling girl from the Great Hall. The stony eagle-eyed patience made her no less pretty, and Harry flushed all over. She still managed to get the Snitch, but it was a hard-won struggle against distraction, especially when Cho outraced her and let out a laugh into the thin air.

"I think," Harry whispered that night to Hermione, both curled up inside the muffling curtains of her four-poster, "I think I might be gay."

There was a moment of quiet and then Hermione threw the fourposter curtains back. "Grab your Cloak," she said, glancing around quickly to check that the other girls were sleeping or occupied. Parvati glanced up from Quidditch Through the Ages, then looked back down. "We've got to go to the Library."

"What?" said Harry, snatching up the bundle of the Cloak and following Hermione down the twisting Gryffindor Tower stairs. "Why?"

"I don't know anything about that!" Hermione said shrilly. "How am I supposed to be a good friend? How am I-- what am I supposed to do? To say? I don't want to get it wrong, Harry."

Harry snatched at her sleeve and pulled her to a stop, partway down the stair from the girls' dorm. "Hermione. You're not going to get it wrong."

Hermione took a shaky breath. "It's important, Harry," she said. "You're important."

"See, you're doing okay." Harry was grinning a little now, as Hermione's lip wobbled. Harry moved a step down and squeezed Hermione's hands. "So, Herm, I think I'm gay."

Hermione squeezed back. "Okay," she said. "That's, um, neat. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really," said Harry. "I just wanted to say it."

Yule Ball shenanigans continued, and Ron dropped his chin glumly onto his hands at the breakfast table. "They run in packs."

"Seriously," said Harry. She dropped her chin on her hands, too, and added glumly, "Cho's going with Cedric, I heard at breakfast." (She had told Ron about her crush and Ron had said, "Cool. Hey, you wanna play a game of chess? I've got those twelve inches on unicorn hair harvesting practices to do for Snape, but I don't want to.") Harry went on, "And even if she wasn't..."

"I'd say take me, as a statement," Hermione said briskly and then stopped, blushing. "But someone already asked me."

"Did they now?" said Harry, straightening and grinning at her. "Do tell."

"Do tell," said Ron.

"I'm," Hermione flushed.

"Come on," said Harry. "So long as it's not Malfoy we're not going to laugh."

Ron pushed his eggs around his plate. Hermione did not tell, even when Harry pestered her all up the Gryffindor girls' stair that night. "Is it Pansy? Tell me it's not Pansy. No, it's Crabbe, isn't it, just admit it."

Nevy practiced the dance steps with Lavender and Parvati, all three of them twirling around the dorm room and taking turns playing the boys. Harry tried to prepare for the next Task, or Hermione tried to get her to prepare for the next Task, but Lavender hauled them to their feet and spun them across the cluttered floor. Harry tripped over her feet until Parvati started explaining the concepts in Quidditch metaphors.

Rita Skeeter wrote stories about Harry-- her glistening tear-filled eyes, her torrid romances with her fellow champions. Skeeter wrote articles about Ron in which she clearly thought long and hard about whether or not 'golddigger' was a gender-neutral word. Ron received Howlers from his mother, and Harry received a parcel for Easter a tenth the size of Hermione's. (Hermione shared). (Ginny, who had also received a full-sized parcel, grinned at Harry and did not share. "The costs of fame," she said through a mouthful of Chocolate Frog.)

Ginny was too young to go to the Ball, so she bullied Seamus Finnegan into taking her. Harry was told she was not allowed to go stag, as a champion, and so she scowled and scowled and asked Ron.

"As bros," she told Ron and he nodded solemnly.

The girls' dorm got ready together, Parvati braiding Lavender's hair and Lavender helping them all with make-up. Ginny snuck in, too, hands curled in the skirts of her hand-me-down dress robes. She sat on Harry's bed, cross-legged, and brushed her hair out in long even strokes while she laughed at Harry's inability to sit still under Lavender's ministrations.

"I don't know what to do about your hair," Parvati said apologetically, but Harry told her Fleur had already offered to help.

Ron and Harry did the opening dance, with Ron rolling his eyes every time Harry's eyes drifted over to Cho's graceful steps, to Cedric's hand low on her back. "Pitiful," he told her, and Harry glanced pointedly at Krum's hand on Hermione's waist.

"Shut up," said Ron.

"Didn't say anything," said Harry.

"She's consorting with the enemy," said Ron, as the other couples took to the floor-- Harry saw Nevy dancing with Dean, deep in concentration; Lavender with Anthony Goldstein; Seamus dancing with Ginny, her long shining hair twirling out around her.

Ron went to look for punch and Harry let Dean steal her, then Ernie Macmillian, who still hadn't stopped making awkward apologies about thinking she was evil in their second year, then a Durmstrang boy whose name Harry never actually learned. "You were very brave, with the dragons," he told her, hand warm and sweaty in hers. "You fly well."

Ginny and Harry ended up talking Quidditch in the corner with Parvati, getting stolen by Durmstrang boys in rapid succession, but always returning to that same corner of askew chairs. Finally, Ginny grabbed Harry's hand after yet another strapping lad and his fur-lined robe had stolen Parvati away and said, "Let's go for a walk. I want to finish talking about Wronski Feint tactics before another beautiful example of the male species distracts us."

"Unless it's Krum," said Harry. "I bet he'd talk Wronski Feints with us."

"Krum," said Ginny, "is busy." Hermione was jumping around on the dance floor. Ron was sitting, scowling, by the punch. Ginny fetched them both glasses for their walk, said something teasingly to Ron, but didn't invite him to come along.

Hermione was giggly and flushed when they made it back to their rooms that night. Harry was still full of the dark still peace of the gardens, the way Ginny's gesturing hands had cut through cold air. Nevy hummed dancing music as she awkwardly wiped makeup from her smiling face. Harry went to sleep to Lavender and Parvati's whispered, giggling recollections, and woke up to the last Triwizard Task still looming in the distance.

Faced with the maze, Harry had three years of surviving magic and danger no child should ever have had to face. She had three years of lessons, too, of practice with Hermione and Ron in empty classrooms-- but that was what saved her. She had looked death in the eye before and not died. This was a story being written about her. She could not die.

Cedric never got the chance to look it in the eye at all.

Wormtongue looked at her and saw Lily, but he helped lash her to the gravestone all the same. He stepped over Cedric's body. Peter sliced a long red cut down Harry's forearm and he brought Voldemort back to a full, twisted life.

Peter Pettigrew had not seen James and Lily die, but he had imagined it over the almost two decades since their death. He imagined it had looked something like this-- like this bruised sprawl of young limbs, this mess of dark hair, those green eyes flashing fearful and furious.

Peter had not thought of them as young, then. He thought of himself as old, now.

But he had cut off his hand for Tom Riddle, for fear, for his life. He could cut out his heart, too.

Harry got away with the help of her ghosts. She had their hair, their eyes, their love. She had Cedric's body and she brought it with her because he had asked her to. She crashed down onto the overgrown Quidditch pitch, onto knees that hadn't been scabbed for years, "He's back," she said. She said it again and again and no one believed her.

When dementors came to Little Whingeing that next summer, she conjured a Patronus-- because she was scared, because Dudley was about to lose his soul and even he did not deserve that, because Harry had lived through enough to know that survival came before obedience, always.

When they tried her before the Wizengamot, she had a feeling her chopped-off hair and her scowl did not help her case. They had told stories for years about the Girl Who Lived, the innocence that had turned Voldemort's evil to dust and memory, but she stood there with hunched shoulders, unpretty and unfriendly. She did not look enough like the story they wanted to hear. But Dumbledore swept in, swept out, set her free and didn't look at her once.

It seemed like everyone else was looking at her, those days-- the crazy girl, the attention-seeker, the compulsive liar. She fisted her hands in her robes and tried to keep her eyes on the back of Ron's robe, Hermione's stack of books, to listen to Nevy wax rhapsodic about vegetation and not listen to the crowd murmur around them.

When Zacharias Smith scoffed, in the Hog's Head, about Harry teaching DADA, he flicked his eyes over her-- the short black hair that wouldn't lie flat, the smudges on her glasses. "This girl?" he said.

"Excuse me?" said Lavender. "Harry carries all the spiders out of our room by hand, did you know that? Hey, Zachariah, do you know what your boggart turned into back in Lupin's DADA class? Because I do."

"Well," muttered Ron. "That's just 'cause spiders are bloody terrifying, that's what."

"Harry gets them out of the boys' room, too, if it's just Ron in there," Parvati added brightly.

When Harry sat in Umbridge's detentions, writing I must not tell lies into the back of her hand, Umbridge brushed back her bangs and tutted about what a pity it was-- her hair would have looked so lovely long. "A bit exotic, with those eyes," Umbridge said, and Harry scratched the sharp tip of the quill over parchment.

McGonagall snarled at Umbridge in Harry's career review-- "She has performed admirably on every DADA exam set by a competent teacher."

When Harry, Fred, and George got suspended and kicked off the Quidditch team, Ginny stepped in as Seeker.

"I thought you said it was lonely," Harry said.

"Gets me on the team," she said and shrugged. "And it doesn't have to be. Come practice with me."

"Umbridge confiscated my broom," said Harry.

"You think my brothers' broomshed is the only place I can steal things from?" she said. "C'mon, Harry."

They twisted between low limbs in the sparse borders of the Forbidden Forest, out of sight of the castle. Harry sped past old oaks, got sharp leaves stuck to her robes, and remembered Pansy running scared in the dark, their first year, remembered a dark shape looming over a fallen unicorn. Then she caught sight of Ginny's flash of red hair through the gloom and took off in chase.

Nevy worked harder than any kid in the DA, just like she had with the dancing. Just like with the dancing, Lavender and Parvati took out their wands and put on some music and worked with her in the dorm room. They lost a few piles of unicorn figurines to Reducto practice.

Harry dreamed of a flash of green light, night after night. She dreamed of old Muggle men eavesdropping and dying. Harry dreamed she was a giant snake, killing Arthur Weasley, who had once asked her excitedly about elevators. When she woke form that, shaking, she told Hermione, who told first McGonagall, then Ron, then Ginny. They went to St. Mungo's, where Arthur was declared stable, but Harry couldn't wash the taste from her mouth, not even with Molly's best hot cocoa.

That first dream had come true, so when she dreamed about Sirius she believed it. They told everyone they could, but no one had ever listened, not since Harry had slammed down on the overgrown Quidditch pitch with a corpse in her arms, not since the first time she had tried to explain to an adult that she lived in a cupboard under some stairs.

They went to the Department of Mysteries-- Harry and Ron and Hermione, Parvati and Lavender, who had caught them arguing in the dorm room, and Neville and Ginny and Ginny's weird friend Luna. They rode thestrals, which Parvati could see (her grandfather) and Lavender could not. "Your rabbit doesn't count," Hermione said and Parvati glared when Lavender's lower lip wobbled.

It didn't go much different-- it was a trap. The Death Eaters were waiting. The Order came, not quite too late.

When Sirius died, the last words he said to his goddaughter were not "Good shot, James!" He called her Lily. Bellatrix hit him with an avada kedavra ripped gleefully from her throat. Harry watched Sirius fall backward through the Veil and not come out the other side.

All through the next summer, Harry read wizarding newspapers whenever she could. She ignored the Dursleys except when she couldn't. When summer ended, Dumbledore dragged her before Slughorn, who looked at her and saw Lily, who looked at her and saw promise.

Dumbledore dragged her many places that year-- in the previous she had barely gotten him to look at her.

But Dumbledore pulled Harry into his office and told her about crueler things, shards of souls, power that corrupts. Harry listened to him talk about Horcruxes, about Hallows, about years and lives lost. The shape of the war spread out at her feet, stretching out, promising struggle.

Romance hit the Hogwarts sixth years like a plague. It didn't go that much different, except that when Ron became Lavender's "Won-Won" Harry got to live through the icy chill of the girls' dormitory. Hermione tried to be angry at Ron, and not at Lavender so much, but it was hard not to be unhappy.

Harry tried to take her out flying to lift her spirits. "Maybe try a library?" Ginny suggested. "Buy her some books. Punch Ron. I don't think brooms are as much of Hermione's happy place as yours and mine."

"You punch Ron," said Harry. "I like Ron."

"I might just, you never know," said Ginny.

Avoiding Hermione's anger, Harry's discomfort, and Lavender's affection, it was Ron who noticed how very weird Draco was acting that year. "He's just pacing," he reported irritably to Harry over breakfast (Hermione got lunches and evening with Harry; Ron got breakfast and dinner; Ginny thought this all was pretty dumb, and told Harry that regularly). "Goes and, I don't know, takes naps in the Room of Requirement or something. But Malfoy's up to something, I just don't know what yet."

In his cluttered old office, Harry listened to Dumbledore talk about Grindelwald. She listened to the regret in his voice, and she wondered. She and Ginny were still racing through the trees on stolen/borrowed brooms. It was a hard habit to shake.

Harry followed Ginny's bright flash of hair through twisting, reaching branches, watched her rocket off, upward, towards the sky. She thought, sometimes, about what it would be like if Ginny went some place she couldn't follow.

She thought about that now, as Dumbledore's voice brushed softly over the barest shapes of the Hallows, of a childhood he was ashamed of, of Grindelwald's life and fall and defeat.

She thought about that, and she dreamed about the Chamber floor-- dark and wet and cold. She dreamed and it was a memory-- a small person crumpled on that cold floor, robes black, long hair red.

When Dumbledore brought her along to the rock in the sea, she was not meant to save him. She never had been. Dumbledore had meant, all his life, all her life, for her to save everyone but him. And but for Tom, of course. Not all children can be saved.

Harry watched the cold water. She helped Dumbledore drink the poison, even as he begged her not to, because he had asked her to. She took the locket with her. She saw Malfoy stand, trembling, unable to finish the job. She saw Severus do it for him. She saw Dumbledore fall.

She did not cry, because she had trained herself out of that in a cupboard under the stairs. She screamed curses, because Cedric had died ten inches to her right, a spare, those broad shoulders and kind eyes and that fair game. Nothing in this was fair-- she screamed it.

She hurled curses because Sirius had toppled back through the Veil, the wrong name on his lips, because he had been living in the past and she had looked at him and seen a future where she had a family who didn't hate her. She singed Snape's heels with her rage, tried to forget standing between Sirius and Lupin and Peter, age thirteen, and telling them to be better than their betrayers.

Snape screamed that he wasn't a coward, and maybe he wasn't, but there were worse things to be.

Harry did not go home. There was war. It was her inheritance. Dumbledore had laid it out at her feet-- seven Horcruxes, waiting. One man, dying. One young woman to carry it on her shoulders. The girl who lived, come to die-- but Dumbledore had not yet told her that part.

They buried him. Harry left, and Ron and Hermione refused to let her go on alone.

They found the true locket in the Ministry, the cup in a deep Gringotts vault. Hermione trimmed Harry's hair in a gloomy forest, then Ron's, and tied back her own. They ran and walked and hid; they fought and slept. Harry and Hermione danced in the tent like they had once twirled around the dorm room to Lavender's enchanted music. Ron listened to Lee Jordan's radio, the lists of names, hoping not to recognize any. The months ticked by, long and tiring, and then they went back home.

"We had a sister," Aberforth Dumbledore said, as he let them through the passage back to the castle. Harry pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "Ariana," said Aberforth. "She was lovely. I bet every time my brother looked at you, he felt guilty."

When Harry stepped back onto Hogwarts stone, she was older. She had never looked her age. She had buried Dobby on a peaceful beach. She had heard Hermione scream on the marble floor of Malfoy Manor. She had set a dragon free, fallen into cold water, lost Ron and got him back. She had stood at the graves of parents she would never get to know.

They crawled out the end of the passage and found the ranks of the DA spread out around them-- Parvati and Lavender leaning against each other's shoulders and grinning at the sight of them; Dennis Creevey peeking out from around his brother Colin's side; Hannah Abbott with a bruise on her cheek, talking gently to a first year with a green-trimmed robe; Nevy newly tall and her face terribly still.

Ginny had her hair pulled back in a messy tail, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows while she hauled boxes of pumpkin pasties, Weasley Wheezes, and other materiel of war around.

Harry had a host of Horcruxes found and broken. She had days of travel in the soles of her feet, cold nights and quiet forests and heavy stretches of rocky ground. Ginny had a host of children at her back, armed and scared and powerful. She had her hair like a war banner and dirt smudged between her freckles.

Harry's hands felt empty in ways they hadn't for ages, weighed down with old swords and whispering lockets, a war inherited. She strode across the floor, her hair falling in her eyes, her heart thudding under her breastbone. Ginny looked up-- and neither of them had ever looked their age, not the kid from under the stairs, not the first year paling and paling in her hand-me-down black robes. When the dementors came, they both went down faster than anybody, and they had both learned how to make their own patronuses, to walk through that deathless cold anyway.

There were three scrapes, almost claw marks, on Ginny's arm and a bruise on her chin. Harry had her own new wounds. They would tell each other the stories of them later, but for now Harry brushed her fingers along Ginny's jawline, leaned in, and kissed her in the middle of that crowded floor.

Lavender wolf-whistled. Ginny curled her fingers in the short hair at the back of Harry's skull.

The halls of Hogwarts had been at war, quietly, for months, the same way the backwoods and the Ministry and Diagon Alley had been. But the Girl Who Lived had come back to Hogwarts to find the last piece of Tom Riddle's ugly soul, and Tom knew.

It did not go that different. Colin Creevey caught a spell in his ribs. He fell and did not get up. Teeth bit into Lavender's skin, and she went down on cold Hogwarts flagstone. Fred Weasley died not telling a joke, but laughing at one. Percy watched his brother's face go slack. Percy killed the man who killed him. Percy carried Fred's body to the Great Hall and laid it out with the others.

It did not go that different. They found the diadem and destroyed it. Voldemort gave his ultimatum. Harry walked out to the Forest. Her hands were cold in the brisk breeze. Trees tossed ahead and sticks cracked below and she walked out to the Forest, turning the Stone over and over in her hand.

She had found dead unicorns and families of spiders and caged dragons in this forest. A Ford ran wild somewhere in this underbrush. She had been scared, and lost, and hidden here, in this wilderness on the edge of the safest place she knew, which wasn't safe at all. She had spent stolen moments flying with Ginny here, cold hands wrapped tight around stolen brooms.

Stolen moments-- they were all stolen. You had to give them back eventually. Harry had grown up with holes in her life, and she knew that better than most. Molly Weasley's welcome had felt like a gift, every time, every holiday, every Christmas, every too-smothering hug-- being let into the warmth of that kitchen had never been something she expected to be able to keep forever. You don't get forevers. No one does, not even Tom Riddle, no matter how special he told himself he was.

You could only run so long, wind in your teeth, hands clamped around the time you had taken and not been given.

Harry turned the Stone in her hand over three times and wished for her ghosts.

They had her eyes, her hair, her love. They stood translucent around her, the shifting darkness of the forest visible through them. Harry wrapped her cold hands in her robes, because she couldn't bear the idea of reaching for them and finding nothing there to touch.

"My baby girl," said James, and Harry was almost his height now, almost his age, almost to her own death.

"Harry," said Lily. Remus and Sirius, standing by her, were so many exhausting years her senior. Lily was so young-- twenty, a mother, a widow for a few bare minutes before she had gone, too. "Harry, we are so proud of you."

"I'm scared, Mum," she said. Harry had trained herself out of crying in a cupboard under the stairs. James and Lily were too young. Sirius's gaunt cheeks, Remus's scars, even now, even resting in peace, were too old. Was Remus's body even cold, yet, up in the Great Hall, laid out under the starry ceiling? Harry remembered Hermione whispering about Hogwarts, A History, age eleven, friendless, eyes wide.

Harry had called for her dead, and they had come. Lavender was laid out up there, too, and here she was standing translucent on the cold dirt. Her fingers were bright, even now, with the sparkling purple nail polish she had always stunk up their room with. She was too young. She was almost Lily's age.

"Hey," said Lavender. "Punch some Death Eaters for me, okay? And tell Parvati sorry."

Harry couldn't speak. Remus stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder that she couldn't feel. It was meant to be comforting. Harry squeezed her eyes shut. "You've been so brave," said Remus. "You just need to hold on for a little while longer."

"We love you," said James.

"You, too," she whispered. When she opened her eyes, they were gone.

It didn't go that different. Harry did not even draw her wand. Given a chance to get on a train and not look back, she looked back. Narcissa cared more for her son's life than her husband's cause. Hagrid carried Harry's body back to Hogwarts, the same way he had carried her as a baby, out of the ruins of Godric's Hollow.

There would be people who called her blessed, for years to come-- for generations. There would be people who called her beautiful, or loving, or good. But when Harry rose dirty from that Hogwarts stone, the people there didn't call her anything but alive. They raised their wands-- teachers and students, faculty and children fighting for things worth dying for. Nevy pulled the sword from the Hat and cut through Nagini's serpentine spine.

Harry had dreamed of green flashes all her life-- of her mother's scream, her father's shout, the pain on her forehead. Voldemort didn't scream when he died. He went out with a whisper, then a thud. Harry blinked green out of her eyes. Her scar would not ache again for the rest of her life.

After the war, Ginny tried out for junior league Quidditch leagues, then semi-professional. When the Harpies hired her on as an alternate Chaser Harry took her out to lunch and they toasted the eleven year old girl who, before diaries and Riddles and snakes, had stared up at her dark bedroom ceiling and told a famous stranger she was going to get on the House team.

Harry went through Auror basic training with Parvati and a few of the other interested DA kids. Hermione declined, though the Aurors tried to woo her for months. "They should be relieved, actually," Harry told Hermione. "You don't follow rules very well, despite your reputation. We broke you of that habit like first year, and it stuck."

"Like you follow orders," Hermione sniffed and Harry grinned.

It took four years of quiet correspondence and long hikes for Nevy to bring Hannah Abbott a bouquet of daisies. Nevy blushed bright red when Hannah kissed her thank you on the cheek and held her hand all the rest of that afternoon. Dennis Creevey went through all of his brother's photos, one by one, and published a book that laid out images of the war taken by a boy who hadn't made it through.

Harry took flowers to her parents in Godric's Hollow, to Sirius's empty grave and Remus's full one. She went to see Tonks, and Fred, and Colin, and Lavender.

But she also went to Parvati, Hannah, and Nevy's little shared apartment, a few streets from Diagon Alley. They had mice in the walls and chipped paint on their door, but Nevy grew daisies and little cucumbers in a box on the window sill, taking advantage of every speck of light.

Molly Weasley had Harry for tea every week, with Andromeda Tonks and Harry's goddaughter Teddy Lupin (short for Theodora). Teddy turned her hair bubblegum-pink when she wanted attention and Ginny took her to the orchard out back and taught her to fly on a little toy broom before she had even learned to run.

Harry had rock cakes with Hagrid that she hid under napkins and threw away later. Luna took them out star-gazing and told them about constellations that no one else had ever heard of. Harry spent late nights with Ron and bottles of Firewhiskey in the dim back rooms of George's joke shop. Sometimes Hermione and Ginny came, or George and Lee too, or whole populated gatherings of the DA-- but sometimes it was just Harry and Ron, like that first day on the Express, not needing to say much at all.

She had morning coffee and quick lunch breaks with Parvati, both of them as bruised as they were ink-stained. Hermione blazed through their lunches now and then, between pestering politicians and giving soapbox speeches. They kept trying to give Harry bigger offices, but she haggled them down.

In the evenings, Harry rolled her sleeves down and stepped through the Floo. Professional Quidditch had about as late and as erratic a schedule as did Auror work, so the little house was empty as often as it wasn't. She'd see signs of Ginny by the dishes left in the sink, or the little notes tucked into Harry's favorite chair. Mom sent more butterscotch, please eat it, I don't know what to do. The girls refuse to let me into the locker room with any more of it.

It was a little house, but it was bigger than any home Harry had ever known. The windows were wobbly. The stove took a thump or two to start up. Luna had helped them paint every wall, before Ron and Hermione had helped them levitate all the furniture in, and each surface had ended up a slightly different shade of eggshell white, but Harry rather liked it just the same.

Harry visited her living, and she visited her dead. She was one of the living, and she didn't forget that, except on the very worst days.

In a cupboard under some stairs, she had taught herself how not to cry. In this home of her very own, she remembered how.

She learned to laugh when she burned bacon in the kitchen, with Ginny's arms wrapped around her waist and Ginny's chin tucked over her shoulder, freckly nose wrinkling. Harry invited people over-- chess with Ron, book clubs with Hermione and Parvati, weirdly themed dinners with Luna-- and she locked the door after-- not locking herself in, but locking everything else out.

On full moon nights, when Harry was remembering being thirteen and dreaming of Sirius stealing her away, Ginny squeezed her shoulder and took her out flying wrapped and wrapped in years of Weasley sweaters. On wet nights, when the Chamber's chill damp was leaking into Ginny's bones, Harry got the brooms and they went racing through the trees outside town. They came home soaked. Ginny made the cocoa and Harry made the blanket nest on the couch and they would wake up there the next morning, tangled and warm.

Some nights they didn't fly. Some nights Harry was tired or Ginny was sad, and so Ginny told stories of Fred's old pranks, and Harry talked about Auror cases she wasn't supposed to talk about. They ate tomatoes from Nevy's personal plots in the Herbology greenhouses. They sometimes read the books that Hermione lent them, but only sometimes.

Harry burned their bacon and she locked their doors. Ginny teased her for her messy hair and kissed her on their worn carpet, among their unevenly painted walls.

Harry felt like a thief, some days-- when she woke up to soft sunlight on a Sunday morning and felt safe, felt at peace. Stolen moments, on stolen brooms-- but then Ginny would roll over, her hair a mess, her eyes heavy-lidded with sleep, and she would smile to see Harry there in the morning light. They would get up together. The world would be slow, and the kitchen tile would be cool under their bare feet.