Hermione went to the library, when Harry first confided in her. Whatever the faculty, the administration, or the Ministry believed or didn't believe, the Hogwarts library gave the children what they needed and always would.
Hermione came back with books and books on gender in wizarding history, on the spells and words wizards had used for centuries or decades or mere years, and she and Harry bent their heads together and figured out what words Harry felt best told her story. From her hometown library, after that first summer, Hermione brought back memoirs and brightly-colored pamphlets that Harry read through instead of finishing her Potions homework.
When Harry looked in the Mirror of Erised, she still saw her mother, her father, all her gathered, lost kin. The specter of her father gathered up her hands in his. Her mother pushed back the long dark hair Petunia had always made her cut short and she called her beautiful.
When she looked into it again, after Devil's Snare and winged keys, giant chess and Ron lying prone on the floor, Hermione wringing her eleven year old hands in the potion riddle room-- When Harry looked into the Mirror again, she saw herself, just herself. The girl in the mirror winked and smiled and slipped the Stone in Harry's pocket. No matter what other wishes and want laid on her narrow shoulders, at the end of the day the thing Harry wanted most was to help. Harry brushed one hand over the lump of rock in her robe pocket, and then brushed her other over her mess of hair, which was feet shorter than the girl in the mirror's.
She woke up in the hospital wing, bedside table piled high with candy.
Once Harry and Hermione had sussed out between them what the words were for what was going on here, they had explained it to Ron. Harry didn't come out to anyone else until partway through second year, though, at the height of the Heir of Slytherin nonsense.
She was fed up, then. She just wanted to be left alone, and this wouldn't help with that, but they were all already staring. Keeping this to herself felt like a vice around her chest. Hogwarts was supposed to be better.
After, Ron came almost to blows with anyone who goggled or sniffed or rolled their eyes. Seamas learned to swallow his tongue. Draco Malfoy didn't. Hermione wrote up an explanatory note about appropriate pronouns in her best penmanship and then copied it with flicks of her wand. With Harry's embarrassed permission, she gave it to every professor Harry had or would ever have.
Colin Creevey stopped her in the Great Hall with a tug on her sleeve. She turned, shoulders rising, and the kid said in his piping voice, "You're still my hero."
That was better than it could have been, but she wasn't sure she liked the "still."
Peeves, though he was nasty about everything else--ickle firsties and orphan girls--got it immediately. For all six years of her Hogwarts tenure, he dropped water balloons on the heads of anyone who misgendered her. Professor Binns never quite figured it out, but he didn't know any student's name. Nearly Headless Nick gallantly and somewhat awkwardly called her lady and tried to hold open doors for her, despite the fact that he couldn't open them.
Snape called Harry "Mr. Potter" for all seven years that he was in Harry's life. Around year three, Ron stopped counting the detentions he got for his increasingly sarcastic responses to this.
The whispers about the Heir of Slytherin grew louder and louder, keeping pace with "Uh, I thought it was the Boy Who Lived?" Fred and George Weasley took it upon themselves to walk Harry to and from class when they could, talking loudly enough to drown everything out.
Then Hermione got Petrified and the Heir whispers stopped abruptly. Harry, if she hadn't been busy with Ron trading off reading their assigned textbooks aloud to Hermione in the infirmary, might have felt gratified that the whole school knew how much this bushy-haired kid meant to her. Alright, so they thought she might murder Muggleborns with a mysterious monster, or sic a snake on her opponent in a dueling club? But they knew she wouldn't hurt Hermione for anything.
In the Chamber, she met Tom Riddle. He was supposed to be her mirror, though she didn't quite know that yet. He was supposed to be her shadow, the chain around her ankle, the other half (or another eighth) of her story and his soul.
Ginny had been trying to speak for months-- to tell someone, to open the diary and the bag under her bed full of chicken-blood-stained robes and to thrust them into the light. But Percy had shushed her, all his assumptions orbiting his own importance to her story. The teachers had patted her on the head. She had been frightened, eleven years old with Tom whispering in her ear, guiding her hands.
Harry had been trying to speak for years-- to explain to someone the way she did not feel like Dudley, like Vernon, like the boys in the locker room at school. Hermione had listened. Hermione had given her books and books of people who felt like her. Ron had listened, and taught her wizard's chess, and kicked Draco in the shins.
But here Harry was, standing alone-- a red-haired lump at her feet, dark robes sodden with moldy water. Hermione was frozen. Ron was trapped behind a rock fall and Tom was pacing, gloating, glowing. Ginny was breathing. Ginny had to be breathing. Harry was going to save her. She had to, because no one had listened to the kid, not even Harry.
The phoenix tears left no scars on Harry's arm. Riddle, the Chamber, the life going out of her, everything that had happened in that long year-- none of it left scars on Ginny, or at least none that anyone could see.
When Harry got back to 4 Privet Drive that summer, she suffered through Aunt Petunia's annual hair cut and then she curled up with Hedwig and wrote a letter. She wrote about the Muggle candies she missed when at Hogwarts, and how her cousin thought she was weird for being excited about summer homework. She asked Ginny how she was.
Ginny wrote back after a long week. She didn't answer the question, but she wrote about helping Dad on the car, about the apple harvest coming, and Fred and George playing pranks on the ghoul in the attic.
When dementors glided in rustles and chill quiet onto the Hogwarts Express in the beginning of her third year, Harry went down. She heard her mother scream, her father shout, and Tom Riddle laugh, high and terrible.
Madame Pomfrey had grown back her bones after Dobby's bludgeoning bludger and Lockhart's terrible attempt to help. She'd patched Harry up after the third floor passage in her first year, after the Chamber in the second, after the dementors this year, tutting sternly behind her teeth.
After stuffing her full of chocolate, she pulled Harry into her office at the beginning of that third year and said, "You'll need signed permission from your guardian, but if you're interested in undergoing magically-aided transition that's something this infirmary is capable of."
"But my aunt and uncle, they're--" Harry started, miserably. She had already had this fight with McGonagall, about Hogsmeade. "They're Muggles," she said, but that didn't explain anything here.
"I'm sorry," said Madame Pomfrey and she sounded like she was. "But there are restrictions." She sighed and brushed a hand over the white kerchief tied over her hair. "I'm sorry, Harry. You do go by Harry, right?"
"Yeah," she said. "That's fine."
"Harry," she said. "Is it alright if I give your contact information to some of the other trans students in the school? There's been a sort of unofficial mentorship program, between the years, and some of them have asked about approaching you."
"Uh," said Harry. "Um, yeah?"
Madame Pomfrey made a little note on her clipboard.
Harry had thought about changing her name-- to Lily, maybe. But she liked the way Harry sounded-- shouted across Quidditch pitches; hissed by Ron outside her barred window in a flying car, freckled and grinning-wide; the name her parents had given her. It was hers. Very little was hers-- Hedwig, a locked bank vault she'd happily trade for two living parents-- but this was.
"Weird little Potter!" Draco said loudly from Slytherin table, after. "Girly after all, fainting like that."
"You know," said Fred, leaning in close to Harry. "Draco came running, crying, into our compartment, after." Harry snickered into her mashed potatoes.
Lupin had gotten a letter in Hermione's certain hand about Harry's proper pronouns, just like every teacher in Hogwarts had. When Harry came to him for help with the dementors, Lupin fetched a boggart and taught her about Patronuses. He also stopped her one day, and handed her a scrap of paper.
"These are the addresses of some friends of mine," Lupin said. "They're like you. If you wanted to send them some letters, by owl post, I'm sure they'd be happy to write back."
The Patronus was hard, not because Harry didn't have happy memories buried in her, but because this was the only chance she had ever had to hear her mother and her father. Even in fear, even in their last gasped desperations, she wanted to know them.
But she couldn't let anyone take Quidditch from her-- so she thought about flying. She squeezed her eyes tight. But it wasn't quite the right kind of happiness, so she woke up on Lupin's office floor and he gave her some chocolate.
Sometimes Ron wasn't there to snap at hissed taunts. Sometimes Harry didn't feel like snapping back her own self, as sharp and vicious as she knew how to be. Sometimes she wanted empty spaces, and so she'd grab the Invisibility Cloak and just go-- climbing up towers, counting cobwebs, sitting unseen at the feet of suits of armor and imagining ancient old battles.
One chill afternoon in her third year she grabbed the Cloak and went out to the grounds. She thought about going to Hagrid's for tea, or taking a nap in his overgrown pumpkin patch, but her feet turned her toward the greenhouses.
The door to the non-dangerous greenhouses was not locked. it creaked open under Harry's hand. Inside, the glass walls dripped with condensation, the ground steaming, the air enfolding. It had been brisk outside but Harry felt her shoulders relax into the warm. She shut the door behind her and then froze.
"I know you're there, sweetheart," said a round, bright voice. Despite its robust cheer, the voice did not shatter the peace so much as fill it, like it was just an extension of the sunlight streaming through the glass.
Harry squeezed the Cloak more tightly around her, turning. Professor Sprout had been working quietly at a bench, filling ceramic pots with rich soil, drainage, and cuttings. She looked up, smiling, at the rustle of fabric, and Harry let her hood fall back. "Sorry, I--"
"Little Miss Potter," said Sprout, her smile not flickering. "Want to do some potting?" She chuckled to herself.
So Harry folded up the cloak and sat on the rickety bench beside her. Sprout told her about root systems-- how they can be deep, or wide and shallow, or thick and hoary, breaking stones over years and years. She told Harry about molds and aphids, about trellising and types of soil.
When Harry wanted peace, sometimes she grabbed her cloak and walked, unseen, wherever she wanted. Sometimes she came here.
Sprout talked, a bubbling little chatter that touched every leaf and sprout in the space. She also listened. Her hands streaked with dirt and green juices from careful cuttings, Harry told Sprout, haltingly, that she felt unnatural, strange, terrible.
"Do you really?" said Professor Sprout. "Or is it just the things that other people say?" She pulled a trowel gently from Harry's sticky hands and set it on the table. She pushed Harry's growing bangs out of her eyes-- her mother's eyes, they said. "Because you, my dear, are natural."
She touched Harry's nose and left a streak of dirt on it.
Sprout said, "This nose? All skin and blood and cartilage, just like any other nose. This hair? Did you know it's all dead, hair?" Sprout patted her own voluminous bush of grey hair. "Fingernails, too. Do you know about shelled creatures? Have you been to the sea? But all those shells, one shell, two shell, they build them out of themselves, these old dead lovely things. The heart is alive, the flesh, but they build themselves homes to carry on their backs." She scrubbed at her cheek, leaving her own streak of dirt. "I think I got distracted."
"Dead things?" offered Harry.
"Oh!" said Sprout. "Yes, I have it." She leaned forward, smiling, with her big cloud of hair, her thick nose, her rumpled, rolled-up robes. "You're perfect. Ignore the rest of them."
When Madame Pomfrey's unofficial mentorship program contacted Harry, she didn't immediately recognize it. She stiffened, she kept her fork firmly in hand, and she eyed Blaise Zabini warily. He smiled at her and said, "Could I join you?"
"This isn't your table," Ron said, glancing over from his chess game with Dean down the table.
"Madame Pomfrey sent me," Blaise continued, still smiling. Harry blinked and looked at him more curiously.
"Harry, you good?" Ron called.
"Yeah," Harry said slowly. Blaise sat down, poured himself some tea, and grabbed a piece of toast.
Harry kept gripping her fork, watching him closely.
"You already don't like me, don't you?" Blaise said, stirring his tea with a small spoon he must have brought himself.
"I haven't had the best experiences with Slytherins."
"What do you know about Slytherin?" Blaise asked.
Harry considered him, his slight smug smile, his perfect hair, his perfectly casual shoulders. Blaise was a teenager, his legs a little too long and his acne as spelled away as he could manage. Harry shrugged and said, "Voldemort killed my parents. Yesterday Malfoy tripped Ron and he fell in a hedge."
"Ah, Draco," said Blaise. "You know, last week Pansy conjured a bee into the Common Room, because he'd said something about her nose, and the poor lad shrieked and ran like a girl."
"Hey," said Harry. "I'm a girl."
"Like a Draco, then," said Blaise, and Harry grinned.
The twins gifted her with the Marauder's Map-- she had two unsigned permission slips in her pockets and they could help with one of them. She snuck out to visit the candy shop and the Three Broomsticks, with Ron and Hermione, once with Blaise, who spent the whole time explaining old wizarding families' rules of comportment.
When Blaise figured out she didn't know the first things about make-up, hair, or other skills-- "Of course," he said. "I should have known. Who would teach you? That Granger girl?"
"Or Muggles?" He shuddered.
"I'll let that pass but only because it's Aunt Petunia," said Harry.
When Blaise learned that, he dragged her up to a fancy Slytherin prefects' bathroom ("You're not a prefect." "So?") with a bag full of supplies. "I know all of this," he said.
"How?" said Harry.
Blaise smiled. "My mother is quite the lady," he said. "She's caught four husbands, and she was rather ready for me to continue the family business of collecting inheritances."
"Did she take it well? You turning out to be a boy?"
"Oh, there are plenty of rich heiresses about, too. Present company included, of course." Blaise winked. "And knowing how to primp a lady is as useful in being one as in catching one. If you can talk a good talk about contouring, and walk a good walk about bra sizings, well, you make a lot of friends." He waggled his eyebrows.
"You're not my type, Blaise."
"I don't curse and spit enough, do I? You want a sailor, I can tell. You'll wrestle in meadows instead of picnicking, and have romantic dates all painted up and hollering at Quidditch matches. Ugh, I can see it now. Matching tattoos. Home improvement projects done by hand. The sort of dog that slobbers on things. Maybe a goose."
"A goose?" said Harry.
"Excellent watchdogs. Unfriendly, loyal, a little smelly."
Harry had a watchdog that year, though she didn't know it. Sirius was there to see how James and Lily's child was. He was also there for Peter. That was the choice, wasn't it? Was he here to watch the living, or avenge the dead? Or to avenge himself?
In the Shrieking Shack, Ron went pale with pain on the bed, and Hermione flushed with upset. Harry stepped between her father's best friends and his worst betrayer. In any world, she wanted them to be better than this. And for her, they were.
But it was not fair-- it never had been fair. They did the right thing and still the moon rose. They let Peter live, and so he turned and ran, taking Sirius's alibi with him. The dementors swarmed. Harry tried to think happy thoughts-- about warm future homes she now wouldn't be able to have, about winning the Quidditch House Cup, about Christmas morning, the first time there are been presents, real presents for her-- and the world went black anyway.
But sometimes you get second chances. Hours later, or at the same moment, depending on your frame of reference, Harry stood on the edge of a freezing lake and watched herself begin to die on the other side.
She was the only one who could do this, and so she did. She thought about the thick heat of the greenhouses and the way the plants breathed. She remembered chess with Ron, and full plates around the battered kitchen table of the Burrow, and Hermione pouring over books trying to find the words Harry needed.
White burst from her wand. They set two innocent souls free that night, and Harry went home to the Dursleys.
When Sirius looked at her, he would still see James. He tried to see Lily, and when Harry smirked just so, he could. Those were her eyes, after all, and her heart. He called his goddaughter Harry.
To their train home from school that year, Sirius sent a small unnamed owl. It carried a letter, and two permission slips signed by Harry's legal wizarding guardian-- one for Hogsmeade and one for Madame Pomfrey.
Harry wrote letters all summer-- to Sirius, with his bright-plumaged messengers; to Ginny, about Quidditch, about Dudley getting stupider, about whatever Muggle artifact (a ball point pen! a push lawnmower! a calculator!) Arthur had brought home from work that week; and to Lupin's friends. One of his friends wrote so academically she had to get Hermione to help her translate. Another used terribly foul language that Harry stored away for future need. The last reminded her of Molly Weasley, quite a lot, up to the worrying, but was much better at understanding what was going on.
Molly tried her best. When Harry had told them, Arthur had asked excitedly, "is this a Muggle thing?" and Hermione had hurried out a "no!" and a frantic history of gender diversity in the wizarding world.
"It's just that I'm a girl," Harry had said. and Arthur had nodded and asked her about how telephone booths worked. He would call her by the right pronouns until the day he died at the respectable old age of one hundred and thirty three, and he would make it seem easy.
But Molly had to try. Hermione explained things faster and higher-pitched every time Molly messed up a pronoun, which was often. Molly frowned and muttered and put extra potatoes on Harry's plate at breakfast. Harry slept on Ron's floor at the Burrow, which didn't bother either of them but which made Hermione scowl and scowl.
Harry got boxes of sweets and holiday presents and warm hugs, as Molly chewed things over. For her fifteenth Christmas, the Weasley sweater she would receive would be a bright, friendly, terrible pink.
The next time Harry visited the Weasleys, for the Quidditch World Cup, Molly put her on Ginny's floor with Hermione to sleep-- for some definition of sleep that involved Hermione hissing threats at three in the morning if Harry and Ginny didn't shut up about Wronski feints, do you know what time it is.
"Next time," Hermione muttered heatedly at breakfast, staring down into a steaming mug of tea, "I'm sleeping in Ron's room, or Bill's, or outside with the gnomes."
(She didn't. Molly dug up a pair of earmuffs from the attic for her, and Harry scooted close to Ginny's narrow cot, crossing her arms on the edge of the mattress, cheek on her bicep.
They whispered until morning: "Krum's dive!"
"But the Irish Chasers, Harry. Did you see that no-look pass?"
Death Eaters had come marching through the Cup, but they would both, even now, especially now, rather talk about Quidditch. Harry rubbed her forehead. Ginny rubbed her writing hand, massaged the callused dent that her quill had left on her middle finger.).
Harry had been letting her hair grow out. When she went home for summer, Petunia had always made her cut it-- the summer after first year, the second. That summer, after her third year, her limbs strung out and shaking, Petunia had gotten out the scissors and Harry had said no.
She'd been saying no for years, but this time her hand had flexed on her wand. Petunia's eyes had dropped to the terrible little rod of wood and phoenix feather. "I won't let you," she'd said. She hadn't been sure she was bluffing, and neither had her aunt.
Harry's head grew heavier, dark curls forming softly around her ears, then framing her stubborn chin. When her name came out of the Goblet of Fire, she wanted to hide behind the short, dark curtain of it, but instead she let herself be pushed to her feet and to the antechamber in the back with the other champions.
When Hagrid showed her the dragons in the forest, the first task, she went to tell Cedric. In games, she believed in fair play. In life, less so, but that was more because of experience than ideals.
"Thanks, man," Cedric said, warm and bright, and then flushed. "I call girls 'man,' too, um, sorry. Thanks, ma'am?"
"Just Harry," says Harry. "See you on the field."
She braided her growing hair back into a little horsetail, to keep it out of her eyes when she played Quidditch, or evaded dragons while robbing them of golden eggs. Parvati taught her how to braid, that fourth year, cross-legged on the couches in the Common Room. Harry wondered if her mother would have taught her. She wondered if her parents would have cut her hair short and boyish, every summer. They had died for her-- or did they die for a son? Would they have died for her, if they knew?
She paged through the picture album Hagrid had made for her, out on her invisible afternoons curled up behind the greenhouses. She looked at their smiling faces. She wondered what they would have called her.
When they visited Padfoot out in the cave by Hogsmeade, Ron asked him about eating rats and Hermione elbowed Ron sternly. And then Harry wet her lips and squeezed her hands and asked about her parents.
"What about them?" said Sirius.
"Would they have--" Her hair was long now, and she let it fall forward into her eyes, cover her face. "Would they have been good, about all of this?"
Sirius knelt down in front of her, taking her hands. "Hey," he said, gruff and upset, so young still, though she wouldn't realize that this man kneeling in the rocky dirt was young, still, even now, until after he was dead. "Hey," he said. "They loved you so much."
"That doesn't mean they'd have understood," she whispered.
"Yeah it does," he said. "Harry, hey, it means they would have tried. They'd have believed you, and if they didn't get it they would have learned how." He lifted his hand and she let him push her hair back behind her ear.
"Would mom have braided my hair, you think?" she said.
Sirius shook his head and said hurriedly, when her face fell, "No, James. James would have. He did Lily's hair, whenever they both had time, since the first month they started dating. He got good, too."
Harry laughed, a little wetly. Sirius smiled and it was a little damp, too. "He'd have braided your hair and taken you flying and spoiled you rotten with presents. If Moony and I didn't spoil you, first, and Lily didn't stop the lot of us. Lily would have taught you how to make her famous ginger cookies, and to throw a punch, and how to curse like a real lady."
"Yeah?" said Harry.
"Yeah," he said.
Harry had slept in the boys' dormitory her first three and a half years. On a whim, Hermione snuck her up into the girls' dormitory before the Yule Ball, to get ready with the other girls, and the Tower let Harry in without a murmur of disagreement.
Parvati turned Harry down for the Ball. "I'm straight," she said, very apologetically, and Harry stared and then beamed. Parvati blinked, then grinned back and invited her to procrastinate on her homework with her and Lavender by painting their nails. "Lav got this fancy stuff that means the designs will move."
Padma Patil, much less straight, took Harry up on the offer, but Harry ended up leaving the ball early to go help Lav and Parvati and Hermione move all her stuff from the boys' dorm to the girls' dorm. She slept on a pad of blankets on the floor.
"Like a sleepover!" said Hermione.
"A what?" said Parvati.
"It's a Muggle thing," said Hermione. "But I never went to any back at my Muggle school. I just heard about them."
McGonagall, who got tattled to a week later, told them to move Harry back to her old dorm. They didn't, which McGonagall found out another week later. She sternly supervised as they moved Harry's things back to the boys' dorm. "There are rules, Ms. Potter, Ms. Granger, Ms. Patil, Ms. Brown." Another week later, McGonagall found out they had returned all Harry's things to the girls' dorms that very night. This continued.
The Triwizard Cup continued, too. Draco's badges called Harry names that made her want to shrink. Rita Skeeter's pen scrawled out coy little concerns about her, only Skeeter wrote 'him.' Hermione fumed, reading it at breakfast, spitting mad.
Harry picked at her eggs. She went out that afternoon and watered plants in the hot close air of the greenhouses. A friendly little creeping tendril wrapped around her shin, blooming five-petaled little bursts of pink and white, and Harry tried to pretend this was the most important thing in her life. No hedge mazes, no ugly articles, just roots sunk deep, just the way this little thing turned its leaves toward the light.
She dragged Blaise along to tea at Hagrid's-- "You teach me about eyeliner. I'll teach you about being nice."
"This dog slobbers," said Blaise.
"Yes," said Harry. "Now pet him and tell him he's a good boy, aren't you Fang?"
The third task came. Harry knew her curses, her Expelliarmus and her Lumos. She knew how to duck, and how to run. She heard Fleur scream. She saw Krum, moving stiff, unnatural, controlled. She answered the sphinx's riddle and she made it to the center of the maze.
She had thought this was a game. They called her names, they wrote nasty articles and flashed ugly badges in her face-- but this part, on the field, the challenges and the competition-- she thought this was a game.
She was used to life being unfair. A cupboard under the stairs, Sirius a fugitive when he could have been her home instead, the way people hissed mudblood at Hermione-- she knew about unfairness. But this wasn't supposed to be like that.
That was a lie-- she knew unfairness on the playing field, too. Life had a way of sneaking into her games. Dementors on the Quidditch pitch in the match against Hufflepuff, or Dobby's demented bludger the year before and her precious broom shattered to splinters. When she had gone into the lake, she would have saved all four of them if she had to. It was a game, but the water was cold, the light green. They had looked dead, floating there, and she had made sure they all made it back to shore.
And so, at the end of it all, she stood there by the Cup with Cedric and they both tried to make a game fair that never had been. Harry had been growing things in the greenhouses for years, now, under the tutelage of Cedric's own Head of House-- the House of loyalty, of fair play, of tolerance. Harry wanted to be brave, to be clever, to be wise, but she wished she could be fair.
They reached out, together-- debts paid, favors returned. The hedge maze flickered out and the graveyard rushed into view.
Tom Riddle had thought he had chosen an equal-- a half-blood boy, powerful, dark-haired, prophesied, the child of the thrice-defiant. But Harry stood there with wisps of that same dark hair escaping her braid, angry tears on her cheeks for Cedric. The specter from the diary had sneered at her, too, only a little older than she was now and ugly with hate.
But Tom had her blood in him now-- blood of the enemy. Her mother's love. He could touch her and he did, one cold finger to her cheek. She remembered Professor Sprout leaving dirt on her cheek with a friendly warmth, remembered Molly Weasley scrubbing dirt off her face with a brisk absent-mindedness, like she was one of Molly's own. She wrenched her head away from his grasp.
Tom Riddle thought he had chosen an equal-- when their curses met mid-air, the world shook. The light grew. The ghosts came, their deaths ripped out of Voldemort's wand. Maybe not ghosts, then-- memories. Things carried, dead things carried with you, like a shell, like a home that grew and grew with you.
Harry brought Cedric's body back to Hogwarts, because he had asked her to. She didn't see Amos Diggory fall to his knees. She didn't feel Moody take her away, or hear Ginny shout her name. When the teachers came for Moody, for Barty Jr., she noticed but only barely. She got back to her bed in the dormitory, somehow. She went to sleep. She went back to 4 Privet Drive. It was weeks into summer before she woke up enough to cry herself back to sleep.
Ginny's letters were one of the things that kept her sane that summer. It felt like no one was listening to her. The papers were useless and Dumbeldore was a warning weight on everyone else. Voldemort was back-- she had seen him, he had touched her-- and no one was listening.
So she told Ginny about the graveyard, in rambling inches and inches of parchment. She threw things on the page-- the names she had heard that they would hear in classrooms all the next year; the weight of Cedric's body, not yet cold; the ghosts who had guarded her.
They were not happy letters, but Harry had never really been after happiness.
Ginny wrote, for the first time, about Tom. In letters smudged a little with dirt from the apple orchard, Ginny wrote about the things he had said, or implied, or what she had realized only in retrospect. She talked about his charm, the layers that lied and then struck, the way it felt when his mind slid slowly into yours. He hated butterscotch, and feared death, and thought he was smarter than almost everyone. She called him Tom.
When Harry came back to school for her fifth year, McGonagall stopped her as she got off the carriages. Harry had been dreaming of Cedric all summer, of green flashes and dry grass and cold stone. She was thinking of a war to come, though she hadn't named it that yet. She had all of Ginny's letters tucked in her book bag and it was a welcome weight.
"Yes, professor?" she said, expecting bad news, expecting advice, expecting sympathy she'd just as soon trade for anything else.
"I've spoken to the house elves and edited the rosters to more accurately reflect the situation," McGonagall said. Harry blinked, confused, and McGonagall went on, "Your luggage should be in the fifth year girls' dorm. A new four-poster has been supplied. I expect no nonsense, Ms. Potter."
Harry hugged her around the middle and McGonagall, flustered, said, "It's just my job."
When they met up in the Hog's Head to form the DA, the drab tavern filled with robes of Hogwarts black, with yellow scarves and red trim and blue mittens. As Hermione stacked her papers neatly for the eighth time, getting ready to start, the door swung open again to admit three green scarves and three pairs of flushed cheeks.
Blaise smirked at the quiet room. "Sorry we're late."
"You're not sorry," Harry said. Blaise grinned at her as the Greengrass sisters found places to sit in the crowd.
"I like learning!" Astoria was saying brightly, as Ginny asked the Slytherin curiously about what she was doing here.
"And I like Astoria not doing dumb stuff without me," said Daphne, eyeing the Weasley twins suspiciously.
Blaise sidled over to Harry, who was trying not to smile. He shrugged fluidly. "Millicent said she'd rather nap, and I didn't ask Pansy," he said.
"Thank you," said Harry. "I'm not sure I'd have let you in, if you brought Pansy."
The Room of Requirement gave you what you needed. It gave Harry dummys for her students to practice on, gave her books and supplies and wide open space. It have her hair ties when she needed to get her hair out of her face.
Neville tried hardest, of all of them. Fred and George badgered Ginny into showing off her Bat Bogey Hex. Astoria Greengrass and Susan Bones were poor students, always off in the corner getting distracted by fervent discussions of the minute details of magical law enforcement. Daphne looked on, bemused and uncomfortable, while Blaise took quickly to flirting with Marietta and Lavender, sending them off into fits of giggles.
When Harry went out to the greenhouses these days, Neville was there, sometimes, or Hannah Abbott. They didn't talk, just passed shears and water cans between each other. They didn't ask about the DA schedule, or Umbridge's latest edicts, or how each of them got out here as after-hours movement grew more and more restricted. Sprout gave them projects and gentle advice, sandwiches and iced tea ("My grandmother immigrated from Virginia, ages back; yes, it's rather sweet, isn't it? Good for the heat in here.")
Umbridge confiscated Harry, Fred, and George's brooms and kicked them off the team. Ginny took Harry's place on the team, though Harry knew from years of summer letters that Ginny would have preferred Chaser to Seeker any day.
Blaise sat with Harry for the first game her team played without her, wrapped up in his green scarf and clapping with polite boredom for any goal, regardless of team. Ginny's hair was a fiery tail behind her as she bent close over her broom and dove after a flash of fluttering gold.
"She really is quite pretty," Blaise said.
"Uh," said Harry. "She. She flies good."
Blaise slanted a glance over at her and Harry kept her eyes fixed on the field. "I'm really not your type, am I?" he said.
"That's-- that's not what I," said Harry. "She's Ron's sister."
"Yeah," said Blaise. "And she really is quite pretty." He patted Harry on the shoulder.
As winter moved to spring, that year, Luna took her out to the Forest and showed her the thestrals. They went walking with raw cuts of meat in their hands and Harry remembered nursing black eyes back in her cupboard.
"Sometimes I'm not a girl," Luna said, casually, in the middle of talking about invisible head-circling mites and what might be on for dessert at supper. "You know. Things just change, sometimes. Sometimes I'm not anything." Harry was frowning and Luna turned and smiled at her. "I don't think it's like that with you. You don't change much."
"Don't I?" said Harry, tucking her hair behind her ears.
"I don't think so," said Luna. "I think you're just you. But you tell me."
Harry thought about her cupboard again, as they rode the thestrals over a London light to the Ministry. She thought about all the little wounds she had nursed there, in that cobwebbed darkness. She thought about what pains she would be willing to carry, to have a home to go to that loved her as much as her godfather did.
She had once regrown all the bones of her arm. She had gone down under the dementors, their hoods falling back as they stepped in close. She had felt every centimeter of her skin break open under Wormtail's knife, tied up in that graveyard, Cedric's body a lump in the dark. She knew about pain. She could cast her Patronus anyway.
Ron and Ginny stomped through the Ministry halls, hair bright, and Harry remembered visions of Arthur, bleeding out on this tile. Hermione's hair was a cloud, Luna's a slant of moonlight, Neville's earth. Harry had been to the greenhouses so much less this year, spending so many spare moments in the Room, nurturing people instead of plants. She was tired. She thought she might always be this tired, and this scared.
A blight, a mold, a dying limb, browning leaves-- none of them left that night unscathed. None of them would hate her when they woke up the next morning aching. And they would wake up, the next morning.
They had gone to save Sirius, and Sirius wasn't there. But he came-- wand out, hair wild. He was young. He would always be young. She would spend more of her life remembering him than knowing him.
A flash of green. Sirius went backwards through the Veil and Harry watched him go.
It's silly, she wrote to Ginny that summer, curled up in the hedge where no one could find her, but I really thought that one of these days he was going to come take me away. I thought I'd hear the motorbike coming down the street. You know Hagrid brought me here on that motorbike? All the neighbors would come to their windows and stare, because no one has motorbikes in Privet Drive. And I would know it was for me, and open the door, and he'd say "get your things, kiddo," and no one would be able to stop us.
Do you want me to borrow Dad's car? Ginny wrote back. Just say the word.
The next year, Voldemort was still back but this time people believed her. The year went slow. She flew through Potions with the help of a textbook that Hermione didn't trust. Neither did Ginny. "It just makes me nervous," Ginny said. "Books with personality. You know."
"Oh," said Harry.
"Just be careful."
Ron started dating Lavender--loudly--and that made for an awkward sixth-year girls' dormitory. Parvati kept saying pointed things about Hermione's aura while Hermione snapped back about psuedo-magic. Harry practiced her Silencios. They didn't fight much when she was trying to sleep, but she was still having nightmares.
Dumbledore had been telling her bedtime stories about the Gaunts, about young Tom and the pieces of his soul. Harry had faced Voldemort, now, more times than almost anyone else had and lived. She was sixteen years old and she was tired.
The next time Blaise tracked her down, planning to laze about by the Lake with a bag of sweets from his mother, Harry sat quietly on the green grass for a long time. Blaise filled the silence easily, but she could feel him keeping an eye on her.
"Why did you come up to me?" Harry said eventually. Blaise stopped hypothesizing about the Giant Squid's intelligence level. "You're friends with Draco and his lot," Harry said. "I know you are. Your family-- they're not on my side of the war, are they?"
"This is school," said Blaise. "Not war. Schoolyard taunts. It's not that big of a line to step over."
"Yes, it is," said Harry. "Why did you?"
Blaise tipped his head back, leaning on his elbows. When he stood up his robes wouldn't be a touch grass-stained. "It's about sticking with your people, right? Packs, cliques-- no that's not quite what I mean." His voice had gone soft, thoughtful. "A Hufflepuff girl did this for me, once. Nymphadora. She..." He shook his head. "She didn't have to. And Madame Pomfrey talked about, you know, paying it back-- you get, and you give back."
"That's not it."
"I know it's not. Let me finish." He tipped his head back further, not looking at her. "I am not kind-- she was kind. You, also, are not kind, but you're good, and I am not good. But you're my people. I have been where you are, or something like it. There are things about me that Millicent and Daphne are never going to quite understand. But I recognize me, in you, and that means something to me."
"You're very strange," said Harry.
Blaise smiled, dropping his chin. "You'll meet my mother, someday. You'll understand."
She thought about taking Blaise to Slughorn's dinner party, but for all they were friends, they were still friends quietly. She asked Luna and beamed when Luna offered to lend her some earrings, so they could be matching.
Harry thought, later, that she should have known Dumbledore didn't plan on coming back from that rock in the sea. There was something in the way he stood, maybe, or the way he smiled at her. Those crescent-moon glasses, that long nose, the way he had been dropping stories in her hands all year and making her carry them.
But she didn't know, when he asked her to come with him, when they Apparated out, when the salt wind struck her in the face with a cold slap. He told her her blood was more precious than his, and she still thought he wanted to be okay. He drank from the poisoned water, and she still thought he was going to come home. On the Astronomy Tower, Harry frozen under their feet, Dumbledore begged Snape-- not for his life, but his death.
But Harry didn't know that then. Dumbledore did. Snape did. Harry ran down the lawn after him, lit by fire and magic, hoarse with grief.
Her hair was long. Her eyes were green, furious. When Snape looked at her, he saw Lily. "I am not a coward," Severus said, and Harry screamed in his face.
They buried Dumbledore. Harry had never been to a funeral before. There hadn't been one for Sirius.
Before they left for the Horcrux hunt, before Ginny and Neville and Luna and Blaise boarded a train back to Hogwarts, there was a celebration. Bill Weasley, partial werewolf, married Fleur, partblood veela. "Their kids are gonna be so pretty, and eat so much rare steak," Hermione said thoughtfully.
Luna came in a yellow dress. "It's lucky," she told Harry and Harry resisted the urge to say, "Good, they might need it."
Fleur was luminescent. Harry was not surprised, but she skirted the edge of the happy, anxious crowd. She brushed her palms down the dress Blaise had taken her out to find, which was a green just a shade darker than her eyes. Maybe that was a lucky color, too. Maybe she just looked good, standing here with her hair all brushed out and loose, and that felt nice in the middle of all of this.
She stayed on the edge of the tent, watching Luna and her father waggle their arms and turn in circles, watching Bill beam in Fleur's direction without stopping, his scars creasing. Ginny came over with her bridesmaid's skirts all bunched up in her hands and bumped Harry's shoulder. "You look pretty," Harry said.
"I hate skirts," Ginny said, dropping the fabric with a grimace. "You look lovely. I like the green. Want to dance?"
All that year, Harry wrote Ginny from that road.
They didn't kiss at the wedding, but Harry thought about it. She thought about the way their hands touched, dancing, and how close Ginny was standing. She thought about what it might be like after the wedding, as people put out the candles and took down the tents, as they walked home. She thought about taking Ginny's hand in hers, slowing their stride so everyone moved ahead and left them under the quiet sky, starlit, what it might be like to turn and tip her chin up a little and lean in--
But the wedding ended in warnings, a scattering to the winds. Hermione grabbed Harry's hand and Ron's. Their quest began. And so here Harry was, curled up in their tent while Ron fiddled with the radio and Hermione inventoried her bag of plenty.
Harry scratched out letters she couldn't send, talking about the rocks they slept on, about Ron's hunching shoulders, she and Hermione braiding each other's hair, the landscapes Harry had never seen before, how tired she was of prepackaged pumpkin pasties, how bright the stars were this far from human lights. She wrote, I think I would have tried to kiss you, after the wedding. I like to think I would have been brave enough. She had no way to send them, so she didn't.
R.A.B-- Regulus Black had died in the name of Voldemort's death. Harry turned the locket over and over in her hand, once they'd freed it from Umbridge's ownership. So had Dumbledore. Her parents had died for her life. She thought, if it came to it, that she would die to stop Tom Riddle, but she'd rather live for the people left behind than die for them.
Before she had left Hogwarts for the Burrow and then this long cold road, she and Blaise had gone out to sit beside the lake. She had told him, "The Hat offered me Slytherin," and he had laughed.
"See?" he'd said. "I told you you were one of mine."
Blaise did not sit with Dumbledore's Army on the Express back to Hogwarts. He shared a compartment with Daphne and a displeased Astoria, who had wanted to sit with Susan. "She got to sit in on some Wizengamot sessions this summer," Astoria said. "She was going to tell me all about it."
Blaise watched one of the Carrow twins pace the corridor outside and said, "We don't want them to see us friendly with troublemakers."
"But we are friends," said Astoria.
"And good friends take care of each other," said Blaise. "Let's be good."
Snape, as Headmaster, was rarely seen. Alecto and Amycus Carrow ran the school. It was the smallest first year class Hogwarts had seen since the height of the First Wizarding War. "Defense Against" was taken off the class title of DADA.
Hannah Abbott and Anthony Goldstein took charge of the first years, learning every name and nightmare, checking in with chocolate and comfort, and deciding which ones needed to be disappeared. Neville and Ginny were hiding in the Room of Requirement before the first month was out, and they took in the kids who needed it.
Susan Bones and Justin Finch-Fletchley were the best at lying low, playing nice, and so they stayed out in the open the longest (excepting all the Slytherins but Astoria, who went into hiding around month two, after she cursed Alecto for making a third year cry). Blaise smiled and flattered and made Amycus laugh. He passed on what secrets he learned, stole what supplies he could, and slipped laxatives into the Death Eaters' tea.
Sequestered in the Room, busy setting traps and causing trouble, Neville and Hannah couldn't make it out to Sprout's greenhouses. A new doorway opened off the Chamber the first time Neville buried his hands in his hair and tugged hard enough to hurt. Inside were pots of dark soil, benches of tools, packets of seeds. Every wall was windows, even the one that led back to the main Room. They were cloudy and impossible to see through, but the sunlight streamed in and the air steamed.
Blaise did not sleep one night in the Room of Requirement. He played chess in the Slytherin Common Room with purebloods who thought Hogwarts was finally getting its act together. He recognized their sneers and it was easy to copy the tilts of their smug chins.
He did not sleep one night in the Room, but he snuck out of his dormitory to spend many sleepless nights there, pouring over shifting maps of Hogwarts, advising on traps and enemy positions and timing, the things he had heard them planning. Susan Bones took notes in court shorthand. Ginny listened close and drew up their battleplans. Blaise told the younger kids bedtime stories, the ones his mother had told him, the ones where the clever little kid always always wins. He got back to his bed before sunrise, most of the nights that he did that, and slept through History of Magic, but that honestly wasn't new.
Out on the road, Ron left, and came back, and struck the locket down in the forest with the sword of a true Gryffindor. Hermione pulled miracles from her bag. Bellatrix Lestrange wrote Mudblood into her arm. They found Luna and lost Dobby, and then they went home.
When Harry came back to Hogwarts, she had a messy bundle of letters tied together in the bottom of her bag. She had a destroyed locket, a cup, and an idea where the diadem might be.
Voldemort's ultimatum hanging over all their heads, Pansy Parkinson gave up Harry Potter in the Great Hall, her finger pointing, her hands shaking. "Why not?" Pansy said. "Just give him Potter."
Gryffindor raised their wands on her; then Hufflepuff; then Ravenclaw. Their backs were to Harry, black-robed shoulders like shields. The school decided to fight, and McGonagall told Slytherin House to go wait in the dungeons for it to all be over.
Blaise was turning his wand idly in his hand, eyes slanted down. Astoria rose up on her tiptoes in outrage, but it was Susan Bones who stepped forward. "No, Professor," Susan said, and McGonagall's brows furrowed. "They're part of this fight, too."
Daphne pulled out of the crowd to stand by Astoria's shoulder. Hannah Abbott stepped over, then Anthony Goldstein, the Creevey brothers, and Seamas and his singed eyebrows.
"We'll send the others out one of the passages," Susan said. "To Hogsmeade. Somewhere safer than here, if they don't want to fight with us. Anyone, from any House, who's afraid to stay, we'll send them."
McGonagall raised the statues and protections with Flitwick while Slughorn escorted first and second years, some scattered other students, and the bulk of Slytherin House out the tunnels to Hogsmeade. Blaise stretched out his wrists while Astoria and Susan sat with their shoulders pressed warm together, waiting.
Harry had a diadem to find, and Hermione and Ron a bag of basilisk fangs to hunt down. Ginny had a small army to marshall, but Harry hesitated beside where Ginny was tying her hair back and arguing with Seamas about explosives.
"Hey, um," said Harry. Seamas glanced between them and then headed off, calling something acquiescing over his shoulder.
"Hey," said Ginny. All around them, the Hall was a flurry of preparation fluxing around small quiet pockets of people touching each other, saying good luck and maybe goodbye.
Harry dug through her bag until she found a stack of folded papers at the bottom, tied with twine. "Uh," she said, "I couldn't send them, but," and she pushed the letters in Ginny's direction.
Ginny, smiling, took them with one freckled hand but she reached out her other, touched Harry's jaw, and kissed her.
"I wrote you, too," she said, when she pulled back. "But I don't have them on me, you sap."
"I'm carrying everything I own," Harry protested. "I've been camping for months."
"I don't have them on me," Ginny repeated. "I'll give them to you later, so you make sure there's a later, okay?"
Harry smiled. She didn't know, yet, about Snape's last story, about the pieces of soul that lived quietly in her marrow. She didn't know her death would be the cost of Ginny's life, so she said, "I'll do my best."
Daphne and Astoria got separated in the first half hour of the fight-- holding a fiercely contested corridor with flung curses, they saw a trio of robed figures heading for the back of a pack of Ravenclaws. "You go," said Daphne. "I'll guard your back."
Professor Sprout rose grasping, suffocating weeds out of the stones of the main courtyard, Neville and Hannah guarding her back. Out in that mess of crushed greenery, Colin Creevey took down three Death Eaters and then took an Avada Kedavra to the chest.
Fred died laughing. Tonks and Lupin went within moments of each other. Parvati and Professor Trelawney carried Lavender's body back to the Hall.
Harry watched Snape die out in the boat shed, ugly and drawn out and painful. She learned about where the last piece of Voldemort's soul was hiding, unknown even to him. There was a choice here, but she could only see one answer she could live with. Well, not live with, or at least not for very long.
She wrapped herself in the Cloak, like she had at thirteen, looking for peace in empty spaces and invisibility. The greenhouses were dark shapes in the night, making the stars behind them go wavery as their light moved through warped glass.
Under the bowed limbs of the trees, she turned the Stone over three times. Ghostly figures rose into view-- the family she might have had in a kinder life. James smiled. Sirius looked tall, and clean, and rested, and still far too old for the bare three decades he had lived. Harry had seen Lupin just a few hours before. Harry had seen Lupin just moments before she had pulled on her Cloak and walked out to die-- his body on the Great Hall floor, beside Tonks.
Lily's ghost reached out and touched Harry's cheek as though she'd like to push her hair back out of her face. "You're beautiful," she said. "We are so proud of you." Harry couldn't feel her mother's fingers on her cheek, but she could see her mother's trembling, translucent smile.
Warm hands had touched her cheek over the years. It wasn't like knowing her mother-- not the sunlight of Professor Sprout's greenhouses, or the full plates at Molly's-- but she knew what this touch was supposed to feel like, and that was something. That was hers: Sirius, kneeling in a cave outside Hogsmeade, pushing the hair out of her eyes and telling her her parents loved her.
"Mom, I'm scared," she said. "Were you scared? I'm sorry. You died so I could live, and I can't, I'm so sorry, I can't."
"Of course I was scared, baby," she said. "But it was worth it. Everything you have done, everything you have been."
Harry wanted her mother to squeeze her hands, tight and comforting, so she squeezed her own. She closed her eyes tight.
"Now you have to be brave, just one more time."
When Harry opened her eyes, they were gone.
She didn't draw her wand, when she stepped into the clearing to face the shell of Tom Riddle. She tried not to be afraid. There was a flash of green light, and then she woke up in a King's Cross Station that was too clean to be true.
She was given a choice to go forward, or to go back. "There will be people who love you waiting there for you," said Dumbledore, smiling, sitting on a bench bathed in light. "It will be easy, and so little has been easy for you."
But Harry had people who loved her waiting back at Hogwarts, too. She was tired, but they were waiting-- Ron and Hermione, who had come so far for her; Blaise, who said he wasn't kind. She had months of Ginny's letters to read. She had made a promise.
Harry woke up cheek-down in forest mulch. Narcissa lied for her. Neville pulled the sword from the Hat and took down the snake. Harry killed Voldemort in a flash of green light, and his body hit the ground with an ugly thud.
After the war, Harry planted beds of flowers around the Burrow. She chose plants and charmed them so that there would be something blooming in every season.
She joined the Aurors and slept a lot of nights on the pull-out couch in Hermione and Ginny's little apartment outside the local wizarding college-- Hermione was taking a double class load (no Time Turner, just good scheduling), and Ginny was playing for the school Quidditch team and dazzling scouts.
Other nights Harry spent in one of Blaise's lovely spare rooms, until she finally found her own little place to stay. Her flat wasn't much bigger than a cupboard under some stairs, but she liked it. She made friends with the spiders under the sink and the little snakes who lived in the lot out back.
Neville took over for Professor Sprout, who sent Harry postcards and plant clippings from her retirement world tour. Ginny moved out of Hermione's the week Ron moved in, saying she was about as close with her brother and future sister-in-law ("what?" squeaked Ron) as she was comfortable being.
Blaise rolled his eyes over drinks one night, as Ginny complained about bad water pressure in her new place, and said he was getting rid of the hat collection that was taking up one of his spare rooms. Harry stirred her drink idly and Blaise added, sighing at their inability to take a hint, that he'd been thinking of letting the room out. "You can even move your spiders in," he told Harry. "You know," he added to Ginny, conspiratorially and commiserating, "I had to tell her you were pretty. And I think she only noticed because you were on a broom."
"Seems about right," said Ginny brightly. "I think I'll keep her."
When the Aurors started talking about promotions and bigger office spaces, Harry hesitated. She went home to the room they'd rid of Blaise's fancy heirloom furniture and filled with wobbly-legged Weasley exports and Molly's quilts. Harry laid her head on Ginny's lap and got dripped on by her hair, freshly washed after Quidditch practice. "I don't think I want to keep doing this," said Harry.
"You don't have to," said Ginny. "Hey, I hear the Cannons need a Seeker, if you don't mind us beating you in every match."
"You've fought for most of your life," said Ginny. "And you're good at it, but it's not because you like it."
Harry thought about the things in her life that she had loved and not just lived through, and then she sent an application in to Hogwarts for a teaching position.
Blaise's bathroom taps were hilariously ornate, and Harry always made sure to talk to the little snakes carved into them, to see if any would open up something unexpected. His didn't, but when they visited Astoria and Daphne she found a secret tunnel out to the woodshed that opened to Parseltongue.
There was a poker in Blaise's living room, though, that had a little sculpted snake that would tell you riddles if you asked nice and in its own tongue. One night, when Hermione (with Harry's translation help and Ron's emotional support) was jousting with the the riddling thing, Harry wrote a letter to Sprout, asking for advice.
Everyone needs something, Professor Sprout wrote back, cramped, on a postcard from the Galapagos Islands. You won't be the answer for every kid, but look for the ones you can help. Offer them what you have, but they're the only ones who can take it. Be an ear, be a kindness, be safe. You can't help them all, but you can save some.
On Harry's (second) first day at Hogwarts, she had the Marauder's Map folded in her pocket. Blaise had picked out her earrings. Ginny had stuffed a muffin in her hand, kissed her good-bye, and pushed her out the door. Hermione had been quizzing her on the curriculum standards for weeks.
A half hour before her students were supposed to arrive, Harry climbed up to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Morning light poured through the window, washing over the desks and bookshelves, the stone walls, the young woman in dark robes who was squeezing her hands together.
Harry breathed. She went to the desk and sat down to her notes, which were stained with Hermione's annotations and the bottom of Ginny's favorite mug. Out the window she could see the tops of the Forbidden Forest's tallest trees, waving in a wind that didn't touch her. It felt like home. She meant to stay. All curses end, in time.
The scar on her forehead hadn't ached in years, and it never would again.