A/N: Many thanks to Felina Black for her beta help.
Three times I’ve lost Harry Potter.
Three times I’ve seen him leave me.
Twice before, he’s come back, apparently none the worse for wear, but each time he’s seemed older and wiser.
Each time, he has lost a little more of the innocence he once had and gained a little more of a burden to carry.
This last time he was supposed to finally lay down all his burdens and come back to me whole again, rejuvenated and restored, freed from the weight of his supposed destiny.
Oh, he’s back. It just isn’t the fairytale ending that everybody had expected; that I had counted on.
The first time I lost Harry was at the end of my fourth year at Hogwarts.
He felt betrayed the whole year – the Wizarding World had effectively turned its back on him and insisted he was an attention-seeking idiot, discarding him and discrediting him as mentally unstable.
Even Dumbledore turned his back on him, out of fear I’m told, preventing Harry from finding any escape from his torturers, both mental and physical.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise then that he was miserable for the entire year. On good days he was unfathomably moody. On bad days he was downright nasty, even to his friends.
Most of us didn’t know what he was going through in his detentions with that simpering hag, Umbridge, but even so, all of Gryffindor knew to stay out of Harry’s way when he was having a bad day.
I have to admit that I avoided him. I took the coward’s route and spent time with my erstwhile Ravenclaw boyfriend, safe from Harry’s tantrums, and it wasn’t until months later that I truly knew how much he hurt, what he was going through and why he was really acting like a complete brat.
No, it wasn’t until Hermione filled me in that I had any idea just how badly he was treated or exactly what the Ministry’s persecution of him was all in aid of.
The DA was a complete blessing.
For a couple of hours every week, we were all able to forget Umbridge’s stupid Ministry Decrees and focus completely on learning from Harry. It must have meant the world to him, though. Beyond the good it did for the rest of us, it was his one respite from the lies, slander and aggravation he got from a good portion of the school.
He had to deal with visions from Voldemort, sniping from Snape – not to mention his appalling experience with Occlumency lessons – being banned from Quidditch, and a wailing, weeping banshee clinging to him in place of her murdered boyfriend.
And no, I didn’t know. I hadn’t understood. I had to be told.
It wasn’t just the adults that betrayed him, even the students did.
Oh, I don’t care about the antics of those miserable Slytherins – they were simply to be expected, and Harry couldn’t have cared less what they thought of him – no, it was the betrayal by one of his DA members that really rankled. It just added to his feeling of responsibility for everything that happened, and Dumbledore’s flight from the school put Harry under the microscope even more.
Then when we went with him to the Ministry it all went horribly wrong.
I’ve never been so scared.
But Harry? Harry kept his head, when all around were losing theirs – especially the Death Eaters. I was more concerned about keeping mine attached to its shoulders, but I realised later how much Harry had actually taught us; that we could hold our own against seemingly impossible odds.
It was later too, that I found out how much it ate at him that he had led us into such danger, but that what haunted him most was Sirius’s death.
Casting the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix Lestrange was an instinctive reaction and one that would later have unpleasant consequences for him, but strangely it was something he never worried about afterwards, or so he told me.
Dumbledore whisked him away to his office while the rest of us were taken care of by Madam Pomfrey, and when we saw him next, he had that hard-edged stare, and I knew I’d lost him.
Not that I could really say I "had" him, but it was the moment when I saw him close off from everybody, put his feelings away to one side and be overcome by the numbness that blanketed all the emotions and hid them away.
The anger had gone. The righteous indignation, the desperate expression on his face, all gone too, and even those closest to him couldn’t break through his barriers and into his pain – he just refused to let them.
"Not Ron? Not Hermione? Not Hagrid? Surely not?" I hear you ask.
Yes, even them.
Even they couldn’t penetrate the blank, emotionless slate that he appeared to be. He must have been hurting so much inside, but none of us were able to reach out to him, no matter what we tried.
There was a moment, just prior to leaving for the summer when he seemed to brighten – I’m sure Luna had something to do with it, but for the life of me could never figure out what - and the journey home on the Hogwarts Express was almost relaxing.
But then those disgusting Dursleys dragged him off and despite the warning they’d been given about treating him right, you could see in his eyes that the coldness was about to return, locked away in his summer prison. Hiding his pain from those that would use it against him.
And he was gone.
He had to deal with Sirius’s death on his own – his Aunt and Uncle were never likely to be any help – and the burden that Dumbledore had buried him under looked as though it would quash his spirit once and for all.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches,
born to those who have thrice defied him,
born as the seventh month dies.
And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal,
but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.
And either must die at the hand of the other,
for neither can live while the other survives.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord
will be born as the seventh month dies."
Funny how so few words can have such a lasting impact on one person’s life.
Dumping that on Harry immediately after Sirius’s death was worse than cruel. Hermione tells me that in the Muggle world, someone who undergoes traumatic experiences, such as being the victim of a violent crime or being witness to the murder of a loved one, would be given counselling to help them with the aftermath, to give them time and space to sort through their emotions, to be allowed time to grieve.
I don’t know what Dumbledore was thinking, sending him back to the Dursleys, but if he’d been emotionally scarred by Voldemort’s re-birth they were the last people he would have wanted to see. So repeating the trick after Sirius’s death was just the topping on the pudding.
It made Harry believe it was normal for him to lock away his emotions, to hide them and pretend that he’d never been hurt. The whole year had shown him that he couldn’t control his emotions like that, he just had to bury them where no one could stumble over the bodies.
And then he was forced back to Little Whinging to deal with it on his own again, just as he had done in hiding the Dursleys’ continual psychological abuse of him as a child.
So we were shocked when Dumbledore delivered him to the Burrow only two weeks after the end of term and he seemed fine. A little world-weary, but apparently no longer grieving, no longer angry. The feelings had been successfully interred and nobody was allowed to question how or why.
There were moments when he was just as moody as during the school year, but he seemed to have thrown off the irrational anger.
He even started to notice me for the first time. Not anything significant, just the simple fact that he started including me in conversations and as part of his little group of friends. And despite the knowledge that Voldemort was out there, gathering strength and recruiting more Death Eaters, we were able to relax and have as close to a normal holiday as possible. After all, Harry was safe and well. He didn’t have to stay with his relatives and the Headmaster had already promised him training.
We were wrong though. He wasn’t fine, at all.
He’d hardly grieved for Sirius at all, just put the incident behind him and blocked off his emotions to be dealt with at a later date, knowing that his life wasn’t free for him to determine himself until he’d dealt with You-Know-Who.
Losing Harry for the second time wasn’t quite the same, but it shocked me just as badly.
He snuck out with Ron and Hermione in the middle of the night and I only had Mum and Dad to scream at.
We’d had a wonderful month together, and he’d told me all his secrets, or at least I thought he had. Even though I’d told Hermione I’d given up on Harry, I knew it wasn’t entirely the truth – I’d still been waiting for him to notice me and had spotted the funny glances he’d been giving me all year, but it wasn’t until that brain-dead ponce McLaggen put him in the Hospital Wing that I finally put it all together.
That irritated Dean, as you might imagine.
But it was worth it, even for those few short weeks when we’d been free to sneak away to walk round the lake and kiss behind the greenhouses, or later when he came to The Burrow and I could revel in his closeness, the knowing that he slept just a few yards away from me.
This time though, I knew what I would be missing. I knew he was trying to protect me and that we always intended to get back together again, but it still hurt something chronic.
That same coldness came over him again, this time with the intensity of purpose. He had Horcruxes to hunt and he didn’t want to have to worry about any harm coming to me – he needed to be able to act with complete freedom.
It was galling to know that Ron and Hermione would be going with him but I would not, but I understood the reasons. They worked together extremely well, and their skills complemented each other.
Saying goodbye at Dumbledore’s funeral tore my heart out, even though I had to do what Harry does and hide it from everyone, and I know it hurt him just as much – I know that was why he left without saying goodbye again, the git!
I ranted and raved, and made my parents’ lives a misery.
I screamed and shouted and cursed his name, but only Mum and Dad ever knew. And they knew why I was doing it. They knew that I was scared. Scared that he wasn’t coming back.
And the hole in my heart? The emptiness that remained where Harry had once had a small corner of my very being? It was replaced.
But it was replaced with a simple hope.
He was leaving me to pursue his destiny, to finally put an end to You-Know-Who. I had to have the hope that he would be back, Horcruxes collected and destroyed, and all our nightmares could be put to rest.
The chilling certainty in his eyes hid the hurt of another betrayal. Dumbledore was supposed to have been there beside him as he carried out this penultimate task, providing guidance and training, but he’d gotten himself killed stupidly.
We knew later that Snape had no choice. The Unbreakable Vow he’d sworn forced him into performing Malfoy’s dirty work.
It didn’t mean we could forgive him, but we eventually knew the truth.
It was of no comfort to Harry though. He bottled up the Headmaster’s death and did what he thought he was expected to do – hide the guilt, shame, grief, tears and heartache and get on with his purpose.
Damn those Dursleys!
Harry spent a week with them, and they shocked the heck out of Ron and Hermione. However bad we thought it had been for Harry growing up can only have been the tip of the iceberg if what the two of them reported back was accurate. The downright rudeness and hostility they faced, and the way the Dursleys spoke to and treated Harry was worse than the treatment that the poorest House-elf would have been subjected to.
Six months later, they were back. They’d been as successful as they could have imagined and had managed to collect and destroy all the items that Dumbledore had speculated would house a portion of the Dark Lord’s soul, and they sure had some stories to tell!
The three of them Apparated to Hogsmeade and walked up to the school the evening before Christmas holiday and we must have spent the whole night talking.
I tried to convince him that he didn’t have to go again, but we both knew it wasn’t true.
It was a wonderful reconciliation, but Harry was still holding back. He knew there was still one final act to play out, and he couldn’t relax until it was completed.
He promised me he would return when it was all over, and if I teased him with the promise of something to come back for, it was with the spark of mischief in both of our eyes that knew Mum would go mad if she knew what I was offering him.
And then I lost him again.
Prophecies are strange beasts.
Who controls them? Who ensures they are carried out to the letter? What ripples would a tiny pebble of change cause that could derail a prophecy?
Harry once told me of the prophecy that Trelawney had uttered during his third year Divination exam. The one that predicted Wormtail’s escape and return to the Dark Lord’s side.
Imagine that Remus or Sirius had stunned the rat that day – the consequences would have been profound. Even something so small has tremendous implications.
So what impact would a series of Horcruxes have on fate?
A tiny tidbit of information about the prophecies in the Department of Mysteries came to light just too late for anyone to do anything about it.
It was early February and the castle was under siege.
Death Eaters had left a trail of bodies on their approach through Hogsmeade, clearly wanting to ensure that any enemies behind them were dead ones.
We stood on the battlements together, Harry, Ron, Hermione and I, when Harry received a message from Snape – the last communication we ever had from the former Potions master.
He had to go! Now!
Voldemort had committed all of his Death Eaters to the assault on Hogwarts and was alone in a location that Harry could easily find.
Belying the clear statement in Hogwarts, a History, and with a glint of humour in his eye as he kissed me goodbye that told me he wanted to be back soon, if only to collect on my promise, Harry Apparated away and my heart sank.
I’d expected Hermione to make some statement of protest, but she didn’t even appear fazed by the act, concerned as she was by the sudden appearance of Dementors on the castle grounds.
Ron and I took command as Hermione dashed off, no doubt half-remembering some vital piece of information in the library that she felt would help us in the battle, and it was only after we had driven off the army for the evening, DA members strongly to the fore, that we found her, weeping over a dusty old book.
"It’s all gone wrong!" she sobbed into Ron’s shoulder as he pulled her out of her seat and into his arms.
He tried to comfort her with the fact that Harry had only been gone a matter of a few hours, but it provided no solace, and if the day’s successes had buoyed me, her demeanour quickly brought me back down to earth.
Steeling herself, she pulled herself out of Ron’s embrace and lifted the book from the table.
"’The prophecy orbs in the Department of Mysteries are designed as a permanent record of all prophecies that are still to pass. There is a significant backlog to clear out, but the Garfield report of 1912 indicates that there is a simple solution,’" she read.
"’The report suggests that, since the orbs are naturally imbued with properties that make them unbreakable until after they have been fulfilled, any administration that wished to dispose of all obsolete prophecies would simply need to instruct someone to attempt to break them.’" She broke off from the text and looked up at us expectantly.
"I don’t understand, Hermione," Ron asked. "What does that mean?"
The implications were still sinking in for me, even though I was one step ahead of my slow-witted brother. Neville broke the prophecy about Harry and Voldemort in our fight to escape the Department of Mysteries. That meant it had already been fulfilled prior to that date.
"How?" I asked, once Hermione had finished explaining to Ron.
"Speculate," I growled, wanting to know what the consequences were as my heart hardened in preparation for the worst possible news.
"The only thing I can think of is that it was fulfilled when he was attacked as a baby. It fits all the criteria, only someone should have died."
I wondered about the tales Harry had told me about the Philosopher’s Stone, and whether the same applied there – but I didn’t know enough about it to ask the right questions. Only Dumbledore could have told us, or perhaps Harry himself, but neither were able to, right then.
"Well someone would have died if he hadn’t constructed those Horcruxes," Ron pointed out, and the room went silent.
Surely somebody should have known this? Dumbledore! McGonagall! Anyone!
Or did they hear of the breakage and deliberately not mention it, knowing that Harry was already primed to be the weapon, imbued with the belief that it was his responsibility, and his alone, to deal with Voldemort? If so, perhaps we’ll never know.
Why, damn it? Why?
Why did it have to be Harry? My Harry?
It makes me want to sob into Mum’s pinny, to scream at the world for the injustice. But we have so many other things that need to be done first.
The silence was broken by a scream that echoed around the castle. Harry had Apparated back in, and he was in no condition to explain what he had just done.
His right hand clutched at a staff, holding it aggressively as though to attack someone, a staff that now lies at his bedside. It looks just like an ordinary staff – a shaft of oak that could be used as a walking stick – but I can feel the magic in it, and it’s dark, as dark as Riddle’s diary.
It must hold some clue to the defeat, or otherwise, of the Dark Lord, but nobody dares touch it until Harry awakens, perhaps feeling the same energy in it that I do.
It makes me feel ill.
It wasn’t what he carried when he returned that captured my immediate attention though, it was the pain etched on his face even in unconsciousness, a pain that made me want to kiss him senseless and make him forget all the bad things that had ever happened.
Witnesses to his sudden appearance described his sightless eyes and the agony on his features even as he fell to earth in front of the doors to the Great Hall, no doubt expending the very last of his magical and physical energy to return to Hogwarts.
And seeing him tore me apart inside.
I wanted to scream, to cry, yet I knew that he would not. That he would bear the pain, the anguish, stoically, as he always had.
It’s several weeks later now, and we still have no clue what has happened.
McGonagall put out feelers through the Order to try and make sense of everything, but the information that came back was confusing to say the least.
Nobody has seen or heard of Voldemort since, but then nobody has really seen or heard from Harry either, so they could both be in the same condition.
He lies in a bed in the Hospital Wing, the one he always occupied when he was there. Madam Pomfrey did a wonderful job in clearing up his externally obvious injuries, which were gruesome and agonising just to behold, and said she had done everything she could to deal with the multiple internal injuries.
I didn’t want to ask, but knew I had to.
Multiple ribs, not just broken, but completely smashed as though he had been repeatedly pounded with a bludger. Bruised kidneys and a split pancreas that had threatened his life even as he Apparated back through the wards. Eye damage that Pomfrey fretted she had been unable to repair and wouldn’t be able to tell until Harry regained consciousness.
I sit here every day, waiting for his eyes to open, or for some sign that he knows there is a world around him, perhaps a movement of his arm or leg that would provide the slightest vestige of hope that this time I have him back for good.
I kiss his lips gently, their warmth providing me with the slightest comfort that he is still there, still alive, just waiting to respond to my touch.
But he doesn’t respond.
At one stage I read to him from my History of Magic notes, but that just sent me into a state almost as catatonic as his own. I’d tried everything, but he just lays there, the intravenous drips providing him with nourishment he needs to stay alive, but doing no more than that.
Pomfrey told me that his brain is active, that he isn’t dead, but it makes no difference. I wonder if he would be better off if he had died, but I can’t stomach the thought of knowing he’s not here.
Everyone wants to know what happened, but there are only two people who can tell them – hopefully only one person, one who seems to have a permanent address care of Poppy Pomfrey.
With news of Voldemort’s disappearance spreading among their ranks and sowing discord and uncertainty among them, the Death Eaters were scattered in disarray by the combined forces of the Aurors, teachers and DA members; Neville disposed of Bellatrix very smoothly, dispatching her with a simple Reductor Curse as she taunted him, unaware of the implacable competence that he’s developed under Harry’s tutelage.
He’s a changed man, but wears a mask of sorrow that can only be attributed to Harry’s condition. It was Harry that taught him to fight back, that gave him the training and courage to deal with his demons. In the end it was Neville that helped me with the DA this year, and his help was sorely needed.
With Bellatrix fallen and Lucius Malfoy downed by a Castrating Hex, fired by Pansy Parkinson of all people, Macnair and one of the Lestrange brothers tried to renew the Death Eater attacks, but they were poorly organised and swiftly defeated. They were never trained as an army, only as a terrorist force, and were totally unsuited to the mass combat they faced on Hogwarts’ grounds.
Harry would have been proud of us.
And I’m sure he is, somewhere in there, if his brain is working. I’m sure he knows we did our very best and, here and now, it was enough to repel the forces of evil.
But the evil itself? What of it?
There’s no unfettered celebration to mark the end of the reign of terror. No joyous parties or shooting stars lighting up the night sky to confuse the Muggles.
Nobody knows whether they can celebrate or not.
The atmosphere of fear is tinged with a touch of hope; the Daily Prophet offers rewards for information that will tell them one way or another, with the emphasis on news that Voldemort is gone, though the few takers have stories that even the Quibbler wouldn’t touch.
But the truth? The truth waits upon a seventeen-year-old boy, lying here in the Hospital Wing. It waits for his word of finality, in the same way that it derided his word of evil’s return.
But it isn’t for truth that I wait. My vigil isn’t for the story that the world wants to hear.
I yearn only for him to come back to me, the way he did twice before.
I want to be able to hold him, knowing that his destiny is fulfilled, to tell him that it was fulfilled over a dozen years ago, for him to know that, even if evil still resides in this world, it’s not his problem any longer.
I want to kiss him, to make his pulse race with excitement and to make him want me to fulfil that promise, made partly in jest, but partly in all seriousness.
A year ago, perhaps two, I would have been angry at the world for placing its burden on Harry unnecessarily. Today, as I sit and wait, I know that he would have taken it without question.
So I sit, and I wait. I hold in the tears that I should have shed, the tears that his condition reduces me to, when I think about what we had as teenage innocents, and I realise, perhaps belatedly, that he never had that innocence – he was never permitted to feel like a child, other than maybe that month we shared.
And I long for a sign that he can hear me, see me, feel me, and know I’m here. He needs me, I’m sure, to finally allow his emotions to surface, to see the light of day and be dealt with.
We all need to grieve and it’s time he was allowed to, Boy Who Lived or not.
It will make him whole again.
I will make him whole again.
It’s such a long wait, but there’s nothing else I want to do – this is my only purpose; this is my destiny. He is my destiny.
Did I just see his hand move?