As he drifted back to consciousness, Harry wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead. He wished he could say the feeling was new, but it wasn’t; he’d felt both ways before. It was as if life couldn’t decide what to do with him. Harry was the odd one out, an ill-fitting puzzle piece. He should have died sixteen years ago. There was no more place in the world for Harry Potter than for Lord Voldemort, and Harry had told him so when they faced off against each other in a clearing in the middle of the Forbidden Forest.
Harry had been grateful for the choice of location. There was nothing out here, no one who risked getting caught in the crossfire of their duelling wands.
Harry still hadn’t found the ‘power that the Dark Lord knows not’, but he’d accepted the duel anyway. Prophecy or not, he wouldn’t back down. Harry would fight until his last breath if he had to, and he hoped to take Voldemort down with him.
He regretted being unable to say goodbye to anyone. He wished there had been time for more, but they lived in an imperfect world. There were letters, though, hidden at the bottom of his school trunk—his contingencies. The ones for Ron and Hermione had been written when he first heard the blasted prophecy and understood he would have to face off against Voldemort one day. In subsequent weeks, he wrote letters to his other friends and several of his teachers. There was even one for his aunt and uncle—but it had few pleasant things to say.
Voldemort hadn’t come to the clearing alone—not that Harry had expected him to. But still, his henchmen kept their distance, likely having been ordered not to interfere. He stepped closer, wand held loosely in his right hand, and stopped about twenty feet away: the perfect distance for a duel between wizards.
“Dumbledore’s hero, everyone,” Voldemort seethed from the other end of the clearing. “A frightened little boy.”
“You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you.”
“You dare—” Voldemort cut in.
“Yes, I dare,” Harry interrupted boldly. “I know many important things that you don’t, Tom Riddle. Want to hear some before you make another colossal mistake?”
Voldemort did not speak but prowled in a circle, and Harry knew that he kept the Dark Lord temporarily enthralled and at bay, restrained by the faintest possibility that Harry might indeed know a final secret…
“Is it love again?” Voldemort asked, jeering. “Dumbledore’s favourite solution, love? The one which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him from dying? Love did not prevent me from stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter. Nobody seems to love you enough to run forwards this time and take my curse. So, what will stop you dying now when I strike?”
“Only one thing,” Harry replied softly.
“If it is not love that will save you this time,” Voldemort said, “you must believe that you possess magic that I do not. Or is it a weapon more powerful than mine?”
“Both, I believe,” Harry replied. He saw shock flit across his snake-like face, though it was dispelled instantly. Voldemort began to laugh, and the sound was more frightening than his screams—humourless and maniacal, it echoed through the silent clearing.
“You think you know more magic than I do?” he bellowed. “Than I, Lord Voldemort? I’ve performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of.”
“Oh, he dreamed of it,” Harry said. “But he knew more than you—enough not to do what you’ve done.”
“You mean he was weak!” Voldemort screamed. “Too weak to dare—to take what might have been his, what will be mine!”
“No, he was cleverer than you,” Harry mocked. “A better wizard and a better man.”
“I killed Albus Dumbledore!”
“You thought you did,” taunted Harry. “But you were wrong.”
“Dumbledore is dead!” Voldemort hurled the words at Harry as though they caused him unendurable pain. “His body decays in the marble tomb on the grounds of this castle; I have seen it, Potter. He will not return!”
Harry smiled a contemptuous smile that would have made Draco proud. “Only he isn’t,” he said, “not really. He’s merely resting for a little while.”
“You lie!” Voldemort screeched. “That’s impossible.”
“With the compliments of Severus and Saturnine Snape,” he said, affecting a slight bow. “The smartest, most amazing, Half-Bloods I’ve ever met.”
“Dead!” Voldemort shrieked. “The whole lot of them! As soon as I’m done with you.”
“Harry?” a voice that he knew as Hermione asked. “Sweet Morgana, Harry—are you all right?”
Harry blinked his eyes open and found that yes, he was. He pushed himself into a seated position and was glad to discover that there wasn’t too much pain to be felt—certainly no more so than after some of the Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch matches.
Hermione engulfed him in a tight embrace, and he sat limply on his bed until she let go.
“Are you okay?” she asked, worry thick in her voice.
That was a good question, Harry thought. Was he okay?
“I’m not sure,” he told Hermione. “I feel kinda weird.”
That was enough prompting for Hermione to launch herself into a lengthy, detailed recap of the last couple of hours’ events. She covered everything from the state of the school:
“—in shambles. Many injuries, but thankfully, very few deaths. It could have been much worse.”
To the results of the battle:
“—a lot of Death Eaters were either killed or arrested. We believe a few might have gone away. But they’ll be hunted down by the Aurors. We won, Harry. I can’t believe we won.”
To his arrival at St. Mungo’s:
“—completely unresponsive, and they had no idea what was wrong with you. The Mediwizard wasn’t even sure you would wake up. Can you remember what happened?”
“I killed the Dark Lord,” Harry told her.
Hermione looked at him like she wanted him to elaborate, but he didn’t feel brave enough.
“I’m not sure where the others are,” Hermione told him. “I sent Ron looking for them.”
Harry wasn’t sure who ‘they’ were, but he nodded his thanks, regardless. It felt like the right thing to do.
“Ron’s okay, too,” Hermione continued. “A few cuts and bruises, but he’ll be right as rain in no time. That has him rather put out. He was hoping for some battle scars to show off.”
Hermione giggled nervously at her boyfriend’s antics, and Harry wondered what was so funny.
“You sure you’re okay, Harry?” she asked. “Do you want me to get a nurse or something?”
He shook his head. “I feel fine, Hermione. Thanks.”
That wasn’t very truthful, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about his white lie. He couldn’t bring himself to care about anything. Maybe he ought to get something to eat? Or a shower, perhaps? That might kick some life back into him.
“I wonder what’s taking Ron so long,” Hermione said, wringing her hands together. “Maybe I should look for him.”
Harry turned to look at her with puzzlement; he’d recognised her tone. He was making her uncomfortable. It hadn’t been his intention, and Harry wondered what he could do to ease her worry. Should he—smile? He wasn’t sure he even knew how anymore. And he wasn’t the smiling type, anyway—was he? That would look weird on him.
“Really, what could take him so long to bring them back?” she asked, getting to her feet.
“Who’s he bringing back?” Harry asked. He was getting fed up with the unspecific ‘they’ she kept referring to.
Hermione looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “Well, your family, of course,” she replied. “Oh, Harry—are you sure you’re okay?”
His family? Did he have one? He couldn’t seem to recall. His parents were dead, weren’t they? They’d died a long time ago. Did she mean the Dursleys, then? Had Ron gone to fetch them? That would explain what was taking him so long, though—Surrey was a long way away from St. Mungo’s.
His puzzlement must have shown on his face because tears welled up in Hermione’s eyes. “You do remember them, Harry, right?” she said. “Draco, Saturnine and Severus?”
The names felt like the distant echoes of—something. Harry wasn’t sure what. He was almost positive that he knew those names. He’d heard them before, but he couldn’t remember the faces they were attached to. Why was Hermione bringing them up, then? Was he supposed to care about these people? No—he was sure that he didn’t care about anyone.
He shook his head.
“Draco’s your brother,” Hermione explained. “And Saturnine and Severus are your mom and dad. They adopted you last Christmas. You don’t remember that?”
Harry tried looking into his memories, but it was all very hazy. He seemed to have a vague recollection of—something. It was there, like words hanging on the tip of his tongue—present but unattainable.
“What of Severus’ birthday party in January?” Hermione asked. “Do you remember that? You spent days arranging everything with Draco. You roped all the teachers into helping out. We had a big party on the third floor. Then you guys went to the Astronomy Tower to watch the stars.”
Did he do all that? He couldn’t seem to recall. But it would have been something he’d have enjoyed doing. He liked looking at the stars; he’d spent many nights looking at them when he lived with the Dursleys.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said with tear-stained cheeks. “What happened out there?”
He was saved from replying by the door opening. Ron beamed at him when he saw that Harry was awake. Behind him was a tall man with an austere face and a hooked nose. His black clothes looked like they’d seen better days, and his thin dark hair was due for a wash.
Next to him was a woman who seemed to be about the same age he was—maybe a tad younger. Harry couldn’t be sure. Her clothes were in a right state, too; her dark-blue blouse was cut in several places, and her white denim trousers had many stains on them—some of them blood. She wore her long dark-brown hair braided in a plait, but many strands had gotten loose.
The fourth person to pass the door was a young boy of about his age. Their age wasn’t the only thing they shared; they wore matching ugly hospital gowns. He had a pointy chin, silver eyes, and platinum-blond hair.
Harry was sure he had seen these people before, but it mustn’t have been recently. Maybe they’d encountered each other a few years ago? He felt like he ought to greet them perhaps—or not. There seemed to be a lot of tension in the room suddenly. And he felt safer not doing anything.
The man dressed in black was the first to approach him. The other two remained by the door, the woman holding the boy’s shoulders tightly.
“Are you okay, Harry?” the man asked as he approached his bed.
“His memory’s not all there, Professor,” Hermione explained softly.
The man’s black eyes shot sideways to her in an instant before returning to Harry. “Do you know who I am?” he asked tentatively.
For some reason, Harry didn’t want to disappoint him. This man didn’t look to be the sort who liked to be disappointed, but Harry didn’t feel like lying to him. He shook his head slightly. “I’m not sure, sir. I—I feel like I’ve seen you before, but I can’t recall where. Do you know where we met?”
“Hogwarts,” the man answered, and there was such sadness in his eyes that Harry pitied him.
“My school?” he asked. Hermione had called him ‘Professor’. Did he work there, too? Harry ought to remember him if he worked there, no? Or perhaps he taught a class he hadn’t taken yet. “Do you work there?”
“Yes, I do,” the man replied, his eyes brimming with tears. “I teach Potions.”
“Oh, I like Potions,” Harry said, remembering that it was one of his favourite subjects. It hadn’t always been, but he’d grown rather fond of it lately. He liked brewing and watching the potions change colours and texture as he added ingredients. “It’s a fun subject.”
A few tears ran down the man’s cheeks as he nodded. “Yes, I rather think it is.”
Harry felt like he was somehow the cause for the man’s sadness, and he felt terrible about that. He didn’t want anyone to be sad because of him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m supposed to know you, aren’t I?”
The man looked like he wanted to reply, but his pain was so intense that he couldn’t seem to speak. Harry heard the blond teen behind him gasp in shock. Looking up, Harry saw that he and the woman, who still stood by the door, wore matching desperate faces. All my fault, he thought again. Harry might not recognise them, but he knew he didn’t want to hurt them. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, feeling tears well up in his eyes.
“It’s all right, lad,” the woman came forward at last. “It’s not your fault you’re not well. Don’t blame yourself for it.” Turning to Hermione, she said, “Can you try and find whoever treated Harry, please? They may know more.”
Hermione gave her a short nod before scurrying from the room, grabbing Ron’s arm to drag him with her as she went. It was like she couldn’t wait to leave.
The woman with the braided hair came to sit in the chair Hermione had occupied earlier. “It’ll be okay, Harry. Whatever’s happened, we’ll figure it out.” She looked up at him with warm, kind eyes, and to Harry, she seemed trustworthy. He gave her a short nod, and she smiled despite the tears that seemed ready to fall from her eyes.