Harry was glad when he could finally return to Hogwarts. The week and a half he’d been forced to stay in Cornwall had been—weird.
The doctors at St. Mungo’s had told him that he’d lost some of his memories. Ron and Hermione explained to him exactly what kind of memories were missing. And the three people he’d been stuck with in Cornwall for a fortnight had tried their best to be supportive. But still, Harry had had a hard time wrapping his head around it all.
Even though he’d been told not to, Draco spent hours telling him everything he could remember—his version, at least. Harry wasn’t sure if he ought to believe him or not. But it seemed to align with Ron and Hermione’s memories, too; so, he figured it must be the truth. Never mind that he had no recollection of any of it ever happening to him. It was like hearing someone else’s story.
And then there were the Snape siblings—his new parents, or so he’d been told. Saturnine constantly looked at him with a broken-hearted gaze and always seemed minutes away from crying her eyes out. Harry knew full well that he was the cause of her pain, but he couldn’t remember ever meeting her before waking up in St. Mungo’s. The fact that he had no idea how to make her feel better made it all worse. And Professor Snape—well, he was the opposite. Until the last days of their stay in Cornwall, the man had seemed dead inside—a mere puppet going through the motions out of habit. He was nothing like the fearsome, loathsome Potions professor Harry remembered from his first years at Hogwarts, and that was perhaps the most unsettling part of all of this crazy situation. Those two versions of the Potions Master were so at odds with each other that Harry couldn’t reconcile them without the missing pieces of his memory to bridge the gap.
Now that all three of them were out of his sight, and Harry was back in Gryffindor Tower with Ron and Hermione, he found that he could breathe a little easier. It didn’t solve anything, of course. But at least he wasn’t faced with his family’s misery day in and day out. Nor was he confronted with his constant failure when he tried remembering.
And Harry had tried. He really had tried. But whatever had removed this specific set of memories from his brain had been completely effective. It had left him with an odd feeling of having forgotten something without knowing what it was. Like that feeling he sometimes got when he had a melody stuck in the back of his mind without being able to remember its title or that impression of having a word caught on the tip of his tongue without being able to say it aloud. It was pure torture, and the harder he tried to remember, the less it came to him.
More frustrating even was the fact that no one knew what had caused it. No one knew what it was—only what it wasn’t. It wasn’t an Obliviation Charm or a Forgetfulness Potion; it wasn’t this, and it wasn’t that—fat load of good that did him. Hermione had read more books in two weeks than he could in a year. Ron had asked everyone he could think of about it, and the Snapes had talked to specialists. But no one had an explanation to offer. The only thing they seemed to agree on was that it had to do with the Dark Lord.
Him Harry could remember clearly. He remembered going to the clearing and meeting Lord Voldemort face-to-face. Harry remembered taunting him and how it had felt to want to kill him. The rage Harry had felt at the thought of dozens of Death Eaters attacking the school. His school, where his friends were risking their lives—all because of a demented bigot who thought the world owed him reparations for his childhood misery. As if Tom Riddle was the only little boy who’d ever been hurt.
Harry couldn’t remember the outcome, though. He had done something to repel Lord Voldemort—an attack that had overpowered him—but he couldn’t remember what it was. The last minutes of their fight were a blur to him; many parts of that day were.
“At least you remember enough of your class to pass the N.E.W.T.s,” Hermione said, drawing him back to the present. “It’s ever so important.”
“Sure.” Ron sighed next to her. “Never mind that Harry just killed You-Know-Who and freed us all. We wouldn’t want him to miss his exams.”
“Oh, Ronald,” she said with an exasperated sigh of her own. “When will you learn?”
Ron seemed about to reply but then apparently thought better of it. Instead, he buried his nose in his Transfiguration manual. Even though he couldn’t see her, Hermione gave him a ‘you better’ kind of nod before returning to her notes. Harry smiled at the familiarity of it all: Ron, Hermione, and the Gryffindor common room. It felt like home at last.
He returned to his own set of notes and surprised himself a little at the amount of work he had put into his Potions and Defence classes this last year. The notes for these two subjects were much more detailed than what he’d done for his other classes and on par with Hermione’s. Harry had always paid careful attention to his Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, but he couldn’t remember ever applying himself that much in Potions. Flipping through the notes, he found some of his graded essays and felt his eyebrows rise in surprise. He sure as hell didn’t remember ever being this good at it, either.
As she walked out of the castle towards the greenhouses, Saturnine wondered at what she was doing. Going through the N.E.W.T.s exams now felt like a stupid thing to do. The only reason she hadn’t called it off was that the entire school was invested in her results—and Severus’. But it hurt a little to walk down there. She could see Harry in the distance, sandwiched between Ron and Hermione. Draco was where he always was these days, a couple of feet behind them—following them without seeming to. It hurt to see it—as it hurt to remember all the evenings they had spent studying together in the dungeons, the four of them. Echoes of laughter and jokes danced in her head, and she had to force them out to avoid breaking down in tears.
A hand slipped into hers, and she didn’t need to turn her head to know whose it was. Ever since his breakdown in their kitchen, Severus had been much more present for her. While he still refused to talk about their current situation, he had no problem offering the comfort of his presence when she needed him to.
She slowed her steps to a stop a few feet from the greenhouses and waited for the last students to enter to turn to face him. Severus was dressed as he always was—black trousers and a black frock coat over a white undershirt. But he had left behind his teaching robes. She had done the same when she had left her office earlier. Her brother seemed okay—more than she was, at least. She leaned forward to rest her head on his shoulder—needing to feel his strength for just a minute.
“Don’t worry,” he murmured above her head. “Pomona promised me there wouldn’t be any Mandrake this year.”
It was a silly thing to say—she couldn’t have cared less, and Severus knew it—but she chuckled anyway. It felt good to do it, too, like a small breath of fresh air amongst the clouds of melancholia.
“Good luck, brother-mine,” she said, pulling away at last. Then, with what had to be the first real smile she had managed in weeks, she added, “Don’t let Neville Longbottom score higher than you.”
Harry never thought he would enjoy exams this much. The Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests had been challenging—and aptly named—but they had also been a much-welcomed distraction. For two entire weeks, they allowed him to put everything else aside. No more thinking about the Dark Lord and what he had done, no more thinking about the family he had forgotten. Harry thought only of his exams, and days flew by as question upon question forced him to use his brain. And every evening, he climbed into his bed feeling nastily exhausted, and he had no trouble falling asleep.
But the exams ended, same as everything else. And as Harry waited for his N.E.W.T.s results to come in, the memories came back—or at least, their absence did. And just like that, Harry was back to feeling miserable as he tried and failed to make sense of what his life had become. He didn’t even know what would become of him now. Where was he even supposed to go next autumn?
“You can always come with me,” Ron said as he packed his trunk. “You know my parents wouldn’t mind, and it’s only Gin and me now that the twins have moved out. Plenty of room.”
Harry ‘hmmed’ distractedly as he got the last of his clothes out of the wardrobe and onto his bed. How he would make all that fit into his trunk, he had no idea.
“Or you could go to Grimmauld,” he continued. “Or you could sell that old place and get a flat somewhere nice.”
“The Snapes want me to go with them,” Harry said as he flipped open his trunk before bunching together an armful of clothes. “It wasn’t so bad when we were there earlier—way better than the Dursleys, at least. I think I’ll go—see what that’s like.”
“Sure,” Ron said, closing the lid on his trunk. “If you change your mind, though, our door’s wide open, mate.”
Harry dumped the bunched-up clothes at one end of his trunk before looking up at him. “Thanks,” he said with a smile.
Coming closer, Ron chuckled at the mess he’d made. “Don’t let Hermione see that, or she’ll have you start over.”
“Speaking of Hermione,” Harry said, returning to the pile of clothes on his bed to get a second armful. “Where will she spend her summer?”
“Oh—with her parents at first,” Ron said, “and then—uh…”
Harry looked up to see his friend’s cheeks turn red. “Will she be sharing a room with Ginny again, then?” Harry asked, unable to stop himself from adding to Ron’s embarrassment. “Or would you rather have her in yours?”
“That—uh—I—” Ron stammered, turning a bright shade of crimson all over. “I don’t think Mom would approve,” he said eventually before quickly excusing himself and leaving the room.
Harry chuckled as he dumped the second batch of clothes into his trunk. They landed on something that made a crunching noise, and he bent down to see what it was. Reaching a hand beneath the jumble of shirts and socks, he found a stack of letters—his letters.
The sight of them took the wind out of his sails. And he sat down heavily next to his trunk. He’d forgotten all about his goodbye letters, the ones he’d written in case he didn’t survive the war. It had started with letters to Ron and Hermione when he found out about the prophecy. But there was more than a dozen now, neatly stacked and held together with a red ribbon. He guessed he didn’t really need them anymore now that he had done the impossible and survived the Dark Lord. He was about to toss them back into the trunk when something caught his gaze: the name on the first envelope—Saturnine Snape.
Harry couldn’t remember writing her a letter, and he quickly untied the ribbon to get to it. Removing it from the pile, he discovered that the second letter was addressed to Severus Snape, and the third, to Draco Snape. His breath quickened in his throat.
These were undoubtedly his; he could recognise his handwriting. But he had no idea what he’d written inside. Taking a deep breath, he tore all three open and pulled out several sheets of parchment covered in yet more of his handwriting. There had to be at least ten pages covered in his script from top to bottom. He couldn’t believe that he’d written so much; everyone else’s letters had been less than a page. What could he have had to say to these three, he wondered?
Steeling himself, Harry reached for one at random and started reading. And each line of text was like a bolt of lightening. They zipped through him, coursing through his veins, to shoot straight to his heart. Every word was like a needle piercing his brain, sharp and unforgiving. It hurt to read the letters, but Harry couldn’t stop. Never mind that he could barely breathe anymore, never mind that he was crying in pain and inches away from passing out. He kept reading, even as a kaleidoscope of memories exploded behind his eyes.
Potions classes with the Half-Blood Prince’s book in his hands… afternoons spent at Cove Cottage, flying around the house with Draco… his first Christmas with Saturnine and the smell of freshly-baked gingerbread cookies… the four of them on the Astronomy Tower for Severus’ birthday.
Clutching at the letters as if they were the most precious things in the world, Harry couldn’t believe he hadn’t remembered before. How could he have forgotten? His father, his mother, his brother—Harry loved them all so much. How could he have forgotten? The words blurred, and he removed his glasses just long enough to wipe his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt before he continued to read, and more memories surged forward.
Severus and Saturnine rescuing him and Draco from a cellar… watching Narcissa Malfoy’s funeral on the television in their cottage’s living room… almost losing Draco shortly after, and the fight in the cemetery… losing Saturnine when the Aurors arrested her, and watching Severus struggle to cope with her absence… going to Cokeworth and discovering the truth about the prophecy.
How could he have forgotten all that? Merlin, how could he? How could the Dark Lord have taken that from him?
And suddenly, he remembered: the clearing in the Forbidden Forest. The Dark Lord threatened his family and smiled down at him like he was nothing. But he hadn’t been nothing; Harry had been—love. And Harry had shown him, hadn’t he? He had shown Tom Riddle what he was missing: what he would never understand—‘the power the Dark Lord knows not’. Lord Voldemort was a creature of darkness who couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of love—the purity of it.
Harry remembered reaching deep within, searching through his memories as if he was about to cast a Patronus. He remembered gathering his love into something solid, a beast that rose from within and that mingled with his magic. It had poured out of him in waves, rushing forward in a sea of light so pure that it was blinding. It had leapt and pounded, engulfing the vile empty shell of the man that once was Tom Riddle. And Harry’s powers had smothered Voldemort in kindness and compassion. They had burned him with love and passion before crushing him under the weight of hope.
Harry’s body had given up on him then, emptied of his life force as it was, and he’d fallen limp to the floor. Winning had never felt this anticlimactic.
Back in the confines of Hogwarts, Harry understood then that Voldemort had never stolen anything from him; he had surrendered his memories willingly. Knowing that if the Dark Lord were allowed to survive, he would come after his family and everyone else he held dear, Harry had sacrificed his most precious memories to defeat him, leaving behind a gaping void in his heart.
Harry kept reading the letters, sensing the void inside him fill up with memories upon memories, and a surge of feelings, each more intense than the last, blossomed in his chest. The strength and unconditional love of his father, the nurturing kindness and care of his mother, and his brother’s affection and support. It kept coming at him, slamming into his chest as wave after wave of emotion and love intertwined. Harry felt himself folding in two under their strength. He was screaming now and couldn’t stop, just like he couldn’t stop crying and remembering. And the memories hurt as much as they soothed. And still, he wept, and still, they came—until the world went black.