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Balance, Imperfect

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Harry executes a twisting loop in the air, revelling in the whip of hair over his face. He can hear Ron laughing and calling him a show-off, his words soft-edged and blurry from their distance. But he ignores it as he sees the flickering shimmer of gold.

It’s a simple game of pick-up Quidditch, played with his team, but Morris, the opposing Seeker, is the best he’s played against since Malfoy, and while he relishes the competition, Harry doesn’t deny that his need to win lurks in his throat like he’s accidentally swallowed the stone of a fruit. Morris is on the opposite side of the pitch, closer to where the Snitch is hovering, but Harry sees it first and pulls up short, trying not to alert Morris to its presence. He slows his speed, circling in a lazy winding motion as he keeps an eye on the gold from the corner of his eye.

There’s a moment of intuition, learnt through over twenty years playing, when he senses that Morris has seen it; even before he turns is head, even before his body subtly tenses. Morris settles his hands more securely on his broom and narrows his eyes. He’s just as competitive as Harry is, which should make this harder, but Harry knows it won’t be. He tucks his heels higher, leans in and shoots forward, a split second before Morris does the same thing. This is the fourth time they’ve sighted it, and Harry’s determined not to let it escape again.

Unfortunately, the Snitch notices them. That little golden ball that Harry has loved since he was eleven—he collects them now, all sorts, historical, charmed, foreign, from favourite games—decides not to hover in place anymore just as they both almost reach it. It flutters off, no longer a hummingbird but a falcon, and darts upward. Harry, anticipating this, narrowly misses crashing into Morris; Morris swerves right, then left, as though he’s skidding on air, trying to slow down. Harry angles his broom up, hand already out and reaching. He feels a rattle in his teeth from the vibration of his broom as the tail brushes, hard, over Morris’s shoulder as he flies underneath Harry, still too fast. The clip jolts him forward, propelling him with a crack of speed just as he closes his hand around cool metal, hooting triumphantly.

“Ah!” Harry holds up his fist and points his broomstick downward, slowing as he drops in the air until he can hop off onto the soft, damp grass. “Got it!”

Morris joins him a minute later, and quickly after, the rest of their skeleton teams. He looks at Harry ruefully. “It was closer to me.”

Harry claps him on the shoulder. “It was a good game. You kept me on my toes.”

Morris laughs, eyes shining. He’s a young, still a bit star-struck at the idea of working directly for Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived Twice, but he’s been on their team for six months and Harry is relieved to note that some of the hero worship is starting to fade. “It was exciting to get to play with you, sir. I’m always free to.”

Some of it.

But Harry just smiles and ignores the implication; Morris is a rather beautiful specimen of a man, tall and broad, with sandy hair and hazel eyes, but he’s barely twenty and works for Harry as well. Harry has a hard and fast rule of never mixing business with pleasure, not since his disastrously short-lived fling with Cho, who chose to transfer to desk-duty for a year just to avoid him.

Ron hops off his broom and gives him a shove. “We could’ve ended the game better if you weren’t spending so much time flouncing around instead of paying attention.”

“I was giving you time to practice,” Harry says loftily, smiling, and whistles a few notes of ‘Weasley Is Our King.’

Ron snorts, but invites him out to drinks anyway. Harry usually joins them after a game, but turns Ron down this time—he has different plans tonight.

Body thrumming with anticipation, he Apparates home and takes a quick shower, before pulling on a dark green t-shirt and the black jeans that Adam bought for him during better times. Harry suspects he stayed for so long because of his particular fondness for Harry’s arse in them; whenever they would have an argument about Harry being married to his job, Harry would put on the jeans, which would be pulled off almost as quickly. These jeans are apparently enough to stay a man who wants a more focused partner, someone who will be home promptly at six every evening, and Harry considers them a bit lucky. He and Adam have been broken up for almost two months and it’s probably his longest streak of celibacy in the last ten years, something which Harry plans to rectify tonight.

He casts a small glamour over his face, widening his cheekbones slightly, contouring his nose and mouth a bit, lightening his hair a few shades and covering his scar. He’s not looking for a relationship tonight; while he prefers exclusivity, the Adam thing still stings a bit and it’s impossible to have a one-off when people recognise him.

Harry dithers over a location for a few minutes before deciding on Broomsticks. It’s a Friday night, which will mean bigger crowds and louder music at the club than he likes anymore, but that very scene will make it easier to pull. He Apparates there and, indeed, it’s barely an hour after sunset and already there’s a line. Heading to the front, he gets a quirk of a smile and a nod from Elliot, who knows this particular glamour; when he’s single, Harry comes often and spends a lot, and doesn’t mind preferential treatment on the basis of that. Elliot casts his wand at the door, which opens and allows Harry to head inside, toward the pounding base of the music and the cast of flashing, coloured candlelight.

After grabbing a strong drink at the bar, Harry surveys the scene for a minute. They’re all so young, these days. He remembers when nineteen-year-old boys and girls seemed like the pinnacle of sexy, and now they seem like such children. He wonders vaguely if he ever looked that young and snickers into his drink before downing it and heading onto the dance floor.

There’s a young wizard in the middle of it, dancing with abandon, platinum hair flying. Disconcertingly, it makes him think of Malfoy for a second, which makes twice that day. Which makes twice in about the last fifteen years, if you don’t count those idle moments of curiosity when his mind wanders. But this man is no Malfoy; he’s all softness and beauty and confidence, without any of the sharp edges or insecure anger from the last time Harry saw him. Still, the similarity of the hair is enough that he feels his cock begin to thicken a bit, much to his surprise.

Harry winds through the knot of blokes clustered around him; they all see the same thing in the man’s face that Harry does, some fierce, untended sexuality, a looseness of his limbs, a smoky, knowing quality to his eyes. Harry can see that this one knows what he likes, and Harry wants to be the one to give it to him.

He needs this badly. Harry understands his own sex drive and has long ago come to terms with the shame that surrounded his bisexuality those first few years after he’d admitted it. Now, sex is like most important things are to him—a pleasure, a release, a way to keep his body and mind focused and on track. When there’s enough of a break in the crowd, Harry slides in. The man is younger than Harry by about ten years, but he pins him with a smile that makes Harry’s tentative erection bloom, and holds out his arms. Harry steps into them and they grind together for a few minutes to the beat, before the wizard buries his face in Harry’s neck and licks a long stripe up the side of it.

Harry lowers his mouth the man’s ear; he traces the shell of it with his tongue as they rock together. “Where do you want to go?”

“Come on.” Platinum grabs Harry’s hand and tugs him, leading him to a hallway with small, curtained alcoves. He trips them into the first one they can find where they don’t see pairs of feet underneath, and shoves Harry up against a wall, devouring his mouth.

Harry groans into the kiss, clutching at the other man as he frots against his denim-covered thigh. It’s quick and dirty, the way Platinum uses his wand to unbutton and unzip Harry’s jeans, snaking his hand in to surround his erection with long, calloused fingers. Harry pants, leaning his head back against the grimy wall, and thrusts into Platinum’s fist, rubbing at his erection through his tight pants.

He’s getting there when he feels it; a hot sensation in his pocket. Groaning for a different reason, Harry pulls out of a delightfully filthy kiss and halts Platinum’s hand on him.

The man blinks up in surprise. “What is it?”

Harry pulls the galleon out of his pocket. It’s based on Hermione’s Protean charm from fifth year and Kingsley requires them to be carried by all of the Aurors, but only uses them when it’s an emergency and the person they need is in too public an area to view a Patronus. Platinum’s eyes go wide when he sees it. “Don’t Aurors use those?”

Harry smiles; he shakes his head. “They do, but I’m not so cool. I just work at the Ministry. But I’ve got an emergency; I’ve got to go.”

Platinum looks disappointed. “They can’t wait ten minutes?”

“’Fraid not.” Harry does up his flies and starts to leave the curtain, then turns back, smiling gently. “You’re beautiful,” he says, because it’s true.

Platinum smiles back. “I’m usually here on Fridays. Maybe I’ll see you here next week?”

Harry shrugs and nods. With a last look, he leaves the alcove and makes his way deeper into the club; further down the hallway rather than trying to get out the front through the packed dance floor. He exits out the back, clears the glamour off his face, and Apparates immediately to the address on the Galleon.

Chaos greets him. The colour of curses being cast (bright, sharp, shadowed) appear through the curtains of the small house he’s standing in front of. Harry whips out his wand from his pocket just as Robards ducks out from the side of the house, carrying something small and limp in his arms: a child.

Harry blanches, and nods at the house grimly. “Hostages?”

“At least five,” Robards says curtly. “At least two more children. Three perpetrators that we’re aware of. Weasley and Bones are inside. I’m at St. Mungo’s; I’ll be back. Backup is on its way.” He Disapparates with the little boy.

Harry sucks in a swift breath, then lets his mind go blank and hungry as adrenaline fills him. Children. He doesn’t know and doesn’t care what the Dark Wizards have been doing. Even Robards must not, or else he would have given Harry something more to work with in terms of motive or ways to neutralize the threat. But it’s okay; the story will come later, after the fight. In the meantime, muscle/magic memory works best in these situations. This is what he knows; this is what he’s good at.

He processes this all in under a second, then wades into the fray. The curses lighting up the inside of the house are fierce, and Ron is in there, and Susan, with children somewhere. The front door is shattered into splinters. Heading the way Robards came, down the side of the house, Harry surveys his options. There are two small windows that feel like they have a heavy dose of protective magic surrounding them, so he keeps moving until he finds a door in the back cracked open, where Robards must have come out. Casting a quick spell to make sure there are no hidden barriers, Harry steps inside.

It's quiet and dark in the kitchen, so he snakes his way to the front of the house; there’s a dim hallway, flashing occasionally with the ambient light of hexes, but they’re slowing down in frequency. He peeks around a corner, then ducks out of the way as a well-aimed curse flashes past him, nearly singing his ear. He lowers down and checks again: a wizard is on the ground, dead or unconscious, and Ron and Susan are battling the other two, their feet quick-stepping with their opponents, as elegant as a waltz. Stepping out from the corner, Harry sends a Confringo at the witch with wild hair, who snarls in a way that makes him think of Bellatrix Lestrange.

It hits her square in the chest, blasting her backwards, but not before she gets a off an Entrail-Expelling curse toward Susan. Harry throws up a protective shield around her, but the curse is moving too fast; his Protego softens it, minimizing the effects, but Susan crumples hard. Harry casts a stasis charm on her, which should give them plenty of time, and leaves his shield up around her.

Ron is still fighting the third wizard and Harry calms his breathing; seeing Ron in danger is nothing new, but he’s had to learn to control the automatic panic that threatens to make his hands too slippery to hold his wand. Besides, Ron is capable and fast and strong, and even as Harry thinks this, he’s destabilized the ground beneath the perpetrator. Harry joins his friend as the wizard bucks into the wall and crashes to the floor.

“Harry!” Ron says cheerfully. “Lovely of you to join us!”

Harry shakes his head, but gives Ron a little grin. “How’d you guys get here so fast?”

“Reckon neither of us had to do up our pants, mate.” Ron’s still breathing hard. “Thanks for the help with that bitch, though. She made me think of—”

“Bellatrix? Yeah.” Harry heads over to Susan and finds the Portkey pin on her collar that has been charmed to take her directly to St. Mungo’s curse damage ward. He holds her hand to it, but she doesn’t disappear. He looks at Ron questioningly. “Robards wasn’t sure if there were any others.”

“There aren’t.” Ron is certain. “But there are three adults and two children upstairs; Robards took the most injured one, but I’m pretty sure another one is hurt. We can’t seem to Apparate out of here for some reason; probably why her Portkey isn’t working,” he adds, answering Harry’s silent nod toward Susan.

“Okay.” Harry begins up the stairs. “Check them for vitals--Body Binds if necessary. Backup should be here any minute.”

“Got it,” Ron calls up after him.

The scene the greets him upstairs makes him feel ill. There are blood splatters on the walls, and things smell like mildew and smoke and the heavy scent of Dark Magic. He opens the doors one by one, finding them empty until he gets to the room at the end of the hall.

The family of hostages is huddled there, hiding in a clump behind the bed. Two parents, an older teenager and two small little girls (twins, if he’s not mistaken) stare at him with stark, white faces. Harry makes himself clear the grimace from his face, and he looks directly at the mother, giving her a smile. It’s the only time he likes being able to do what he’s about to.

“Hi. I’m Harry Potter.”

She sobs once, soft, muffled, and then louder, clutching her husband who looks dazed with relief.

The teenager stares at him in disbelief, but one of the twins smiles up, blue eyes shining. “Can I see your scar?”

Harry grins. “Well, because you’ve been so brave.” He rakes the hair away from his forehead and hears the mother say, “It’s him, it’s really him,” voice thick and soppy as the reassurance of his name filters through her fear. He pauses, still looking at the little girl. “Is your sister hurt?”

Her voice begins to wobble. “She… She’s bleeding.” Harry comes closer; none of the colour has returned to her face. In fact, her complexion is ashy-blue and as he steps around the framing of the bed, he can see it’s because her torso is covered in blood.

“They, they took our wands, but I was able to put her in stasis,” the mother explains shakily, remembering herself. She looks at Harry pleadingly. “You can help her, right? You can save her?”

“We’ll do everything we can,” he promises, voice rough.

He tries to levitate her, but whatever they’ve done to the house seems to repel certain spells. The stasis charm proves effective, however, and she’s stable enough for Harry to lift her, which he does carefully. The family follows him silently down the stairs, faces numb with shock and grief, as Harry continues speaking quietly, calmly, anything to help them fill the terrifying void of their thoughts. Ron turns to him.

His face flickers with sympathy and understanding as he looks from Harry’s expression to the girl he’s holding. He knows how Harry feels when there are kids involved. He opens his arms. “Here. Let me take her. I’ve got my pin on. I’ll head to the edge of the property and take her to the hospital. You can get Susan—she’s doing fine.”

Harry smiles gratefully and hands the girl over. Ron takes her expertly, shifting her in his arms so she’s best comfortable; though she doesn’t make a peep of protest, her face relaxes infinitesimally.

Harry feels wrung out but satisfied. It’s the bone-deep ache that often comes with knowing he’s made a difference, and no part of him regrets leaving Platinum to come do this because this is what he lives for.

He’s walking toward Susan when a noise, a motion, catches his senses, and it feels like when he’s about to clasp his fingers over the Snitch. The hair on the back of his neck stands up; bumps rise on his flesh. Harry whirls as the first wizard, who he’d presumed was dead, points the dark wood of his wand at Ron and the girl.

Harry doesn’t think. It’s muscle memory; it’s magic memory. It’s the knowledge that he could not live if something happened to Ron. He lashes his arm out as a stream of deep, flaring red light travels toward his best friend, toward the bleeding little girl, but he’s too slow for the second time that night, too goddamned slow, and the curse is almost at them even as Harry’s own is leaving his wand, so he leaps in front of them, shielding them with his back, and knocking Ron down with the force of his tackle as the world around him goes dark.

***

There is pain, livid and intense as Fiendfyre. Harry floats through it, because he cannot do anything else. He has never believed in Heaven or Hell, and yet now with the small, cogent corners of his mind, he wonders if he is in the latter.

It radiates up his right leg, burning deeply below the knee. His whole lower body aches, and then doesn’t, and then aches again. The darkness is sleep, he figures out, and it wraps around him like cotton, buffering him from the pain, even if just momentarily.

He wonders if he is really sleeping, or if he is dead.

He thinks about Ron and Hermione, and hates himself for his inability to cry.

Harry dreams.

He dreams about making love with Ginny for the first time, her flame-red hair fanned out on his pillow as he kissed her smiling pink mouth and slid inside her and listened as her warm giggle turned into a gasp. He dreams about the blades of knives, dissecting him alive. He dreams about drinks at the Leaky, Ron and Hermione and Neville and Ginny and Luna and Hannah, who surround him like a shield as powerful as a spell from star-seekers and paparazzi, and manage to make him laugh the whole time. He dreams about Platinum, and he knows it’s not right, but the man keeps turning into Malfoy in his mind, low voice in his ear saying, “Potter,” with a hand curled around his dick. He dreams of his last battle with Voldemort, the magic pouring out of him, swamping him with power that still overloads the testing scales of the Ministry. He dreams about thick strains of magic like woven yarn wrapping around his insides. It makes him want to scream, and then there is relief, that same cottony feeling that sleep brings.

Harry dreams.

He hears voices, too. Little snatches of conversation, tiny threads for him to try to follow. The pain comes back, but it’s almost more exhausting to stay asleep at this point than to have a listen.

Hermione’s voice is troublingly weepy when she says, “…but what are the chances of…”

Someone responds, “…no way of being sure. But there are some good…”

Ron’s voice, in his ear, apologising. He sounds as disturbingly distressed as Hermione had. “…thought we had killed him. This is all my fault… I’m so…”

A sweet, feminine voice comes to him, and for a moment he remembers the little girl. But something in him buries that memory, and he recognises Rosie, who pats at his face with her determined hands. “Uncle Harry… …Harry. Will you come back now? Please? Mum and Dad are both so…”

Slowly, Harry comes to understand that he is in the hospital, and that there are people who need him. Ron and Hermione are let in every day, and eventually Molly and Arthur as well. At one point, he latches on to Teddy’s voice, low and warm, speaking to him calmly about Quidditch. Teddy’s a young man now, sixteen years old… Or is it seventeen? Harry isn’t sure; he doesn’t know how long he’s been here.

When Harry blinks for the first time, his eyes are grainy and everything is blurry and too bright, but Hermione and the Healers rush around him like he’s performed a miracle. He makes a croaking sound—he’s so thirsty—and then falls back to sleep, exhausted from his efforts.

The next time, he manages to keep his eyes open for a few minutes. Ron’s hand is holding his. It is almost too hot in his grip, and his eyes are red-rimmed and searching. “Harry? Do you know me?”

Harry gives a little sigh. He tries to clear his throat, but it hurts. Why won’t they give him any fucking water? But he mouths yes, and sees the relief on Ron’s face before he slips away again.

***

“Harry, I need you to remain calm. Can you do that for me?” The voice, irritating and steady, pierces through the fog in his mind. “Please hold up one finger if you can remain calm.”

Harry’s forefinger twitches, and he feels his eyebrows rise. He hadn’t realised he could do that.

“Wonderful,” the voice approves. “Now, I need you to listen. You have been in a magically induced coma off and on for the last several weeks. You incurred some severe curse damage, much of which we were able to repair through a series of procedures. You have been pulling out of the coma on your own, which is extremely good, because we were able to establish that you have no brain damage. We would like to remove the rest of the sleeping charms, but there will likely be some pain. Do you think you can handle it?”

Harry wants to snort. He wants to laugh. He wants to fucking howl. Because what the hell does she think he’s been doing? It’s not nearly as bad as it was before, but his right leg aches from the knee down, and everything else feels weird and out of place. Still, he twitches his forefinger again, managing to raise it and give it a little wiggle.

There is a long moment of silence and then the warm, tingling feel of magic blankets him, comforting, soothing, followed quickly by the sensation of pain. His right foot burns, the muscles in his calf scream as they cramp up. His other leg, too, feels decidedly odd. His hips and back are agonizing, even his arms shake with the need for relief. And then the intensity of the torture fades, leaving him trembling in its wake.

Harry cracks his eyes open, just a slit, allowing them to adjust to the brightness, then opens them wide, finding himself staring straight up at the ceiling. He clears his throat; it aches. “Water,” he whispers. “Glasses.”

A straw is led to his mouth and Harry turns his head, slowly sucking at it. The water behaves on his throat the way rain does on parched earth, soaking it in as the dust settles. They remove the straw before he is done drinking, the water dribbles down the side of his cheek. He reaches up to wipe it off with a shaking hand.

“Harry?” Hermione says hesitantly from his other side. He turns his head to her, and finds his glasses being carefully guided onto the bridge of his nose. She looks worried, her eyes are damp, and so he automatically tries to smile at her.

“What happened?” he finally manages, voice hoarse from disuse.

She hesitates. “You were hit with a nasty Severing Curse. They’d not seen the likes of it; it was something new.”

Alarmed, Harry stares at her as the cobwebs begin to sweep from his mind. “Severing curse?”

“Harry,” she says gently, and that somehow says it all.

“What? What happened? Tell me, Hermione!”

Helplessly, her eyes lift, and Harry follows them to the Healer (the voice, his mind supplies). She is fairly young, with dark, dusky skin and wide black eyes, her nose straight and tapered. Her raven hair is done up in a thick plait. She looks at him steadily.

“Mr. Potter.” Her face is serious. “You were hit in two places. Your spine received some damage, for which you underwent three procedures during the last few months. We needed you to wake up before we could assess the full range of damage that exists. Can you feel your legs?”

Bewildered, breath coming too fast, Harry nods wordlessly. “Yes. They hurt.”

“Can you please try to move your left big toe for me?” He does. It should be easy, like the finger; hell, he’d done that while under a magically induced coma. But his toe won’t move. He feels a breeze of air as the Healer pulls away the sheet covering him, exposing him to the cold.

She runs something down his shin. “Can you feel this?”

Harry swallows. “Yes.”

A poke, slightly harder. “And this?”

“Yeah. On, on my thigh.”

She sighs, and gives him a big smile. “That’s really good news, some of the best we could have received,” she informs him.

Something thick and painful is sticking in Harry’s throat, an inability to swallow that has nothing to do with having had no water for months, and he looks to Hermione again. “Tell me, Hermione.”

She sucks in a shaky breath. “Your… Your leg.”

His leg fucking hurts. Harry struggles up onto his elbows, impatient. It takes forever, because all of his muscles feel sluggish and tender but he finally leverages himself into a position where he can look down at his own body.

His mind goes blank.

His left leg is pale and skinnier than it’s been in years, uncovered by the sheet. His right leg, which hurts so much from the knee down is simply… not there. His thigh stands out as a stark contrast to what is missing below it, evidenced by the flatness of the sheet, pressed flush against the mattress.

Harry hears a wheezy, roaring sound flood his ears, and he wants it to shut up, to shut up so he can fucking concentrate and figure this out, so he knows what to do to fix this and the Healer is talking again and Harry can’t hear it, Harry can’t respond, because that roaring sound is the sound of him screaming in a way he never has before. That sound is him screaming in a way that makes him frighteningly unsure he’ll ever be able to stop.