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“Have you heard of a controlled burn?” Harry’s voice was low, and thoughtful in that heavy way he had been since he came back from the forest.

“No.”

“It’s something that Muggles have used for millennia, harnessing a natural disaster and using it to shape the land. Before humans it would have been a stray lighting bolt into dry leaves. Now it’s deliberate fires.”

“Arson, you mean?”

“No. It’s considered. It’s measured. It’s purposeful.

“And what happens, after this burn?”

“With the dead wood gone, fresh shoots can grow. New. Untainted.”

That’s what he had said, months ago. I often thought to myself that for all his talk of control, what came next looked like so much glorious chaos to me. And all it had taken was him, the stray lightning bolt. A shock from the beyond. Charged particles reaching their ultimate density and detonating, exploding into fractured, crackling power and igniting everything.

He had always had a wildness about him, even as the scrawny child I had first met in Malkins all those years ago. Something in those wide green eyes like the feral glance of a street cat, a fox, a snake. Something of a creature trapped, restrained and snapping at the bars of his cage. It had softened at first, at school, into a kind of contented restraint— good friends, and regular meals, and the nominal safety afforded by the naive belief in a system presenting itself as right, were a soothing balm on the nagging ache of injustice.

Just like him, though, I had learned the hard way that just because people that loved you said it was right, didn’t make it so. I learned all about injustice at my father’s knee. House-elves scalded and beaten, my own mother quelled into terrified submission. I watched Snatchers slaughtered, my Muggleborn school teacher eaten at my dining table, my oldest friend swallowed by the voracious flames he had conjured to kill Harry.

Because he is Harry now. He’s been Harry since he first came to me in Azkaban, that wild glint sparking like flames in his eyes. After his testimony failed to save me from Azkaban (so much for spying), after the Ministry introduced the death sentence (by fire, delicious irony of it all), after they doubled down on their prohibitions against Werewolves, after they displaced McGonagall as headmistress for another Ministry lackey. But he hadn’t come to me to deal with the Ministry, Granger was taking care of that. No. I was the one to track every escaped Death Eater, every sympathiser, every witch or wizard who had turned their cheek as Snatchers dragged their screaming neighbours out of their homes in the night.

I understand him now, more than I ever dreamed I might. That night in the forest, that brief sojourn into death, it changed him. Stripped away whatever veneer of piety he had managed to build for himself. He had survived the grief of every loss in his short life, but his own was too much. Not when he came back to school halls filled with the bodies of his year-mates. Not when the ‘right side’ exposed its dark underbelly for all to see. Not when they tried to use his name to justify it all.

We were lying in bed together, after one of his bouts of radical honesty—pretence and observation of ‘should’ was something else he had left in the loamy earth under the trees—when he first talked about the burning. I wasn’t confused. I’ve never been stupid, just decieved. Brainwashed, is what he calls it.

He has never deceived me. Not when we were eleven and he crushed my eggshell ego without even realising it. Not when he cut me from belly to throat. Not when he told me he’d make sure I was safe after I protected them in the Manor. And not when he stripped himself before me; considered, measured, purposeful.

He’s doing this for himself. For the fathomless rage and hurt that swirls with every beat of his heart. He’s doing it for his parents, lost to a war that was decided as soon as his mother birthed him. He’s doing it for Granger, who still gazes at a family photo missing her face in moments of quietude. He’s doing it for Weasley, a brother-shaped hole in his heart. He’s even doing it for me, he says the Muggles would call me a child soldier, says they have laws about punishing those who are coerced. All of that’s personal though. And he knows it.

He’s doing it for us all. Every drop of magic in the country; from pixie to witch and everything in between. Granger wanted to do it officially, spent a year researching, petitioning, posting bills to the Wizengamot, protesting, organising. Until finally she came back to Grimmauld Place, sat at the dining table, and told Harry she was ready to do it his way.

They’ve brought back the old posters. Undesirable No. 1. He laughed when he saw them. I raged. At the futility of it all, at the transparency of their hypocrisy, at their craven mistreatment of him. I could have rotted in Azkaban until I was a shell; I probably deserved it. But him? He died for us, and worse still he came back to live and fight for us. And this is how they repay him?

He calls me transactional. Says it’s a flaw of my upbringing, my house. That nobody owes him anything in particular. That he did what he did because it was the right thing to do, no more. But Weasley agrees with me. Funny that love of Harry would be the thing that brought the two of us together, united as a common front against anyone who would target him, anyone who took for granted the debt we all owe.

I would repay him in flesh, in magic. I would let his strong hands fell me, let him use these limbs as kindling for the fire. He just wants my love. And it’s easy. Dumbledore would roll in his grave to know the smile in his eyes as he dismantles everything the old man propped up in that long and complicated life. Merlin himself would hear the thunder of his magic, his resolve.

I kiss him, linger, step back and watch. Wild eyes—the boy under the stairs, the boy in the maze, the boy in the forest—the man who will burn the world to save it, to transform it.