Title: Coming of Age

Author: Himura Seraphina
Category: Drama/General/Romance
Rating: R
Summary: With the death of Sirius and the beginning of the Second War, Harry's life is turned upside-down. Death Eaters, growing up, the Ministry, hormones, Voldemort and NEWTs—adolescence is never easy, but when it comes to Harry Potter, even the worst difficulties are that much harder.
Pairings: HP/SF, HP/RL, HP/othermale RW/HG, other minor pairings mentioned.
Spoilers: OotP—Half-Blood Prince doesn't exist in my little universe.
Disclaimer: JKR gets all the money as I don't own them—I did, however kidnap them, rearrange the furniture, give everyone a make-over, and took photographs for blackmail. Black-and-white, color, and digital.

Authors Notes: This is AU as of HBP for two reasons: 1) I got the idea before this July and 2) while I enjoyed the book, it doesn't fit into my preferences for fan fiction. Therefore, like many dedicated slash shippers and Snape fans, I am, in the realm of fan fiction, going to pretend that HBP doesn't exist.

This is SLASH, folks--don't like, don't read (You poor, unfortuante fools who don't know what you're missing). There is also several dark themes--the usual: cutting, death, the nasty man who wants to take over the world thing, and some angsty Harry (poor bastard--but we wouldn't love him as much if we couldn't make him suffer endlessly). Don't worry, there's good stuff to.

For the record, I know very little about cutting, also know as self-mutilation. I started writing this with it as a theme, planning on researching it later, but then I got lazy--to lazy to research, and to lazy to re-write what I'd done already. If you have any insights-great! If you want to flame me for not being perfectly accurate in the psychiatric sense--it's called 'anal retentive'. Look it up.

Other than that, enjoy, read and review, and don't worry--there's more. I've got 6 chapters written and am working on the rest. It might take a while but I will finish. Then I'll get back to Prodigal Son. My brain completely froze while I tried to continue it, so I started this instead.

Luv ya! Seraphina

Part One. Tears of Blood

In the early summer of 1995, many unusual things occurred in the Britain. Of course, the majority of the population of said nation was unaware of these things, but as a whole, humans are generally unaware of a great many things that, in particular, don't fit into their private view of the world. So, while the general masses went on about their ordinary lives, the smaller magical community lived in a state of upheaval, confusion, anger, and fear.

But even among this smaller, more informed populace, a great many things were unknown. After all, magical or not, the general population is uninformed of a great many things, often by choice—whether it is their own choice to believe only what they wish to hear, or the choice of those in power, who tell them only what they wish to hear. So, while the Wizarding world knew that You-Know-Who had, indeed, returned and Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter had, indeed, been telling the truth, and Minister Fudge had, indeed, lied to them about the whole mess, they didn't know about the extraordinary lengths gone to by said Minister to cover the whole thing up. They didn't know about the blood quills and the propaganda and the sheer slander that had been used to keep things quiet—although, many parents, upon discovering the purpose and means of one Delores Umbridge from their children, certainly learned enough to pressure the Ministry and the Board of Governors into insuring the end of the High Inquisitor and the Education Decrees and to make sure such a thing could never happen again.

Wizards and witches knew that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named had been in the Ministry itself—that, indeed, six students had fought against ten Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, and that Albus Dumbledore and the Dark Lord had dueled in the entrance hall. They knew that, once again, Harry Potter had met Him and lived to tell the tale—and this time, he was believed. They knew that Sirius Black had been an innocent man, sent to prison without trial, and had died fighting Death Eaters in an attempt to rescue his godson.

But while the wizarding world had a great deal to talk about, and a new war to worry about, and a Minister who desperately tried to save face while they decided the best way to fire him, they didn't know the whole truth. They didn't know about the Order of the Phoenix and how it had been working while the Minister buried his head in the sand; they didn't know about the vision that had led a boy and five of his friends into a trap; they didn't know how much one escaped, innocent fugitive had been loved by the only true family he had, and how much he was missed. Those were truths known to only a few people in all the world.

There was one secret, though, that only two people knew. A secret so great that lives—one at the very least—had been lost over it and more were at risk. A secret kept for fifteen long years, which was at least one year too long, for had it been shared sooner, many things would have been different. The Prophecy, which told of a Power The Dark Lord Knows Not, which said that the fate of the wizarding world rested in the hands of a fifteen-year-old boy, known only to the greatest wizard of the age, and said boy.

Some secrets were meant to be kept forever; some only for a limited time. And some secrets should never have been secrets in the first place.

Harry Potter had another secret.

This one, unlike the Prophecy, was known to only one person. Like the Prophecy, it was a dangerous secret. Not one that people would kill for, perhaps, but certainly one that someone might die over.

In the early summer of 1995, while the Muggle world went about its business, while the wizarding world prepared for war and Cornelius Fudge prepared to pack up his office; while Voldemort plotted and the Order planned, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived-Over-And-Over, grieved. And in the second bathroom in Number Four, Privet Drive, Surrey, with warm water washing over him in the shower, he watched blood mingle with the water and flow down the drain.

With a razor in hand, tears on his cheeks, and another day's nightmares and memories echoing in his mind, he cut into his own arm, and watched himself bleed.

The first time had been an accident. Two days after returning to Hell, otherwise known as Privet Drive, he had been taking a shower when the sight of Sirius, falling through the Veil flashed through his mind as it had, many times before. Angry, guilty, grieving, the vision had enough impact to make him lose his balance, and he'd stumbled and reached out to catch himself. His hand closed over the narrow ledge holding all manner of paraphernalia usually found in a bathtub or shower stall: soap, shampoo, conditioner, and, in this case, a disposable razor.

The pain had been mild, the cut shallow along the side of his finger, but it had been more than he'd felt since the day Sirius died. After the rage he'd expended in the Headmaster's office, and the brief relief when he'd learned his friends would be fine, Harry had fallen into a well of grief and guilt that was almost numbing, interspersed only by the echoing words of the prophecy, the sound of Trelawney's voice as she spoke the dreadful words. Hunger, heat, cold—little affected him, and nothing supplanted the feelings he couldn't expel; until an accidental cut with an inexpensive razor.

He'd watched a few drops of blood well up, only to be washed away by the cooling water. By the time the pain faded, the water was cold, and he felt numb inside and out again.

For two days and nights, every time he had a flashback, or a nightmare, or a dream, his eyes would go to the healing cut, and he would remember how the razor cut through flesh and numbing grief. And his eyes would drift to his right hand, where the words I will not tell lies was carved with his own writing. He remembered the pain—sharp, then fading to a dull, constant throb that lingered for hours, even days, and how red blood looked against pale parchment.

After a brutal nightmare filled with chilling laughter, his mother's screams, and the accusing voices of Cedric Diggory and Sirius, which left Harry staring at his alarm clock at three a.m., 'It's your fault' echoing in his head and cold tears on his face, he'd slipped silently out of bed, retrieved the disposable razor from his toiletry kit and made a shallow tentative cut in the flesh below his left elbow. Blood was black in the moonlight, he'd discovered—and sat, watching the blood well and then dry, and crawling back into bed over an hour later when the pain had faded and taken the nightmare with it.

In some part of himself, Harry knew that what he was doing was not only a little odd, but seriously unhealthy. Only someone who was slightly unbalanced could actually find relief in physical pain—how could injuring yourself make you hurt less? In the morning light, he'd examined the slice he'd made in his skin, bandaged it, tucked his razor away, and firmly resolved not to do such a ridiculous thing again. And that night, when the numbness and grief were back, he resolutely looked away from the bandage as he stripped and dressed for bed; when he woke the first time from dreams he ignored the itching of the healing cut, and the second time he bit his lip to distract himself from removing the gauze and looking at it. When he woke at five in the morning, unable to sleep again, he instead traced the scars on his right hand over and over…remembering red blood on parchment and the burn of the quill…

Four days after that night, he cut into his arm again, just beneath the first cut. The blood welled up again but, despite the lingering pain, that sharp burn faded too soon, and the sight of Sirius' shocked face disappearing behind the Veil drifted into his thoughts. By the third cut, it had faded again, and Harry slept the rest of the night.

He lasted three days after that, and then another three. Each time he made one extra cut, or pushed the razor down a bit harder, making the pain linger as long as possible. The fifth night he didn't use a razor, but a craft knife he'd nicked from Dudley, meant for the modeling kit the other boy had never used. The cuts this made were smoother and deeper than a cheap razor, the pain sharper, the burn of it more intense. He heard Sirius shouting at him, telling him how stupid he was to fall for such a stupid trick that he was nothing like James and if he'd only learned the bloody Occulmency then Harry wouldn't have gotten him killed, would he? And everyone was doomed because how was he supposed to kill Voldemort when he couldn't even protect his friends or obey simple instructions? So Harry cut a second time, and a third, and dipped his finger in the blood, writing I'm sorry on the unmarked skin beneath the cuts. That helped, but not enough, so he pulled out a scrap of parchment and wrote it again, and again, and of course the blood flow had slowed down by then so he had to make another cut in order to write the words a third time, before he tucked the knife and the parchment away under the floorboard and slept again.

Three days before his sixteenth birthday, Harry stood in the shower and, not surrounded by the fog of grief and guilt, not high on the euphoria of cutting, looked down at his arms. He'd progressed from his lower left arm to the upper, and then to his right. Dozens of cuts in various stages of healing, and a few pink scars from cuts deep enough to linger littered his flesh. He took a closer look and realized how close some of the scabs were to the major veins in his wrists and elbows. He looked at the freshest ones, stinging from the warm water, and realized that he'd cut three separate times that day—for he'd begun to cut as often during the day as he did at night. He'd made the first incision before getting dressed that morning—less than six hours after the last time—and had barely made it until lunch before he'd felt the need to do so again.

He threw out his razors, and then the craft knife, and then burned the parchments where he'd written in his own blood over a candle flame. Two hours later his fingers itched to close around a blade. His dreams were full of screams; he woke five times and got all of four hours of sleep. Dawn saw him exhausted, red-eyed, and scratching absently at half-healed cuts. By afternoon he'd wrapped his arms in gauze and put on a long-sleeved shirt—thankfully, the summer had been cool so far—to stop himself from breaking the scabs.

He found himself eyeing the kitchen knives when he cooked, barely caught himself before he closed his hand around the blade of a pairing knife two days after he stopped cutting. The grief that drove him to cut was pushed aside by the constant focus it took to stop himself from drawing his own blood. His dreams turned to the night in the graveyard, the feel of Wormtail's knife slicing into his arm; to detentions with Umbridge, only here she told him what a sick freak he was for enjoying what she did to him because it certainly seemed like he was enjoying it, after all, it wasn't her hand holding the knife. And he threw himself into every chore the Dursley's gave him, the harder, the more physical, the better, anything to wear him out and keep his mind off how easy it was to dig out a spare razor and just cut…

Remus Lupin was not a stupid man—far from it, in fact, as he had the kind of mind that makes a true scholar; inquisitive, attentive, detail-oriented, and built like a steel trap. It was only the laws and general discrimination against those with his particular kind of curse that stopped him from making a deep and lasting mark on the wizarding world—and, seeing as he was only thirty-six among a race that thought nothing of living well past a century, nothing said he would not yet make that mark.

He also knew what it was to be touched by Darkness, both that of dark magic, and that of your own demons. He knew the tar pit that grief could become if it was mixed with guilt, knew what it was to be trapped by the thought that if only you had done something different you could have changed everything. He knew what happened when depression became twisted by guilt for he'd seen the signs, not only in himself, but in Sirius as he fought to overcome twelve years of having his memories distorted by Dementors until all he could remember was that James and Lily were dead and it was his fault, even if Wormtail had been the traitor.

So when Harry's letters, arriving every three days like clockwork, took on a strange note, Remus became concerned, and then worried, and then frightened. For, even if Dumbledore and Moody and Arthur and Molly thought there was nothing more than loneliness and grief in his brief, unembellished notes, Remus knew better. And when he saw the looks on Ron and Hermione's faces as they read the notes, he knew he was right to be worried. But it was when Severus Snape's pallid face drew tight, and a hint of something queer touched his dark eyes as one of Harry's latest letters was read during an Order meeting that he was certain his darkest fears were reasonable. But Albus refused to let anyone other than the guards near Harry, and only in disguise and under invisibility cloaks to avoid drawing Voldemort's attention to Privet Drive, and Remus wasn't on the guard rotation. He was angry, but couldn't tell the headmaster why it was so important he see Harry immediately; not without proof, especially since it would be so embarrassing for the boy.

When a letter—if a two line message could be considered a letter or even a proper note—arrived the week before Harry's birthday, his fear became resolve, and he approached Dumbledore.

"Albus, either make arrangements to let me visit Harry soon, or I'll go myself and to hell with the Death Eaters."

And as Dumbledore could remember Remus swearing all of five times since his graduation, the elderly wizard had stared at him for a long minute, before agreeing that Remus should be the one to take Harry to the Ministry on his sixteenth birthday for the Apparition license the boy had been studying for.

Remus waited impatiently for the 31st for, as much as he'd recognized a disturbing note in Harry's message, far more recognizable was the scent of blood lingering on the parchment itself.

The morning of his birthday, Harry found himself laying sod in the backyard of the Dursley's home. The day had not been a good one; he'd been awake since four in the morning, after all of three hours of sleep, he was unable to receive any owls for security reasons, which included gifts, and he'd scratched his arms into bleeding twice already. When the quiet 'crack' of a skilled Apparitioner sounded behind him, he spun towards the noise, wand in hand—to meet the amused gaze of Remus Lupin.

Shock held him for a moment, before he remembered himself and tucked away his wand. Head lowered, he returned to his work, unable to face the last of the Mauraders—alone once more because of Harry's mistake. Had he not been caught up in his own thoughts, he would have heard Remus' quiet, sad sigh.

The older wizard came to crouch beside him, waiting silently while Harry set a roll of sod in place, then spread it out, focusing on laying the strip of turf perfectly. When he reached for another roll without speaking, Remus sighed again and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. Harry almost flinched at the warm weight—he had not been touched except for shoves from Dudley since departing King's Cross station at the end of term. Remus felt his unconscious movement, but didn't move back; instead he squeezed lightly. "Happy Birthday, Harry."

He muttered something that passed for thanks; Remus still didn't move away. "How have you been?" He shrugged, laying out more sod.

"Have you studied the Apparition manual Albus sent you?"

His yes was a mutter, but it was an affirmative.

"Excellent—you qualify for your license today, if you pass the test. Are you up for it?" Once again he shrugged.

Remus didn't get frustrated as Aunt Petunia did, nor try to coax answers out of him as Mrs. Weasley would have tried to. He just squeezed again gently—this time there was no instinctive attempt to draw back from the touch.

"Excellent, I'll take you whenever you're ready. Do you need to finish before we go?" He nodded, and Remus squeezed again. "Well, this will take a few hours on your own—do you mind a hand?"

He wasn't used to help with chores but then again, Remus was about as far from the Dursley's as one could get without being a tentacled alien from outer space. And the alien was likely easier to get along with than his relatives.

When he said nothing, Remus assumed he didn't object and reached for another roll.

He'd forgotten about the bandages on his arms—Petunia had seen them, but didn't care what happened to him as long as he didn't make a mess on her floors, and as the weather had warmed up, he wore tee-shirts in the garden again. The gauze the wrapped his arms from wrist to mid-bicep was clearly visible, but the werewolf said nothing. They worked in companionable silence, and slowly Harry relaxed. Remus was always a calming influence, projecting an aura of quiet strength and warmth and self-control, despite the fact that he carried within him the spirit of a wild and violent animal.

After many long minutes of steady labor, they stopped together, Harry wiping sweat from his sleeve with his shirt. The sun had risen high and was shining intently on them. He glanced at Remus from the corner of his eye when the man sighed. "It's too hot—there's no help for it." He barely stopped himself from gawking as his former professor drew his shirt over his head, baring his torso.

Dressed normally in the shabby, loose robes he favored, Remus usually seemed thin and faintly stooped-shoulders. He was, indeed, slender, but hardly thin or frail, despite his curse. Naked to the waist, the strength of his frame was apparent in the whipcord muscles under pale skin. The illness that came with his curse kept his metabolism high, leaving him without an ounce of extra flesh. Harry had time for the absent thought—does he hide deliberately under those robes?—before his attention was drawn elsewhere and away from staring at the older wizard's form in a way that would embarrass him had he realized what he was doing.

Against his pale skin, scars were clearly visible across Remus' torso and arms. Jagged cuts, tears, and what looked like claw and bite marks—signs of the wolf, who took over the gentle man's mind and body once a month.

At Remus' left side was a distinct mark that, unlike the others, was neither pale pink nor white, but silver. The jagged marks in a half-moon pattern could be only one thing.

"Is that were you were bitten?"

He could have bitten his own tongue, but it was too late; the question, rude as it was, had slipped out. Remus smiled faintly.

"Yes, it is. A werewolf bite—one that infects, anyway—leaves silver scars that do not fade after the first transformation." He tapped the mark. "I've born this mark for twenty-two years, and it will remain, unchanged, until the day I die."

Harry nodded, saying nothing. His thoughts strayed to his scars, particularly the new ones. Remus bore all those marks, unflinching, and though they were self-inflicted, they were nothing like the ones Harry had made. He was famous for a scar placed on him by Voldemort, recognizable because of the features he shared with his parents. The scars on his arms—with the exception of the one which resulted in Voldemort's rebirth—had, as sick as it sounded, at least been his own choice, marks not made by fate or the Prophecy, ones that didn't tie him to his enemy.

His scabs itched, and he pulled his thoughts from scars. Surely he could find some other way to distinguish himself from The-Boy-Who-Lived and James and Lily Potter's son?

A few minutes later, something caught his eye that made him stop and stare.

Remus continued working for a moment before pausing and turning to Harry. When he saw him staring at his upper arm, his lips twisted into a small half-smile.

"I know," he said, amused, "it's not something you'd expect me to have, is it?" He tapped a finger against the wide tattooed band high on his right arm.

It was three fingers wide, made of black and red ink. A complex pattern that looked faintly Celtic wove across the top and bottom, while the center held runes written in red against black. The pattern and colors were nearly hypnotic.

Remus shifted, laying out another roll of sod, but Harry continued to stare. "Has anyone told you about wizard tattoos, Harry?" He shook his head, and Remus hmmmed. "I expected as much—this is another one of those things that wizards don't realize is different for Muggles, so Muggleborns—or those raised as such, like you—don't know the difference until they come across it in the Wizarding world. Tattoos are quite traditional for us, actually, although certain ceremonial markings have fallen out of use. It used to be that, upon their coming of age, wizards would receive the mark of their family or clan. Heirs of pureblooded lines were essentially required to do so, and those who didn't belong to a great family would often take the mark of their school House, or else create their own personal mark—many of which would later be used as the basis of a family crest if that person or a descendant established a new line. Only the most traditional families do that now, though many young men do choose to get a tattoo when the graduate still—some witches also adopt the practice as well."

"Of course, magical tattoos are different from Muggle ones—for one thing, there's no needles involved. The ink doesn't fade or run, and if, for example, you were cut where the tattoo is and a scar forms, the tattoo would be un-altered by the scar tissue."

"Special ranks or positions often resulted in tattoos—they are far more permanent than a badge or a medal. Albus, for example, bears a Wizengamot tattoo—about half of the current members do. Professor Snape has a mark symbolizing his potion's Mastery, the symbol of his guild. When wizarding society followed a stricter class system, certain classes bore tattoos, specifically the warrior castes and the priesthoods—much as many ancient Muggle cultures did, which, of course, is where they got the idea from in the first place."

Harry finally managed to get his hands moving again, and returned to work, though he moved slowly and his eyes returned to that tattoo every few seconds.

"This is a very ancient form of tattoo. It's called a Memorial Band now, though it's also been called a Mourning Band, a Blood Mark, and a Band of Honor, among other things. When someone dies, and their life and/or death had a great impact on you life, some people chose to mark it with a band like this one. Traditionally when your mentor or master passed on, you would take a mark like this. Sons would take a similar one when their fathers died and they inherited their estates and responsibilities. The death of a spouse or child especially might have someone choosing to take a mark, and, in past times, if someone was killed or murdered in such a way that a family member would call a Blood Feud against those responsible, the victim's name and the pledge of vengeance was taken as a band—that's where 'Blood Mark' in particular came from."

"Obviously, you can't take a mark for every person you know who dies—in fact, it demeans the significance of the marks. Only a life or death which has a profound impact on your life is meant to be taken as a mark or band. The tradition has faded somewhat, though its still fairly common, particularly among Aurors—who, by the way, are the remains of the warrior classes of old, and tend to preserve certain traditions. I know a number or Aurors who, when their mentors, trainers, or partners are killed in the line of duty take a mark for them."

"Who—" he stopped and wet his tongue when the word came out on a squeak. "Who is yours for?"

Remus stopped and turned so he was facing Harry directly. He froze under the intent amber gaze of his ex-professor, which searched his face. Then a warm hand closed over his and drew his hand to the inked flesh.

"This is a Celtic-styled Band, since I'm of Scottish and English descent, though the runes are the same blend of languages that are used in Ancient Runes. Depending on your own choice, the style of the band, and the purpose or reason behind taking it, a Band has one, three, five, or nine lines, symbols, words, or syllables. This has three lines of runes, and then three parts to the naming. This," he drew Harry's finger across the top line of runes, "says: that I could not do more to protect your lives nor avenge your deaths, I give my apology. Then comes: that your deaths never be in vain, the cause you died for never be lost, and the memory of your lives and love never be forgotten, I do so swear. And this," the last line, "says: that you, whom I loved so well and who honored me with friendship, faith, and trust, find unending peace together, I pray with all my heart. And here, this last mark," he outlined three oddly stylized marks that Harry vaguely recognized as naming glyphs, "names those the Band honors: James and Lily Potter."

His hand trembled as he touched the red symbols that were his parent's magical marks—the glyphs they used in any personal rituals or runic wardings, that appeared on any blood-bound contract, and marked their place in the Book of Souls, the register that recorded all the magical children born, which Hogwarts and places like it used versions of to keep track of future students. Glyphs were not covered until seventh year, but Hermione had discovered them and forced Ron and he to research them with her. He had gotten far enough to complete the ritual to reveal his own glyph, but hadn't found out his parents before OWLs had begun.

"This is…"


He stared at the Band, tracing the runes and patterns for several moments before he realized he was running his fingers over Remus' skin in a very intimate manner. Blushing, he withdrew his hand reluctantly, but couldn't manage to tear his eyes away.

Remus didn't seem uncomfortable or upset. "After your parents were killed, I lost…everything. All of the true friends I had, the ones who knew who and what I was and accepted me. More, I lost those who both I and Moony considered 'pack'—and a wolf without a pack can, quite literally, die of loneliness. Werewolves aren't wolves, but in this they are alike. The first year was the hardest, particularly since it seemed like the whole world was celebrating while I grieved." His eyes were unfocused as he looked to the past. Harry watched sadness flicker across his face, feeling unaccountably like crying on behalf of his parents' friend, who had been so utterly alone. "The full moons were very hard—Moony wanted to search for his pack at first, and then became enraged by their loss. On the anniversary of that night, a few days after a difficult transformation, an Order member I still ran into on occasion suggested trying a Memorial Band to try and find closure. I thought about it, and then took myself off to the tattooist in Hogsmead where Sirius had gotten a tattoo in seventh year—oh, yes, there is one there, right behind Madam Puddifoot's, which is likely why you've never seen it, and I don't blame you for avoiding that particular area—and told him what I wanted. A Band is a serious business, and it took hours to decide on all the details, which the artist walked me though carefully."

He touched the tattoo gently before going on. "It seemed to help a great deal, actually. The act of putting your thoughts about a person's life and death in words, giving it form, helps you to work out your feelings and accept them. Having a reminder of them reassures you that you won't forget them, which is a difficult aspect of grief, and part of the reason that you want to hold on to the pain. The next moon was easier, and the one after that and…each day was a little better than the last. It didn't make everything better instantly, but it was a turning point for me." He returned his gaze to Harry, and Harry found himself drawn more to those amber eyes than the striking tattoo. "Make no mistake, Harry, you can't just run out and expect something like this to heal everything—you have to accept something before you mark it permanently on your skin. But taking an event that profoundly affects you inside, and revealing it in an external manner can be very—cathartic. Sometimes things affect you so much that you have to find a way of showing that change, of revealing how different you are or how something has marked you internally. When your parents died, my life changed drastically and nearly all of those changes revolved around their deaths. This Band, it helped me internalize and understand the impact it had on my life, and accept what happened."

Harry said nothing, Remus' words spinning in his head. An external mark to show what you felt on the inside. Wasn't that what he was doing by cutting? Manifesting the pain and fear he felt, from losing Sirius and seeing Voldemort and learning the Prophecy? Trying to bleed out the pain and self-loathing that he had no words for because if something hurt so much, surely there must be a wound or a scar to show for it? But the heart hurt more than the body, so the cutting only worked of a while before he tried again, until one day he would cut too deep and snuff the life he believed was the cause of it all—his parent's deaths, Sirius's dying, Cedric's murder—all because he was born, and he had lived.

Remus didn't seem to notice his internal struggle, the realization of what was actually driving his cutting. He simply patted Harry on the shoulder and said, "We'd best finish this quickly so we can get you to the Ministry for that test."

Mechanically, Harry did so: finished laying the sod with Remus' help, allowed the older wizard to hit them both with cleaning charms, changed his shirt for a long-sleeved one, Flooed to the Ministry—where, without him noticing, they circumvented the Entrance Hall which was still under repairs. He took his Apparition exam, written and practical, on autopilot—and scored nearly perfect marks since nerves never had a chance to show up—and received his license, the proof he could Apparate legally without supervision, and the first step towards being a practicing adult wizard.

He awoke enough to accept a wrapped gift from Remus—"you'll get the rest when we get you away from here—Molly's planning a party."—and thank the man for the handsome leather-bound journal charmed with an Infinite Space spell so as to never run out of pages. He accepted the firm, warm hug Remus gave him, the gentle smile and intent-eyed stare as he was told firmly to take care of himself and owl if he needed any help, and then found himself back at Privet Drive in the smallest bedroom with scabs that he no longer even notice itching and a mind full of swirling thoughts.

At ten p.m. on July 31, Harry Potter Apparated to Hogsmead where he then sought out a quiet upper-story business. As he explained his purpose and was welcomed in by a brawny wizard in his sixties with no set business hours, a man with amber eyes smiled from the shadows across the lane before Apparating away.