Many Paths to Tread
The rest of the seventh year Gryffindors have their own battles to fight.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or any of the characters found in this fic.
Wands and Gillyweed
When he's five it's dandelions in the garden, and when he's six it's toadstools in the cellar. Gather and crush and chop and dice—not with a knife, because he's not old enough, but an almost sharp piece of tin can from the rubbish heap. Mix in a pot, even though he can't light a fire because he isn't old enough for a wand.
He climbs up on a kitchen chair to look at his dad's wand, kept under glass, already dusty. He trips on the hem of his robes, falls off the chair onto the floor. It's stone, like Gran's scolding.
When he's eleven, it's foxgloves and daisies, and he gets his wand. Sometimes it feels as though it wants to slip out of his hand. Gran doesn't bother to take him to Olivander's like the other kids to get a wand that chooses him. He doesn't mind then, but later it eats at him, like he was second choice for the wand, too.
When he's twelve, it's mandrake roots, and they knock him out, and maybe it really starts then. Growing things are powerful, powerful for you if you use them correctly, powerful against you if you don't. He goes back often to the Greenhouses to check on their growth, sneaking out with more courage then he thought he had in the sharp fall evenings and frigid, mocking winter nights, wand clutched in sweaty hand: lumos and not spells that stop Death Eaters in their tracks. Frost on the glass, and he almost hears the sound of them growing. And they knocked him out, but they wake the others up. Powerful.
When he's fourteen, it's gillyweed, and his first great accomplishment. It was him this time; he discovered it in the book; he (sort of) saved Harry Potter. He never would have won without it, and somehow it seems important. Perhaps the wand fits into his hand easier now.
When he's fifteen, it's courage, not a plant, raw and on its own, with no leaves and twigs and flowers and juices and scents. Courage, his brand at least, is clumsy yelling through blood in nose and mouth, in a place no one would ever have asked him to be, but he's there nonetheless. There. And he stumbles and it cracks and he yells and it doesn't really help. He's always been in the way. But the wand feels like it's made for his hand—
Snaps like a twig.
Now he's seventeen, and it's everything. Everything. Rose petals, mistletoe berries, belladonna, kelp, wolfsbane, asphodel, nettles, ginger roots, hellebore, Devil's Snare, fluxweed, lovage, sneezewort. And other things, besides: dragon's teeth and salamander skin and pixie droppings and Ashwinder eggs and bezoars and jobberknoll feathers and beela's hair and werewolf's blood and boggart's sweat and unicorn's horn. Gather and crush and chop and dice and mince and measure and mix and stir and boil and burn and freeze and pour and drink. Over and over. Mechanical. Exact. The wand is different—it fits his hand, chose him. He doesn't like to think that perhaps he outgrew the old one.
There's pressure now, where there never really was before, when there was only embarrassment and detention and staying after class. This must be right; there is no room for mistakes; lives hinge on whether he gets this right, if the measurement is precise, if he boils it for long enough, if he speaks the proper word. Life will slip away through his fingers that could not seem to hold onto a wand if he is not right.
Not yet, perhaps, but it's coming. Professor Sprout and Madam Pomfrey seek him out after dinner on a warm fall evening. He's been planning to meet the others—Seamus and Dean and Lavender and Parvati and Luna and Ginny—out under the oak tree by the lake. But Sprout's usually beaming face is sober and Madam Pomfrey avoids his eyes. He knows what they're going to ask before they do.
Y-yes. Of c-c-course.
And so there is no more time in the Common Room after classes and very little sleep now. Now is full of dirt under fingernails and the humidity of the Greenhouse and even the dank moldiness of the Potions Dungeon. His fingers swell up, his head aches back behind his eyes, his legs barely hold him up. It's everything now. Everything now in light of—dark of—what's coming.
Perhaps this is its own kind of courage, different from fighting on battlefields, though he knows that is where he will end up. But to wake up every morning and know the darkness is closing in and there is nothing you—or almost anyone—can do to stop it, and you get out of bed and move through the motions of the day and smile and workworkworkworkwork, cutting, canning, slicing, boiling, preparing every single day by the flickering light of a hope that is three teenagers on a very lonely road. Perhaps this is the hardest courage of all.
At night, he stumbles into bed so very, very late, no energy to change clothes, no strength to pry fingers away from his wand, and so he dozes, clothed, wand in hand. And his courage is rising in the morning, bleary-eyed and aching, to do it all over again.
Gillyweed is a strange kind of courage.
I've been most nervous (anxious) about this one, felt the most inadequate writing it. He's so much more than anyone really thinks he is, and I hope I didn't sell him short. Feedback is love, y'all.