She had been struggling with what to wear for weeks. Ever since the 'Remembrance Gala' had been announced, her thoughts had been consumed with what she would wear. This may have been expected for most witches her age, but her reasons were about as far from those of her contemporaries as possible. She wasn't concerned with the latest fashion, getting a top designer, or a particular color of fabric, she was concerned about the six inches of ragged red letters carved into her arm with a cursed blade.
It would be naive, and frankly insulting, to state that things in the wizarding world had returned to normal after the battle. There was a new normal now. One that involved talks of rebuilding, restructuring, restoring what was. Hogwarts was reopening, in a limited capacity, and for a shortened term. It had been difficult for her to decide what to do. The past year she felt she had aged to the point where classrooms and house crests were insignificant. But there was no denying the security and structure that the castle and classes would provide her, and after much deliberation she decided to return.
The hardest part of that decision had been knowing she would be returning alone. The boys couldn't and wouldn't. Ron was needed by his family, and he had never enjoyed classes in the first place. Harry...Harry couldn't be there. Not in that place. Not right then. Maybe not ever.
They had understood. They knew how much it meant for her to finish up properly, she even suspected that Harry knew the real reason, how she intended to hide in her books and quills and ink stained fingers for a year and not have to truly face what had happened. He didn't fault her for this, and a part of him she thought was jealous that she would have an opportunity he would not.
They saw her to Kings Cross, and if she felt awkward and out of place she didn't allow it to show. The sight of the Trio together in public caused a bit of a disruption and before she knew it she was saying her goodbyes long before she had expected to. Ron gave her a quick hug and shoved a few coins in her hand. When she looked at him quizzically he said they were for sweets like old times.
Harry stepped forward and didn't say a word, just waited for her to throw her arms around him like she always had. If his grip was a little tighter, and a little longer than usual neither of them cared. She stepped back, hands still gripping his arms and brushed his hair away from his scar before giving him a tight smile. They agreed to frequent owls and a meet up at Hogsmeade in a few weeks before she backed away through the ever growing crowd and went to round up any lost first years.
Due to her special circumstances, the Headmistress had allowed her some leeway typically not allowed. She was Head Girl, of course, but had her own tower, and permission to leave the grounds when she wished, although it would be on her head if this affected her work. It did not.
As the months passed, she fell into a solid routine. Classes, studying, tutoring, and her other duties as Head Girl. She could make easy conversation with just about anyone, but if anyone had bothered to really look at her they would have realized her heart wasn't in it.
The only time she truly felt like herself was the once a month Hogsmeade visits she had with the boys. Their owls had been coming more than she had expected, especially from Ron, and for this she was grateful. Whatever her and Ron had hit upon during the battle had fizzled out right after, but with no ill will on either side.
She was lad to see that with every visit Harry looked a bit stronger, a bit more pulled together, not quite as haunted. He had begun talking about becoming an auror and she hid the shudder that went through her at the thought of him fighting again.
Before she knew it the end of the year was approaching and the announcement of the Gala had sent a stir through the Great Hall. Younger students were imagining what robes they would wear if they were invited, while the older ones were talking excitedly about trips to the dressmakers. Only a few didn't share in their friends fervor, they were the ones who could still shut their eyes and see the very room they were in reduced to rubble, still hear the moans of the dying, smell the blood and fear, and the sight of cloth covered bodies that lay only feet from where the were right then.
The boys suggested meeting in Diagon Alley and it was a welcome change, although the increased people and activity had her on edge. Harry noticed her slightly spooked look and wrapped a strong hand around her wrist, giving it a squeeze and silently asking if this was ok. She felt calmer and gave him a smile before they continued on, feeling strangely disappointed when his hand fell away.
They paused in front of Madam Malkins, the boys discussing whether new dress robes were necessary or not. Her eyes lit on the flowing gowns in the window, noticing one especially, and then noticing the halter style neckline, and most importantly-lack of sleeves.
She doesn't know how long she stood there. Eventually Harry's repeated calling of her name shook her from her reverie. He gave her a strange look and then gave her hand a tug, Ron had decided on new robes after all.
They were swarmed by shop assistants as soon as they entered. The boys being pulled in one direction and her in the other and she fought hard to tramp down the ridiculous panic she felt.
An enchanted measuring tape was dancing about her, while a quill and notepad magically took down the numbers without being told. Questions were being thrown at her from every direction. What was her favorite color? Did she like long or short gowns? Neckline? Overskirt? Shoes to match, or a neutral?
Flustered, she answered as best she could and before she knew it she was being showed into a dressing room, the dress from the window hanging on a hook.
It took her five minutes to even look at it properly. It was gorgeous. She knew it would suit her, knew it was exactly what the occasion called for. Without noticing she had been wringing her right hand over her left forearm. A pull of scar tissue made her wince and she finally realized what she had been doing.
So there it was. Her dirty little secret. There were only four people alive that knew what lay under her ever present full sleeves. Since that day at Malfoy Manor, she hadn't allowed her arm to see the light of day. School robes and the Scottish weather allowed her to get away with it, until now.
When they had arrived at Shell Cottage she had been reeling with shock, not only from her torture at the hands of Bellatrix, but from the death of Dobby. Focusing on giving him a proper burial had, at the time, seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It was only later, after Harry had carved the elf's tombstone that she had allowed the day to catch up with her. She was never sure how she had ended up in the west face bedroom in the corner of the house, the boys never told her.
She awoke to find herself in a borrowed nightgown of Fleur's and a plaster reaching from elbow to wrist. It was dark, and in the moonlight she couldn't tell who else was in the room with her. She had scrabbled backwards in fright, inadvertently ripping away her bandage. She searched frantically for her wand until Harry's hand landed on her shoulder and he was close enough for her to make out his glasses. His mouth was moving, but right then she couldn't hear him.
After she had calmed down she finally allowed herself to look at her arm. Harry looked sadder than she had ever seen him, but right then she couldn't assuage him of his guilt as she typically would have. She was barely keeping herself from flying apart.
She brought a finger up to trace the letters. Harry's hand raised as if to stop her but he didn't. She felt like she wasn't even in her body. As if this was someone else's hand, someone else's arm. When she made it through the to the last 'd' the reality of what she was seeing slammed into her and she exhaled a soft 'Oh' before completely breaking down.
Harry, to his credit, only hesitated a moment before pulling her into his arms. Ron, Bill and Fleur burst in the room, alerted by her cries. Vaguely and in a disassociated way she registered what was going on around her. Ron's violent curses, Fleur's tuts as she saw the disturbed bandage and began to prepare a new one, Bill trying to calm down Ron and explain that because it was a cursed blade there was no way the scar could be removed.
Through it all Harry held her and allowed her to weep. When she exhausted herself he placed her back on the pillows and resumed his watch post in the corner. She never cried over her arm again.
The next morning she got up, got dressed, and got about the business of hunting horcruxes. They never spoke of it again. If the boys noticed she always wore long sleeves they never said a word.
But now, in this dressing room, in a crowded shop, in the middle of Diagon Alley, she was faced with the terror of exposing herself in public for the first time.
The shop girl knocked on the door and asked if everything was ok. In a blind panic she schooled her voice and told her the dress was lovely and she'd take it. It was only after the dress disappeared that she realized what she had done.
Harry was watching her cautiously when they left, but she suggested a place for lunch and Ron's eyes lit up as he steered them in the proper direction. They chatted about her exams, how Ron had been helping out at the newly reopened WWW, and just about anything else they could think of except for the elephant in the room. The Gala.
She had noticed the tension around Harry's eyes. The way Ron's mouth tightened when he let his thoughts wander. Like her, the last thing they wanted to do was go to a celebration to mark the one year anniversary of the battle.
Finally, she gathered her Gryffindor courage and brought up what they were all trying to avoid. Harry's eyes shot to hers harshly, but she didn't fault him, especially when he mouthed an 'I'm sorry.' immediately after. She didn't want to get to far into such a heavy and personal topic in public, but she did want to ensure that they would all be entering together. She knew she would be unable to make it through the front door if they were not at her side.
Twin exhales of relief assured her that they too had been worried about the same thing, and plans were made to meet up early to avoid the press before attending the dreaded event.
When she returned to the castle that evening the box from Madam Malkins was sitting on her bed, and that's where it remained until the night before the Gala.
Now here she was. Less than twenty four hours away, and still agonizing over whether to wear the dress or not. She wasn't ashamed of the scar. It was a battle wound, done to her by the enemy. She wasn't even ashamed of the word. The word had no power over her. She didn't look down on herself because of her parentage and the people in her life who mattered didn't either. So she couldn't exactly pinpoint what it was that was holding her back. At the core, this was personal, it was intimate, and right then she controlled who did and didn't know about it. If she walked into that gala tomorrow there would be questions and pictures and interview requests and she wasn't sure she wanted to deal with that. With a heavy sigh she moved the box out of sight and resumed her packing. This was her last night at Hogwarts.
The next afternoon found her much in the same place. Her hair and make up were finished. Her trunk was packed and she had said her goodbyes to the younger students she likely wouldn't see again. The dress was out of the box now and hung on the full length mirror, almost taunting her. Inside her trunk, on the very top, was a folded black shrug. It was her back up plan, her security blanket. If she wanted, it would be very easy to arrange the long rectangle of fabric so that her arm would never be seen.
But as she stood there, literally about to leave her childhood behind, even though in reality she had left it behind years ago, she felt that this was one of those defining moments. One of those times she would would look back on and she didn't want to do so with regret. So before she could give it anymore thought, she tapped the trunk with her wand and sent it to the holding room awaiting transport to the Hogwarts Express the next morning.
She managed to avoid the rest of the current students and faculty who were also attending, and the brief walk to the apparition point didn't give her enough time to rethink her decision.
The air was balmy, and she felt more exposed than she had ever felt before as the warm breeze brushed over her shoulders. The dress was long enough that her wand could be concealed in a holster on her thigh, easily accessible if need be. Unintentionally she barely moved her left arm, mostly leaving it pressed to her side and allowing the sheer overskirt to hide her marred skin.
Harry was waiting for her at their predetermined spot, a short alley way two blocks from the venue. He looked quite dashing in his new robes, traditional black that suited him well. Ron was running late as usual which only added to her anxiety. Harry studied her appreciatively and she felt a flush rise to her face, grateful for the dim lighting.
Suddenly his arm whipped out and grabbed her left wrist, pulling it away from her skirts and turning it into the light. "You're not wearing sleeves." he said breathlessly, eyes fixed on the scar. She gasped at his action and tried to pull her hand away, regretting every decision that had led up to this moment, but he would not let her go.
His green eyes locked on hers "Why?" he asked, face unreadable.
"I don't know Harry. Let me go." she struggled, feeling desperate and trapped.
His grip softened slightly, but not enough for her to get free. "You do know." he challenged.
She glares at him now, hating him for pushing her on this "Let it be." she almost growls, anger rising up.
"No." he says back, his voice hard. "You think I don't know what it's like to have a bloody scar. Except mine's not so easy to cover up."
She feels like she's been punched in the gut. Not once has thought about that. About Harry and his scar. She briefly thinks to call him out on his perpetually messy hair, but checks herself. "This is different." she retorts, now hoping that Ron shows up so they can end this.
"It's different? How is it different?" his eyes are flashing now, and he steps in towards her, invading her space.
"She tortured me!" It explodes out of her, uncontrolled. Now that she had started she couldn't stop. "I lost track of how many times she used Crucio. But I remember how it felt while every single letter was being carved into my skin! I remember how she laughed as she pinned me down! I remember the feel of her blade to my throat!" she's screaming now, the blood pounding so hard in her head she can barely hear.
He still hasn't let go of her. Their eyes are locked and then he's pulling her to him fiercely, folding her arm between them, his other hand spread broad across her back. She doesn't even realize she's crying until a jagged sob tears from her throat. He's whispering into her hair, nothing and everything. Finally, when she's calmed some, he pulls back to look at her, finger and thumb catching her chin and tilting her head up. "This doesn't define you." he says softly and so earnestly that she can do nothing but believe him.
Then he does the most un-Harry like thing possible. He lifts her arm towards him, and before she realizes what he's doing begins pressing the softest of kisses on each letter. Each one sends a shot straight through her, and by the time he reaches the last 'd' she's no longer regretting the dress.
He lowers her arm, and finally looks at her again, eyes shining. She smiles, thanking him without saying the words, and lifts herself up on tiptoe, brushing fringe away from his forehead before placing a kiss on his scar. His eyes slide shut at the contact, and she allows her hand to trail down the side of his jaw as she pulls back.
His hands come up to cover her shoulders and he allows their foreheads to touch. "You can do this." he whispers with conviction. "We can do this." she corrects, and then jumps back at a crack of apparition that occurs immediately behind her. She whirls on the spot and sees Ron looking sheepish in brand new midnight blue robes.
"Sorry I'm late." he mumbles
She shakes her head at him and sighs, opening her mouth to begin a familiar admonishment when Harry slips his hand into hers and gives it a tug. "Let's just get in there and try to remember why we're here."
She takes a deep breath and nods her head once. She squeezes his hand but doesn't let go and slips her other hand into the crook of Ron's proffered arm. Together, the three of them step out of the dark and join the throng heading towards the blinding lights, enjoying the last few moments of anonymity. Right before the first photographer spots them she leans her head into Harry's arm and whispers 'thank you'. He smiles down broadly, and grasps her hand tighter while Ron looks on with a grin.
This is the picture that graces the cover of the Daily Prophet the next morning. The Trio. Whole and healing and together.