He doesn't even realize he's doing it, really. It's habit he slips into, fits tight around him like a glove. A daily blood ritual.

There's a difference between the days. Sometimes it's when he's shaking back his sleeve to see how much longer he has until lunch, and his fingers will linger there on his wrist for just another moment before he picks up his quill again and gets back to work; sometimes it's when he's resting his face in his palm while he's reading over a report, and he'll adjust his hand so his thumb's pressed against his neck, right below his jaw; sometimes it comes at night, as his breathing evens out, and he curls a fist between the pillow and his collarbone.

Sometimes it's not so simple. On a raid or a mission or even chopping vegetables for dinner or his finger catching on the edge of a piece of parchment – he's come to recognize it as inevitable, expects it. Secretly anticipates it.

He knows now that things aren't always black and white. There's more than one reason he never allows himself to be healed before anyone, everyone else on the team. It's comforting, in a way, to watch the blood pump out of him, warm against his skin, and then he'll sigh and let the wand tip seal the wound shut. Scars – he wears them with pride – mar his body up and down, like paint splatters on a once-upon-a-time-blank canvas.

(There's a part of him, there, that calls that a fairy tale, in a dubious whisper, just a story. Another reminds him that not all stories that begin with the words "once upon a time" are mere fairy tales.)

Always, no matter which way he checks, it's steady and clear, constant, the sun rising every morning from the east. His heartbeat.

But he takes it day by day, step by step, one foot in front of the other. One at a time.

There are the good days, though. The great days. The ones where he's able to look around at his family and imagine the immense sound of them, living here, all together, and he checks his pulse and remembers that he's here with them. He's alive, too, lungs still breathing and heart still beating, and he isn't just surviving anymore – he's living.

He's still alive.


a/n: a year ago today, at this very moment, i was watching the final Harry Potter movie for the very first time. i remind you with this - Harry is still, and always will be, the Boy Who Lived, and we're very lucky that he did.

the magic never dies.