A/N: Oh my gosh, the last chapter. After all this time. It's been a wild ride. I hope you all enjoy it. I did a reread of the entire fic, which took a long time, OMG how did it get this long. Made some minor changes, cleaned some things up, added the Imperius Curse scene in Defense Class scene. If you've been reading from update to update for a while now, today is a great day to go back and start from the beginning, if you'd like. Hope you all enjoy. In other news, I visited my sister and her family in Vegas over the holiday. Didn't do much besides hang out though she did take me out to see a Zombie Burlesque show that was very funny (Also had a really lovely ballet scene to a string version of Zombie by the Cranberries and perhaps the best juggling act I've ever seen.)


"Now, I should have known!" said Ron dramatically. "I should have known, with an answer like that, but I just thought it was a creepy riddle. So, I'm past the sphinx, unsuspecting, and I'm thinking, I've probably got to be pretty close, I mean, they're not going to have it guarding a dead end are they?"

Madam Pomfrey would murder them if she found them, but she'd dosed Harry with a Dreamless Sleep potion at about seven, and no one had been allowed inside, besides his Dad, so Ron had decided to sneak in in the dead of night. Harry could have probably kept on sleeping, but once the potion had worn off, he'd been left to his dreams and he'd had to claw his way to wakefulness to escape the nightmare. He'd felt a tangible feeling of relief to turn his head and see Ron engrossed in a book at his bedside.

Harry had opened his mouth to get Ron's attention, but no words had come out. He tried again… nothing. It wasn't like he'd lost his voice, it wasn't his vocal chords; it was that no part of him was actually going through the motions of speech. He knew what he wanted to say, but it was like his brain just didn't have a clue what speaking entailed. He swallowed hard. Panic starting to set in, but he cleared his mind, forcing the panic down. He was safe, he reminded himself. Ron was here. He was in the hospital wing. He was safe, but feeling like he couldn't talk made him feel like something terrible was about to happen to him. The part where he could still so freshly remember being hunted and tortured didn't help matters at all. There was no point in worrying Ron about it though. He was safe.

After he'd pushed the memories of pain and terror down, he prodded Ron to get his attention. Ron was excited to see him up, and after Harry had waved away Ron's queries, he'd given Ron an expectant look and Ron had only taken a moment with a searching look of his own before he launched into the tale of the tournament.

"So that was the end of the maze, sure," Ron said continued. "But it wasn't the end because they stuck a fucking acromantula to hover over the damn cup."

Harry's eyebrows shot up, and he had to physically grip his left arm to stop himself from reaching out towards Ron. He could imagine how he might have felt about a giant spider.

"Yeah, exactly," Ron said. "I mean, I'd have rathered they just stuck another dragon in there. So anyway, I just noped right out of there."

Harry raised a single eyebrow this time because obviously, Ron had gotten the cup.

"Well yeah, I went back eventually," Ron said. "But first I ducked back around the hedge and flipped off the scrying focus they had following me."

Harry grinned, and it only felt a little forced, and a little strained as Ron's story helped keep back the feeling that the shadows on the walls were pushing in on the light cast by the single candle on his nightstand.

"I was just going to send up sparks and call it quits," Ron said. "But then some idiot comes in from the other side and starts fighting the thing. You'd think Diggory was a bloody Gryffindor since he saw a giant fucking spider and just figured he'd try to fight it. Well now, it didn't sound like it was going too well for him so, eventually mind you, eventually, I decided to help him out. I turn the corner again and Cedric's five feet in the air with his arm clamped tight in-between the thing's pincers, so I used the damned grease spell, only I was a little too excited about it 'cause I wound up coating just everything, so the spider's legs are going out from under it, Cedric's falling down, I'm slipping and falling. We're both well within arm's reach- er, leg's reach- of the damn thing so Cedric casts a concussive hex at it, which probably didn't even hurt it, but it sent it backward away from us, and Cedric just narrowly misses cracking his head against the stone pedestal the cup is on as he's flung backwards. Now that's also the last thing he casts because his wand slips right out of his hand, meanwhile, I'm completely blanking on the spell to cancel out the grease and Cedric and I have to yell about it for a little bit before I figure it out. Meanwhile, this great big ugly thing is trying to scramble over to us so it can eat us and it gets itself turned around and starts shooting webbing at us, but we're covered in grease so it doesn't stick, it's just sort of piling up on top of us and going all over the place."

Harry's actually holding his sides, because as terrifying as he's sure it was, Ron's making it sound hilarious, and his suppressed laughter seems surreal. Ron grins at him.

"So I have to, very carefully mind, I have to delimit an area for Cedric and me, without losing my wand, and then I cancel out the grease, we stand up, vanish this thick spider silk, and then we just look at each other, and would you believe it, he says, 'Well looks like you saved me there, I reckon you should probably take the cup.' I'm pretty sure he's bleeding to death from his arm, and the angry giant spider noises are really starting to drive me spare, but there we are, so we argue about that for a bit, and then we hear Fleur answering the Sphinx's question just outside and we look back at each other and we just grab the thing. Now, wouldn't you know it, the thing's a portkey, and we get transported to the front of the maze. There's a bunch of fireworks, and confetti, everyone's pretty flummoxed about there being two of us and then…"

Ron was interrupted as the hospital wing door slowly crept open. Harry tensed up, but it was only Draco who stuck his head in. He went a bit pale when he saw Ron.

"Weasley," Draco said accusingly.

"Malfoy?" Ron asked.

"Well obviously neither of us are supposed to be here," Draco said. "So you keep quiet and so will I."

"Okay," Ron said. "Well I know what I'm doing here, but I can't fathom why you're breaking into the hospital wing in the middle of the night. Here to do Harry in?"

Draco scowled. "I needed a potion," he said.

"A potion, huh?" Ron said. "I don't think Madam Pomfrey keeps any deadly untraceable poisons. Maybe try Snape's private collection."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Well, I'll just be going."

"Don't you need your potion?" Ron asked.

"And let you know what I was after? I don't think so," Draco said.

With that, Draco left and Ron started laughing.

Harry swatted him on the arm.

"Malfoy liiiikes you," Ron said.

Harry blushed.

"Seriously," Ron said. "Visiting you in the hospital wing now? This is getting serious."

Harry shook his head, covering his face with his hands, still denying that it was Draco he had been secretly absconding with to make out.

"Pfft, he probably wanted to see if Pomfrey had healed you up enough to suck face," Ron said.

Harry couldn't help but grin at that.

Ron shrugged. "He's lucky your Dad wasn't here."

Harry frowned. He'd actually been expecting his Dad to be there when he woke up.

"Oh, he was here, you know," Ron said. "I snuck in and he's sitting right here where I'm sitting now and he just rolls his eyes and is all, 'well, I'll just leave it up to you Mr. Weasley,' and left. Wouldn't tell me what had happened though."

Harry was pretty sure that his Dad had given up on the idea of them following the rules.

Harry gestured for Ron to continue telling his story.

"Oh, well, I got swarmed by my family, then you came and completely stole the spotlight," Ron said.

Harry grinned apologetically.

"Hah, yeah, I think Cedric's Dad was a bit put out," Ron said. "Anyway, not much after that, there were photographs, I talked to a couple of reporters, oh, and there was a party, no big deal."

"So I told you my story," Ron said. "And no one seems to know what happened to you, except your Dad and Dumbledore and they sure aren't talking. So, I guess I'm wondering if this no talking thing is, like a curse, or if you just don't want to talk, or what?"

Harry shrugged, looking down a bit, wishing that Ron hadn't called attention to it. Everything had been easier when Ron had been talking about the tournament. Madam Pomfrey had asked him how long he'd been under the Crucciatus Curse, as if he'd had a stopwatch. However long it had been, she seemed to think his symptoms a bit on the prolonged exposure side, and had warned about intermittent neurological symptoms. He didn't know if an inability to talk was a symptom or if he'd just decided he didn't have anything to say, but he'd been managing just fine since he woke up. Ron seemed to understand him just fine.

"I have no idea why Madam Pomfrey rushed you off to the hospital wing," Ron said.

Harry pointed at his scar.

"You-Know-Who?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded.

"He come off worse for wear again?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded solemnly and dragged a finger across his throat.

"Wait," Ron said. "For real this time?"

Harry nodded.

"Like for good?"

Another nod.

"Oh wow, sweet Merlin, okay, so guess you aren't telling me how that happened any time soon?"

Harry shook his head.

"Well, I've got to say, that's a load off of my mind, you know?"

Harry nodded his concurrence.

"No really, I'd sort of gotten used to the idea of him just always being out there, like someday I'd be sending my kids off to Hogwarts and I'd be telling them to watch out for the defense professor."

Harry motioned with his hands to signify finality.

"Are you okay?"

Harry bit his lip and thought about it before he pointed to his lips and raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I guess not," Ron said. "Has this happened before?"

Harry shook his head, before thinking about it and wobbling his hand a bit. He'd never just stopped talking, but he remembered times growing up when talking had felt risky and saying nothing had been the safest bet; when making a sound could have been punished. Times when he'd had to force himself just to talk in class. He was pretty sure this was his fried nerves though.

"Well whatever's up, me and Hermione're here with ya, ya know? Your Dad too."

Harry ducked his head feeling a bit warmed. He did know now.

The first thing his Dad would probably do would be to have Harry occlude. Harry wasn't sure that that would work, but he was doing just fine not talking for the time being; he'd allow himself to deal with it later. Besides which, Ron could always carry on a conversation by himself.

Ron paused for a bit. "I guess I can recognize that tremor," he said, motioning towards Harry's hands.

Harry frowned down at them and hid them under his blanket. Even after all the treatment, they were still shaking a bit. He knew that Ron, and probably Hermione too, had faced the curse when they'd been with Greyback, but it was one of the things that Ron had never really elaborated on. He'd only ever mentioned it once in passing and Harry had been too horrified at the time to comment on it. It had never come up again.

"'Course, Greyback preferred to be physical," Ron said, sounding a bit distant. "But he was a twisted fuck so he wanted to make sure I was grateful that he was punching the shit out of me instead of cursing me."

Harry reached out and grabbed onto Ron's hand, before realizing that Ron probably didn't need to feel the tremors. He pulled his hand back and wrapped both his arms around himself.

"And shit, I made this about me," Ron said. "You probably don't want to talk about this right now. You need a distraction."

Harry shook his head in denial, because maybe Ron needed to talk about it, but Ron pushed on.

"So, are you getting another Order of Merlin?" He forced himself to raise his head and smile, giving Ron a skeptical look. He doubted anyone would award him for sitting still while someone took his blood. Besides, he rather thought they probably already regretted giving him the first one after he got outed.

"Oh, come on," Ron said. "They've gotta."

Harry nodded his agreement, though they both knew he didn't mean it.

"Well, anyway, that's about it for what you missed," Ron said. "A Witch Weekly reporter interviewed me and kept trying to get me to say something like how I was trying to prove something because of my sexuality. But then, there was this Quidditch Quarterly reporter who was talking to Krum, and he starts telling them about playing quidditch here, so Cedric and I got interviewed too, and we got to talk about our pickup games, and then this French reporter wanted to talk to us, and did you know Cedric spoke French? Because you'd think that would have come up before now, but he does."

Harry shook his head because he hadn't known. Ron yawned, reminding the both of them that they were tired. They could probably both do with a good bit of sleep but Harry didn't think either of them would sleep very well. Harry pointed to the book that Ron had been reading before he'd woken Harry up.

"Oh," Ron said, excitedly. "Bill brought it for me. Oh, and Bill might be getting transferred to London, but that's another thing. Okay, so it's a muggle book, like made by muggles and its about muggles, so it follows this archeologist, I think Bill's worried the rest of us think Charlie has the cooler job, anyway, there's this archeologist and it takes place during the war against Grindelwald, only, you know, they don't know about Grindelwald, so this guy's fighting these muggles called Nazis and they're both looking for this ancient magical religious thing that they think is going to give one side of the war like, a lot of power. It's sort of like the Auror Lyle series except no one can use magic, and everyone has guns. Oh, and get this, he's about as scared of snakes as I am of spiders, so that's sort of nice. Now I'm pretty sure Bill just sits in an office all day and works out runic arrays and solves arithmancy problems, I don't think he ever has to chase after Death Eaters to stop them from finding Merlin's staff or anything, but the story's alright, even if half this muggle stuff doesn't make sense."

Halfway through Ron's description of the book, Harry found himself squinting at the title and reaching for his glasses from the nightstand. He'd been pretty sure that that was a movie. Judging by the bookmark, Ron had already gotten a good ways through it, and Harry wondered how long he'd been waiting by Harry's bedside. He motioned at the novel and pointed at Ron.

"Oh, sure," Ron said, picking it up and opening it up to the beginning. "Chapter one…" he began.

Harry settled himself down and let himself get lost in the sound of Ron's voice as he excitedly started rereading the book. The fantasy of it all would be distraction enough.

Harry got released the following morning by an irate Madam Pomfrey who was not pleased to find her patient awake and getting read too at five thirty. He'd tried valiantly to speak, because surely she wouldn't let him leave if there was something really wrong with him, but just attempting it made him feel small and boxed in. He was getting angry at himself. She made a bit of a fuss about his muteness, but not finding anything physically or magically wrong with him she just made him drink some potions and that seemed to soothe his tremors a bit more and wrote him a note for any professor he might encounter. With the History of Magic exam they'd had the day before, classes were over and Harry was glad for it. No classes, no hospital wing, just a week to roam the castle while everything was graded and processed. There was supposed to be a Hogsmeade visit on Sunday, but Harry didn't expect he would go. With instructions to come back in the evening, she reluctantly let him go.

It was too early for breakfast so they went back to the common room where Hermione wasn't too surprised to find Ron climbing in through the portrait hole rather than the boys' dorm. Harry got a big hug, and he tried very hard not to tremble. It took Ron a bit to convince Hermione not to make a big deal about the fact that Harry wasn't talking.

Ron filled Hermione in on what little he'd gotten from Harry the night before, and Harry could only shrug apologetically when she'd tried to ask questions. Like Ron, she showed a great deal of relief at the thought of never having to worry about Voldemort again. For Harry's part, he wasn't thinking of it too much. He was feeling better though, walking in the early morning light that filtered in through the windows, still, talking just didn't seem possible at the moment.

They got to the Great Hall a bit earlier than they usually did for breakfast, and Harry scanned around and was a bit relieved to see that no one had been delivered their newspaper yet. With no more classes, it was a lazy morning for most of the school. He wondered if the news had broken yet. No one else from their year was at Gryffindor table but he got a number of stares from some of the older students. Sitting down, he glanced over at Slytherin table, where Draco definitely wasn't looking like he'd just been staring over at Harry. The normality of eating breakfast in the Great Hall had a surreality to it that had Harry feeling a bit like he had the night before, like he wasn't really there. He was allowed to eat in peace for a while though, which was nice. Hermione kept shooting him worried glances while Ron chattered about summer plans. Harry felt like he was hearing about someone else's vacation, and not his own.

Students filed in for breakfast, and Hermione and Ron ran interference for Harry who was the subject of a number of curious conversations. Fortunately, Ron had won the tournament the night before, so there was plenty of interest there. Ron seemed to enjoy the positive attention at least. When Harry saw the owls, he tensed up and felt dragged back into himself as he waited for whatever announcement was coming.

Not for the first time, he wished he'd bothered to pull out a subscription for the paper, though he didn't fancy paying them to write articles about him. Whatever the headline, it didn't take long for Harry to determine that the news had indeed broken. Heads were turning and excited chatter broke out across the hall.

Parvati stared at him over her newspaper. "Is it true?" she asked.

Harry tried for a less hunted look and raised an eyebrow and pointed to the paper. She turned it around and Harry read the headline "You-Know-Who Finally Dead, Proclaims MoM Fudge," and below it the byline "A mysterious prophesy, the Boy-Who-Lived, over two dozen Death Eaters, and a covert Ministry plan to stop the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the eleventh hour."

Harry nodded his head.

"You didn't lose your tongue last night did you?" Lavender asked.

Harry shook his head and resisted the urge to stick his tongue out. He looked up at the head table. The Headmaster and all heads of house were absent, including his Dad.

"Do you want to read it?" Ron asked. "The twins have been getting the paper."

Harry thought about it. It wasn't like he didn't already know what had happened, but he did wonder what had gone down after he'd been flown off. It wasn't like he was particularly hungry anyway. He nodded his head and they walked over to the twins who were engrossed in the paper. Lee Jordan and another student were also trying to read over their shoulders.

"Budge over," Ron said.

Fred looked at Harry. "You stabbed You-Know_Who!"

Harry shrugged. It had been less of a stabbing motion and more of a falling motion.

"To death?" Lee Jordan asked.

Harry shrugged. He wasn't sure if he should consider Voldemort to have been dead the moment his tainted blood had been added to the potion. He found himself scanning the front page.

Harry was a bit startled a bit later when Ron put his arm around him, which made him realize that he'd sort of zoned off. He nodded his head and realized that he'd been staring at a section of the article titled "Twelve Death Eaters Confirmed Dead, Fourteen Captured." He had a sudden thought that he knew why the heads of house were absent. He avoided looking around to figure out if any students were absent as well.

Harry remembered asking the headmaster to credit Harry's decision and the headmaster had done just that. The article didn't say what the ritual had been, only that Voldemort had wanted Harry to be a blood sacrifice.

'It was important that there be a sacrifice,' the Headmaster was quoted as saying. 'The ritual could have never worked as [He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named] wanted it to if his sacrifice had already sacrificed himself. This is why Harry was never told that there was a plan to rescue him, only that he had a choice, whether he would face Voldemort or not.'

Hermione became very indignant when she got to that spot and Ron became pale when she pointed it out to him. He gave Harry an almost betrayed look.

The interview never mentioned that Harry had Lycanthropy, only hinting that Harry had been given something that would mix with his blood and cause the ritual to go wonky. There were vague mentions of a prophecy that had given two possible outcomes, and it mostly seemed to be justification for having given Harry over to Voldemort in the first place. Harry skips another section of the article that talked about the battle that had happened after the rebirthing ritual.

Everything in the article seemed fairly accurate, though Fudge seemed to be taking a bunch of credit, when Harry was pretty sure he hadn't known anything about the plan beforehand.

So the article was fairly accurate, but at the same time, it didn't really feel like it described what Harry had been through. The author didn't understand the terror or the pain, and the article was more about the sensational things that had happened. It did nothing to make the night prior feel real. Harry went back and started reading about the mission.

"I think we should go," Hermione said, tugging at Harry's sleeve.

Harry had just gotten to the part where the Headmaster was talking about having discovered the imposter Moody and learning of Voldemort's plan and figured he knew most everything that was left to be said. They made it out of the dining hall with a lot of staring and a buzzing of excited babbling and as soon as they were out in the hall, it was hug time. It was a little grounding, to have Hermione's arms wrapped tightly around him. It took him a while to return it.

"How could you?" Hermione said. Harry didn't think he was expected to answer.

"It's over now," Ron said. "It's all over. The tournament, you-know-who, we don't have to worry about it anymore."

"It wasn't his job," Hermione said.

"I know," Ron said.

Hermione sniffles a bit and releases him.

"How could they ask you to do that?" Hermione asked.

Ron didn't have a response to that.

"Your Dad?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head.

"Next year will be normal," she said.

Harry nodded solemnly.

They found a secluded spot for themselves. No one mentioned Hogsmeade.

"Mum's going to have kittens, of course," Ron said. "When she sees you agreed to all that."

Harry reaches for his quill. It was like he was sending notes in class.

'Dad wasn't thrilled either,' he wrote. His handwriting even worse than usual. 'Prophesy seems to be a magic word though.'

"What did it say," Hermione asked. She seemed to have calmed down a bit.

Harry shrugged. Shrugging was easy.

"Prophesy's over," Ron said. "So no more magic words to get you out of trouble if you go out and do this again."

Ron was one to talk, given that he'd just completed a death tournament. There were a few more admonishments, that Harry nodded along to. In the end, they started talking about plans for the summer and Harry realized that there wasn't anything huge anymore that hung over his head that might keep him from actually going. Voldemort was gone. So many Death Eaters had been killed or captured the night before. There was nothing that would stop him from enjoying his summer vacation.

"Hey," Ron said. "Do you suppose Harry's famous in Germany?"

Harry rolled his eyes. That would be just what he needed.

'I'll dye my hair,' he scribbled down.

"That's the giveaway," Ron said. "It's the hair."

'I'll wear a hat,' he tried. 'You can all call me Jason. Real sneaky.'

They hung out for the rest of the morning until Harry figured his Dad would probably be finished with whatever he had been doing that morning. Ron and Hermione insisted on walking him to the dungeons. Harry still wore his invisibility cloak, he didn't want to get gawked at.

Of course, Ron was a bit of a celebrity now, and they were stopped a few times by students who wanted to talk about the tournament. None of the passing students wanted to talk to them once they got to the dungeons though.

Dad wasn't in his quarters, as Harry had hoped, so they headed to his office where it seemed odd to see him doing something so mundane as grading finals. Harry pulled off the cloak and went up to Dad for a hug.

"Any trouble?" Dad asked as he released Harry.

Harry shook his head and his suspicion that some of his classmates had lost family the night before grew.

Ron cleared his throat. "Well, Harry's got his note, so we're going to go to lunch," he said. "See you later, mate."

They walked out.

"What note?" Dad asked.

Harry bit his lip and pulled the note from Madam Pomfrey out of his pocket and handed it over.

Dad read it over and then looked Harry over.

"Hold out your hands," he said.

Harry sighed and held his arms out with his palms up. Besides an occasional facial tick, they were the most obvious sign that he was still dealing with the after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse.

Dad nodded and smoothed down the hair on the side of Harry's head with one of his hands.

"Have you tried occluding?" he asked.

Harry shook his head, he'd only just cleared his mind when he'd first realized he couldn't talk.

"Let's start there," Dad said.

Harry tried not to roll his eyes. He'd known this would be the first thing they'd do. He focused though, and in moments his mind was clear and he was occluding.

"Try talking," Dad said.

Harry opened his mouth, but still, nothing came out. He shrugged instead. He stopped occluding and pointed to the finals on the desk and then at himself.

"You earned an outstanding," Dad said. "I graded yours first."

Harry shook his head. Ron had never had trouble understanding what Harry was trying to say.

He picked up Dad's quill, dripping with red ink, and gestured to himself again. He was offering to help grade the lower years.

Dad cottoned on, but he shook his head. "I have Arden and Yates grading years one through three," he said, referring to his other two lab assistants. "Come on, we should have lunch, and then we can take some time to process what happened yesterday."

That meant Dad wanted to play therapist again, which would be fine, but it would be fine later.

He shook his head.

"Have you had much of an appetite?" Dad asked. "Did you eat breakfast?"

Harry huffed. He grabbed the quill again and found a piece of paper to write, 'it happened last night. Can't I have some time?"

"It's best to address these things early," Dad said. "Before they can take root."

Harry underlined "it happened last night."

He got another hug, and this one lasted a long time also.

"Come on," Dad said. "Time for lunch."

Harry looked at Dad skeptically, unsure that he had won and that his Dad wouldn't suddenly spring surprise therapy at him.

"Just lunch," Dad said.

They walked to Dad's quarters in silence.

"I spoke to the Headmaster this morning," Dad said, once they were behind closed doors. "The Ministry wants another award ceremony."

Harry tilted his head back and pointed at himself with a bit of a shocked expression on his face.

"Yes, for you," Dad said. "Others as well, though you'll likely be getting an Order of Merlin first class, this time."

Harry shook his head, a bit exasperated.

"While I wish you had stayed in the castle," Dad said. "You did a great service at great risk to your own life. That's what the award is supposed to be for. Besides, the Minister is up for re-election next year and he wants as much fanfare from this as he can get."

Harry scowled.

"Yes, well, it's too your benefit as well," Dad said. "Harder for them to come after you someday if they've put you up as the hero of the wizarding world."

Harry sighed. It fit exactly with what he wanted anyway.

Harry had to root around for a quill and paper while his Dad ordered food.

'Anything else I've missed?' he asked as sandwiches appeared on the table.

Dad nodded and became a bit more somber. "I want you to be more careful walking the halls."

Harry gave him a look, because he'd been cautious about wandering the halls the past two years.

"Some of your classmates lost family last night," Dad said. "To death or to Azkaban. Any one of them could decide that it was your fault."

Harry frowned.

"Of course, it is not your fault," Dad said. "Everyone there that night chose to be there, if they died at the hands of their master, then that is hardly your burden to bear."

Harry thought of the Death Eater he'd banished a small boulder at, and wondered what their fate had been.

"For all that they've already given a press conference and decided to give you an award, there will be official statements to be given later today. The Headmaster will go over the details with you later."

Harry nodded, a bit distractedly.

"Are you feeling alright?"

That got a glare from Harry. Dad had promised no therapy.

"You haven't touched your food."

Harry looked down at his plate, a bit surprised to find food there, even though he'd already known that there was. It wasn't exactly that he had lost his appetite; more like he'd forgotten that he was hungry. He started eating.

True to his word, Dad didn't try to psychoanalyze him. There were a couple of times when Harry had the feeling that he could talk if he'd wanted to, but he didn't. He didn't like the feeling of opening his mouth and having nothing come out. It was better to choose silence rather than to feel voiceless.

Dad wasn't as much up to the task of trying to have a one-sided conversation as Ron was, but he talked a bit about his research and about what he was hoping to do over the Summer. Harry listened with about as much interest as he could when it was hard to not think about the night before. Ron was better at distracting Harry.

Harry finished eating and went to find another quill and paper. He pulled up a chair next to Dad and started writing.

'Mrs. Malfoy?' he wrote.

He'd never told Dad about Draco, just that he was seeing a boy, but he'd suspected that Dad probably knew.

"She was never marked," Dad said. "She's fine."

Harry nodded. 'Anyone I know?'

"I didn't think you wanted to talk about last night," Dad said.

Harry shrugged. 'I don't want to get my head shrunk,' Harry scribbled.

"It wasn't your fault," Dad said.

Harry had made his own choices. He wasn't exactly going to feel torn up about what had happened to Death Eaters returning to Voldemort, but that didn't mean it didn't suck that some of his classmates had lost parents.

"I don't believe you ever met any of them," Dad said. "Stay out of sight for the rest of the day. Certain students will be returning home early to deal with family matters."

Harry nodded. He didn't think he was as persuasive on paper, so he dropped it. He'd find out later.

'Are you okay?' Harry wrote.

"I am," Dad said.

'Any friends?'

"Acquaintances," Dad said.

Harry bit his lip.

"Acquaintances who would have killed us given the chance last night," Dad said. "No one died who I will miss."

Harry gave him a hug. He wasn't sure why, but he thought Dad needed it. Dad hugged him back and Harry wanted to tell him he loved him, but the thought of opening his mouth to say that, and of having nothing come out, kept his mouth shut. He hated this feeling.

When Dad pulled away, Harry thinks he had spaced out again. His arms feel like they'd been hugging a lot longer than he'd have thought. They spend the afternoon together and Dad grades papers while Harry brews a few of the more basic but perishable potions that his Dad liked to keep on hand. He paused a bit to wonder when he'd started to consider the Artemis Draught to be basic. Everything was uneventful, except a bit where it felt like every muscle on one side of his torso had decided to clench all at once for about a minute.

When it got to be evening, Harry went and tapped Dad on the shoulder and slid a note to him. 'Madam Pomfrey wanted to see me again, and I'm going to eat with my friends.'

Dad nodded. "Have you tried to speak at all since lunch?" he asked.

Harry nodded, a lie.

"Stay safe," Dad said.

Harry gave him a hug. He threw his cloak on and headed out. Madam Pomfrey tutted about him and did another examination. He didn't think he'd had any tics in the past hour, though the tremors had grown more severe as whatever potion was dealing with them had worn off.

"It's sort of like a sore muscle, dear," She'd said. "It gets worse before it gets better."

She had him try to talk again and he'd opened his mouth, but that was it.

She gave him another potion and the trembling subsided.

Dinner was difficult. Everyone wanted to talk to him and he couldn't exactly talk back. He was flanked by Ron and Hermione, and with his teammates there too, most people got the idea to let him eat dinner in peace.

Later that night, Ron climbed through Harry's curtains and he filled the silence until Harry was ready to attempt sleep. Clearing his mind before he drifted off helped, and it was Ron who woke Harry up later in the night after he'd dealt with a dream involving giant spiders. Harry wasn't complaining, he just got out the chocolate and prompted Ron to get his new book.

His neurological symptoms got worse, and came and went over the next few days. Muscle spasms and cramps, tics, phantom sensations, the worst was a few random bouts of vertigo and nausea; he was grounded from flying for the time being. They started to wind down on Sunday though. He still hadn't tried talking since that first day. Emotionally, he was sort of all over the place, and he was finding it harder to justify not working through it with his Dad. He wasn't sure why he was so reticent himself.

Draco managed to pull him away Monday evening, four days after the third task and Harry was greeted with a searing kiss that pushed everything else out of his head.

"How's that?" Draco asked, pulling back after a bit.

Harry gave him a thumbs up.

Draco frowned. "I thought that would work."

Harry raised his eyebrows. What was he, Sleeping Beauty?

They were in their usual corner of the castle and Draco wasted no time in transfiguring some desks into a couch.

"I suppose I could just pretend I'd snogged you speechless," Draco said.

Harry grinned and pushed him backwards onto the couch. They'd see who drove who speechless. They started making out, and it felt so good to let loose and enjoy the moment. Suddenly, kissing Draco had never felt so good, and Harry had never felt so close to him. Things were heating up, and Draco was in the middle of leaving a hickey on his neck when Harry started to wriggle out of his robes. Draco grinned and pulled out the hem of Harry's shirt, his hands moving up the bare skin of his sides.

Of all things, it was his elbow catching in his sleeve momentarily that set him off. One moment he was on cloud nine, and the next he was tied to a post in the middle of the ravine. It was only a moment of restriction. His arm was free before he had even registered the panic screaming in his gut, but suddenly he was spiraling downward and losing all sense of his surroundings. He pushed himself away from the arms around him and tried to push the panic down, shaking his head as if he could shake it out.

"Harry?" Draco asked, and Harry held up a hand to stall him.

It was alright. Everything was alright. He had better control over his own mind than that.

"Everything's fine," Draco said. "You're here with me."

Harry nodded, trying to calm his breathing, and Draco put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

Harry slumped forward and hugged Draco. They never really hugged, unless it coincided with their lips being locked together, but just then, Harry just wanted the comfort. He'd have preferred Dad, or Ron, but Draco was there and he hugged Harry back and it felt good, and even though it made him feel better, Harry found himself soon sobbing out all of the frustration and fear and anxiety he had been feeling the past few days. Draco held him, making soothing noises, and moved his fingers through the hair on the nape of Harry's neck.

It was a while later, when Harry had calmed down, that Draco finally said anything.

"I never blamed you for what happened to father," Draco said.

Harry pulled back, scrubbing at his eyes with his sleeve. Draco produced a handkerchief from seemingly out of nowhere.

"He made his own decisions that night, and you weren't the one who caught him," Draco said. "But I did wonder what might have happened if you hadn't interfered."

Harry shrugged, and Draco smiled at him.

"When the news broke about everything that happened with the Dark Lord, the first thing I thought was, 'thank Merlin father's in Azkaban.' How messed up is that? He'd have definitely been there that night if he wasn't. He could have been caught after returning to the Dark Lord, or he could have been killed. But he wasn't, so, thanks."

Saving Lucious Malfoy certainly hadn't been on his to do list, and it wasn't an accomplishment he would be taking credit for, but he was glad that Draco hadn't lost his father.

Draco gave a bit of a laugh. "I don't know how to do this if you don't say anything back," he said. Harry smiled and leaned forward. Maybe he didn't need to talk to convey what he was feeling. Their lips met and they kissed slowly. Where there was usually a hormonal and passionate urgency, now it felt more like an exploration. Draco's hands slipped under Harry's shirt again, and Harry ran his fingers through Draco's hair. Draco let out a low throaty moan, starting to writhe a bit under Harry, and Harry had the sudden thought that there was something different between them. That they weren't just two boys kissing.

Harry broke the kiss and laid his head on Draco's shoulder, his fingers still in Draco's hair, Draco's hands resting on the small of Harry's back. They stayed like that, breathing heavily for a while.

Eventually, Draco broke the silence. "I think we're getting good at this whole kissing thing."

Harry smiled and kissed the tip of his nose before pulling away. He got up and went to his book bag. It was mostly empty, with no more classes, but Harry had been keeping parchment and a quill so he could communicate as need be.

He returned to the couch and curled up, leaning against Draco.

'What are we?' Harry wrote out.

Draco looked at the question for a bit and blushed. "Gay, I suppose," he said.

Harry gave him a light shove on the arm and gestured between the two of them.

Draco went even redder.

"Boyfriends," he said; it was a statement, but Harry could hear the question in it.

Harry nodded, and Draco tugged at his lapel for a kiss. Harry finally got his robes off, and felt that there was something official about the word boyfriend now that he had Draco's hands groping at the seat of his trousers. He pulled back away a few minutes later, grinning and a little bashful.

'Summer?' Harry wrote.

"We'll just have to be creative," Draco said. "I have family in Germany. I could go visit. We could sneak out for clandestine rendezvous."

'You'll write?'

"All the time," Draco said.

Harry reached out and took Draco's hand. He thought for a bit, staring at their intertwined fingers. Draco's other hand moved up to brush against Harry's cheek, a thumb brushing over his lips. It was tempting to just go back to kissing. It was tempting, but everything suddenly seemed more significant now. He bit his lip and reached for the quill again.

'I have a secret.'

"You always have secrets," Draco said. "I have secrets. Do you know how many secrets my parents keep from one another?"

'I'll tell you,' Harry wrote. 'Then you decide boyfriend thing.'

Draco frowned. "You don't have to," he said.

'Will you keep it a secret either way?'

"I think you already know enough of my secrets," Draco said.

Harry bit his lip. He started undoing the buttons of his shirt.

"Hey," Draco said grinning. "I meant I'd keep your secret, you don't have to bribe me. I mean, you can bribe me, if you want, but…"

Harry stopped when the buttons were undone, but kept the shirt on.

'I killed Greyback,' he wrote.

Draco gave him a calculating look. "Your Dad killed Greyback, you were already back in the castle," he said.

Harry shook his head.

'Dad killed the other one,' he wrote, Ron had only ever known him as Steven and Harry had never read any of the articles that had probably mentioned his name. 'I killed Greyback, used time turner to keep secret.'

Draco shook his head. "Why would you keep it a secret?"

Harry backed up a bit on the couch and pulled his shirt off, exposing his scarred shoulder. He had been supposed to have put on the Second Skin potion the night before, but his hands hadn't been cooperating at the time so he'd left it to wear off.

Draco let out a small gasp, followed by a silence in the room that was broken when he bit out, "You're a werewolf."

Harry nodded.

"This whole time?"

'A year now I guess.'

Draco moved his hand up to touch his lips.

'No one could know, or Vold. wouldn't have used my blood in the ritual.'

"Like you would have told me otherwise," Draco accused.

'Vold. dead, telling you now.'

"My dagger," Draco said. "It's silver. I've seen you naked! You didn't have that…"

'Second Skin.'

Draco laughed, sounding a little strangled. "I didn't even think of that last year."

'I'm the same.' Harry wrote out, and he was almost tempted to try and say it out loud. 'Just one thing different. I leave long before moonrise.' He paused. 'Can't catch it swapping spit. I'm safe. I'm still me.'

"You're a werewolf," Draco said.

Harry stabbed a finger into his own chest and then poked Draco in his. He underlined the word 'Same,' and wrote. 'Just different one night a month.'

"This is insane," Draco said. "You can't have been this whole time."


"Because I would have known!"

'How?' Harry wrote. 'I'm the same.'

"No, you're not," Draco said.

'How am I different?'

Draco didn't have an answer. "Why did you let them turn you over to the Dark Lord?" he asked.

'To stop him.'

"But what was in it for you?"

'So he couldn't hurt anyone ever again,' Harry wrote.

"He could have easily killed you instead," Draco said.

'Yeah, they made that clear.' Harry shrugged. 'Worth it.'

"Vengeance," Draco accused.

'My Dad, and Ron, and Hermione, and everyone.' Harry wrote. 'You too. Didn't want you to have to choose.'

"That doesn't make sense," Draco said, shaking his head.

"Being a werewolf didn't make me stop caring about them,' Harry wrote. 'That's why we broke several laws together in Knockturn Alley. I cared about Ron, and I wanted to protect him.'

Draco pulled out his wand and vanished the last line before clutching his head.

"That doesn't make sense," Draco said again.


"Because werewolves don't do that," Draco said.

Harry rolled his eyes and pointed to his own shoulder.

"Well look at Greyback," Draco said.

'I did,' Harry wrote. 'Look at Voldemort. What's your point? GB got self bitten on purpose cause he was already an asshole. Already messed up. He doesn't mean anything.'

"Werewolves can't be trusted," Draco said.

Harry underlined 'Voldemort.'

"You can't just throw that around," Draco said.

Harry underlined 'GB,' and wrote, 'I know you're smart enough to get this. That's why I'm telling you now. You don't get to hide behind stupid things people say when they don't know what they're talking about. People are people, good or bad, whether they've got lycanthropy or not.'

"But why are you telling me," Draco asked. "I could destroy you with this."

'Yeah,' Harry wrote. 'Doesn't make sense, but I thought it was right.' He underlined, 'I thought it was right.'

"You never made sense."

Harry underlined 'I'm the same.'

Draco was silent.

'Tell me how being a werewolf has made me a monster,' Harry wrote. 'Tell me how I'm not still the same guy who decided to chase after GB to save my friends. The same guy who went down to the Chamber of Secrets is same guy who signed up to get kidnapped by DEs and Vld.'

Draco covered his face with his hands. "Yeah, I guess you are the same," he said. "Still the same stupid Gryffindor."

'Gryffindor's not contagious.' Harry wrote out, 'Lyc. only contagious once a month, and I'll always be far away. Not dangerous.' He prodded Draco until he looked back at the parchment.

"You could have bitten me when we were making out," Draco said, a bit hesitantly.

Harry rolled his eyes. 'Good thing I'm not into that sort of thing,' he wrote.

"Yeah, what sort of thing are you into?" Draco asked, only a hint of teasing.

Harry blushed scarlet, and figured it was time. He went back to the top of the parchment and underlined, 'you decide boyfriend thing.'

There was a long pause as Draco stared at the page and Harry tried not to show his anxiety.

"You really are just the same, aren't you?" Draco finally said.

Harry put his hand on Draco's shoulder, looking him in the eyes and willing him to see the humanity within. Draco reached up and took Harry's other hand and held it in both of his own.

"I'm not out," Draco said.

Harry nodded sympathetically, giving his shoulder a squeeze before writing. 'We can keep it secret till your ready.'

Draco shook his head. "I have plans, Harry. That doesn't include coming out and settling down with my boyfriend."

Harry frowned. 'Plans?'

"Get married, have children, change the world," Draco said.

'To a girl?'

"I can't marry anyone else, now can I," Draco said.

'Screw marriage,' Harry wrote, getting upset. 'You're gay.'

"Yeah," Draco said. "I'd hardly be the first to marry for a political alliance and to produce an heir. It's what's expected. I mean it's not anytime soon, but it's going to happen. There's plenty of time to have fun, but eventually… I have plans, Harry."

Harry hadn't exactly started planning a future with Draco in the twenty some odd minutes that he'd realized that he had actual feelings for the boy, but the thought of a relationship where Draco had a cutoff date in mind left a hollow feeling in his chest.

'New plans. Fit around who you are.'

"The world isn't ready for a gay leader," Draco said.

'Screw the world,' Harry said.

"You're the one that saved it," Draco said.

'And you're the one who's going to change it,' Harry wrote. 'Change it so that they'll follow you for who you are.'

"I can't start from that," Draco said. "I have to be realistic Harry." He sighed. "I like what we have. Even if you're a werewolf, even if it's not permanent, I like this, and I want more, I want to get closer to you. My goals come first, but I think I can have both… for now."

Harry's eyes prickled with tears, and he slumped forward, clinging to Draco. He wasn't sure why he was tearing up, he didn't know what he was feeling. It felt like frustration and joy and anger and want all together and the next thing he knew he was on top of Draco again and they were making out and he was gasping for breath. Maybe it wouldn't last the summer even, maybe it was stupid to think of an end date years in the future for a relationship started when he was fourteen, but everything felt real and important and Draco felt so good underneath him as Harry slid his hands under Draco's shirt and wondered how easy Draco would find it to someday just foreswear guys and marry a woman he didn't love. Maybe Harry wouldn't be around on that day, maybe there would be another guy, but Harry had the thought in his head that things could be different in a few years, and he could give Draco more than enough reason to keep putting off a breakup. He could be enough for Draco.

Harry got impatient with Draco's shirt and popped a few buttons getting it open. Draco huffed a laugh and Harry found he liked the contrast of his hands on Draco's bare skin. He didn't even take a moment to think about his own skin, bare to the world, or the sharp contrast of the much lighter scar stark on his shoulder, he just leaned forward and enjoyed the moment.

Harry slid a note across the table towards Ron and Hermione who were curled up together on the couch in the little unused clubroom they'd commandeered for themselves.

'Come to a stuffy Ministry function with me?'

"Food?" Ron asked.

Hermione swatted him.

Harry nodded.

"It's not when we're supposed to be in Germany is it?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. 'First week of break,' he wrote. 'Friday?' He was pretty sure it was Friday.

"Sure," Hermione said.

"Order of Merlin?" Ron asked.

'First class,' Harry wrote, still surprised himself.

"Well you've earned it, mate," Ron said.

'They want me to give a speech.'

Harry wasn't sure that that was true. He did know that he'd written the wizard who was organizing the event and that he'd been told that a speech would be allowed.

"Do you want one of us to read it for you?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. Madam Pomfrey wanted to see him after lunch; the leaving feast was the next day and he still hadn't said a word. He just didn't feel like he could even try. Dad had been calm and supportive, but Harry could tell that he was getting frustrated and likely suspected that his muteness had stopped being caused by the after effects of the Cruciatus Curse a long time ago. Harry wondered if it wasn't time to accede and resume letting his Dad play armchair psychologist with him. It had helped in the past but Harry still felt like it was too soon to deal with everything that had happened.

"Well is there anything you want to say?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded and bit his lip. For all that he had instigated this, he still wasn't sure where he was going to take the whole matter.

Gryffindor won the house cup again that year, how could they not have, between the tournament win and Harry's 'community service,' it hadn't been a contest. Harry supposed Draco had never found a basilisk to slay after all. In spite of the house cup though, it was the standards of all three schools that decorated the hall for the leaving feast. The headmaster made a speech about the ties that bind people of very different backgrounds followed by the headmistress of Beauxbatons and Karkaroff who both offered their congratulations to the winners and made platitudes about enjoying the school's hospitality. Lastly, Ron and Cedric got called up to be recognized.

Later that night, Harry had his last clandestine rendezvous of the school year with Draco. They finalized how they'd stay in touch and Draco confirmed plans to travel to Germany to visit distant cousins. Harry didn't want to let him go when it was time to go their separate ways.

The following day saw the visiting students getting ready to leave. The four champions met up one last time and Krum gave away some tickets to games that would be played over the summer and told them that he expected to see them there. The foreign students departed soon after and then it was time for everyone to board the express back to London.

They had a compartment to themselves, though they were visited by friends and acquaintances along the way. Dean came by early on, with Seamus trailing along, to ask them about their summer plans and to bring up a muggle pride parade he was going to. Benjamin and Anna came over a little after the food trolly had gone by and Anna checked in to see how Harry was doing while Benjamin invited Harry to the dojo he frequented during the summer. Sammy and Justin visited a bit before they arrived in London. The two siblings seemed a bit sad; they'd be living with different families during the summer. Sammy wanted to know all about Harry's summer vacation plans and Ron was able to fill her in on most of it.

There were others too, who just stopped by to wish them a good summer and in between them all Ron kept the compartment from falling into silence while occasionally flirting with Hermione. Harry wished he could see Draco one last time before they got off the train and he reminded himself that their trip would start soon enough and they'd get to have their secret rendezvous in Germany.

It was almost weird to get off the train at King's Cross and see his Dad waiting for him there, not even disguised in any way. It was a good weird though, and he unabashedly walked up to him and got a hug, as if they hadn't just seen each other that morning. Mrs. Weasley also had a big hug for him, and a few choice words about what she'd read about the plot to kill Voldemort. The twins distracted her with their antics before she could really get going, and Harry got an admonishment to be good over the summer.

Next thing Harry knew the Grangers had shown up and Hermione was getting a big hug from her Dad while Mrs. Granger and Mrs. Weasley seemed to corner Harry's Dad and the next thing everyone knows the three families are going out to eat together. Harry's muteness is glossed over as a temporary malady and Harry doesn't have to worry about saying anything he shouldn't in front of Hermione's parents because he just doesn't say anything, but this just means that his Dad gets a bit of a grilling from the other parents at the table. They all survive though, and Harry's glad when they finally floo into their cottage.

"Will you be up to planting in the garden tomorrow?" Dad asked.

Harry grinned and nodded.

"I think we'll have some things to work on while we do," Dad said.

Harry's grin turned down a bit, but he nodded again. He'd known he couldn't run from it forever. He was surprised Dad didn't want to go consult with the shrink first, though, for all Harry knew, he'd already done so as term was winding down.

Dad put a hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be all right. We'll take it slow. It's your mind, just let me know if you need a break."

It felt incredibly daunting, but Harry knew it needed to be done. He couldn't leave the bandaid on forever. He stepped forward for another hug, feeling like a little kid seeking out comfort during a storm. It isn't too late so they stay up and play chess for a bit before they both settle down with something to read. Harry had been running on empty, so he'd borrowed one of Ginny's dragon rider books. His Dad had a potions journal and Harry thought it was for a commission he'd be working on over the summer. By the time Harry had showered and settled down for bed, he felt like he was in a place he could comfortably call home.

There was a repetitive quality to planting that helped Harry keep his mind cleared. The feeling of the dirt on his hands, digging in the loose earth, the gentle precision, his mind stayed in the moment as he cleared the rumination of his past and the worries of his future from his forefront. Pushing his emotions to the side was a well-practiced trick at this point, though he still wasn't good enough at it to be completely unaware of what he was feeling. His fingers dug a hole and another seed went into the ground, cover, rinse, repeat.

"It didn't start in the ravine," Dad said, a couple garden rows away, his own hands in the dirt. "It didn't even start in the graveyard. Go back to the beginning, when you had a choice."

Harry thought of the Headmaster and Madame Bones, of talk of a prophecy and an indefinite timeline that promised a showdown with Voldemort in less than a year. In a detached sort of way, he remembered the feeling of dread he had had at the time, the cool pit in his stomach, the knowledge that he would agree no matter what. He remembered being summoned that final time when it was about to happen, and he hadn't gotten to say goodbye; needing to leave behind his cloak and potions, which he had begun to feel dependent on.

"Now let those feelings in," Dad said. "How does it make you feel today?"

Harry let down the barrier. It wasn't the memory of those emotions, the past meant something else today. He had felt alone at the time. He had felt like he was being abandoned to fate. He knew now that there had always been a plan for his rescue, and that helped to lessen the pain of it all, but he had still been alone. He had also survived. He let the thoughts and emotions come to him, slightly distanced from them, able to analyze them while still experiencing them. His hands worked in silence planting seeds one by one as he processed.

"Pause on those feelings for now," Dad said after what must have been half an hour. "We're not going to push them away, we're going to let them sit for now. Think, how has this choice affected your future? Imagine yourself at the start of your next summer vacation. Where do you think you will be then? How could the choices you made in the past affect where you will be then? How do you think you will conceptualize that choice in the future?

That was a good question. Harry didn't know. Voldemort was gone, but Harry was still a werewolf. What did that mean for his future? At the very least, Voldemort was one less thing to worry about, and the people who really mattered were still behind him. Even Draco. His hands dug another hole in the dirt. He thought about how things were different from the night of the third task, how things were changing from there on out. He thought of different paths his life could take without Voldemort always lurking around the corner. He already had plenty to imagine for his summer, the places he would go with Dad and his friends. He let his mind wander through the possibilities. He allowed himself to feel satisfaction for what he had decided that night, he embraced the feeling of hope that he had for the future.

"Deep breath in, and hold it," Dad said. "Now reassess the memory and clear your mind."

It was sort of like a merging, more than an overwriting. He linked his future with the past that had caused it, linking the memory with the reconceptualized feelings he could now associate with it. The memory of his distress was still there, but it was a small part of a whole. It was something that had happened, but he could think of it without feeling overwhelmed by it. He cleared his mind, ready to begin again.

They worked in that way through the nightmare of that night. When they were done, and everything had been planted, and every aspect of that night had been analyzed, Harry felt very much like he deserved a fly, even though Dad thought he should have dinner first. They cooked together, and it was sort of like when Harry helped in the lab, only Harry was in charge when they were in the kitchen, while Dad helped.

"Madam Pomfrey tells me that there's no longer any physical or magical reason for your silence," Dad said.

Harry nodded. She'd told him as much at the checkup he'd gotten before the leaving feast.

"I had thought perhaps that I would hear your voice sometime today," Dad said.

Harry shook his head, abandoning the stir-fry for the parchment on the counter where Dad was still chopping vegetables.

'Not about that night, I don't think,' Harry wrote. 'Will come back in time, probably.'

"Do you know where it went?" Dad asked.

Harry nodded, grabbing the snap peas and returning to the stovetop. That was the crux of the matter, he supposed. It wasn't exactly a mystery to Harry. It wasn't that he couldn't talk, it was that he couldn't try. Or he wouldn't try. Unwilling to find out if he was truly voiceless. He had enough of an imagination to think of times in his life when the feeling of not having a voice might have left an impression upon him. The thing was, how could he address that, if addressing it would lead him to an answer he feared knowing. He knew it was irrational, but he didn't need rational. He just needed to feel he had control over the situation.

Harry knew why he wasn't talking. He wasn't talking because he had decided not to after that first time in the Hospital Wing when the words had just refused to come out. He had been healed, his neurons were no longer misfiring. It was his decision not to talk and until he actually tried, he could tell himself that it was all his decision and not something outside of his control. He started energetically tossing the contents of the pan and started adding spices. He gestured to the sauce on the counter and Dad passed it over. He was getting by just fine without his voice. It was alright for the time being. He re-added the pork he had browned earlier and mixed everything up.

They sat down to dinner as a rumbling in Harry's stomach became very audible. He was glad he hadn't gone flying first. He was glad to be sitting down to dinner with his Dad. He was glad he had someone who would work with him all day on his baggage. He was glad he had someone who would love him whether he could talk or not, whether he was gay or straight, and whether he was fully human or not. There were plenty of things that were still uncertain in his life, but he thought he was doing alright.

"Harry," Mrs. Granger greeted when she opened up the door. "And Professor Snape. So good to see you again. Thank you for coming to pick Hermione up."

"No reason she should have to change into her dress robes at the ministry," Dad said. "Or to travel across London to get there."

"Please come inside. Hermione will be down in just a moment," Mrs. Granger said. They crossed the threshold from the Granger's backyard where they had just apparated, and Harry felt it a bit odd to be in a muggle home that wasn't the Dursleys'. It looked a lot more lived in than the Dursleys' house ever had.

"How are you holding up, Harry?" Mrs. Granger asked.

Hermione had written to tell them that since Voldemort was really gone she'd decided to tell her parents a bit more about what had been happening in the wizarding world. Harry gave a big thumbs up and pulled out the writing pad and pen Dad had gotten for him; so much easier than carrying around parchment and a quill.

'Doing a lot better,' he wrote. 'Got my head shrunk. Taking care of myself.'

"That's good to hear," Mrs. Granger said. "And this Voldemort Hermione told me about."

Dad shifted uncomfortably next to Harry; he'd probably never get used to the name.

'Gone forever,' Harry wrote.

"I've discovered you've all kept a good deal from me before," Mrs. Granger said.

Harry frowned and nodded his head.

"The Dark Lord has been destroyed, both in body and in soul," Dad said, his hand on Harry's shoulder. "The followers he had left, who were willing to return to him, are either dead or in prison. A second war was stopped before it could start." He squeezed Harry's shoulder. "That's what tonight's award ceremony is for."

"It's never been easy sending her away to a school in another world," Mrs. Granger said, and Harry was beginning to feel exceptionally awkward.

"I can't imagine it has been," Dad said. "It is over now. The Dark Lord, his followers, everything that led to the events of the past few years is gone, and our children can now go to school without the specter of our war hanging over their heads."

"You must forgive me if I still worry," Mrs. Granger said. "Though, thank you for looking out for Hermione, Harry. She tells us you've saved her life."

'I'd have been a goner without Hermoine,' Harry wrote out and showed Mrs. Granger. He hid it out of sight when he heard Hermione coming down the stairs. She was wearing the same dress robes she'd worn to the ball, though her hair had just been pulled back into a frizzy bun this time.

Harry very promptly got a hug from Hermione.

"Hello Professor, thank you for picking me up," Hermione said.

"It was no problem," Dad said. "We can leave as soon as you're ready."

"Right," Hermione said. She gave her mom a hug. Mrs. Granger didn't look much like she wanted to let go.

"Ron's meeting us there?" Hermione asked.

"His father will be taking him," Dad said. He held out an empty candy wrapper. Harry was pretty sure the portkey had come from the headmaster.

"Bye mum," Hermione said, grabbing a corner of the wrapper.

Harry grabbed on too, reassuring himself that it was just a portkey to the Ministry and not to a graveyard. His Dad activated it with the code word, "Lemon Drop," definitely chosen by the Headmaster. A sharp tug behind his naval pulled him into nothingness and then he sprang back out in the mezzanine of the ministry entry hall.

A steadying hand on his shoulder turned out to be Ron and Harry got another hug before Ron became attached to Hermione's side for the evening. Ron's Dad was also in attendance, and he showed them to the hall where the ceremony was to be held. They weren't exactly early, but there weren't a lot of people there when they arrived. Their table was right up front, and Harry was a bit horrified to see that one of the placards had Fudge's name on it. The headmaster would be there too, though, so Harry suspected that he'd survive. It wasn't the first time he'd had to share a meal with the man.

"Can't sit down yet," Mr. Weasley said. "I promised Molly I'd get a picture of the three of you in your dress robes."

Harry frowned but dutifully stood next to Ron, who leaned an arm on Harry's shoulder and had his other arm around Hermione's waist.

"Big smile," Mr. Weasley said. The flash went off. "And one more, for good measure." Harry could feel Ron's hand behind his head doing rabbit ears and he grinned a bit wider.

The hall soon filled up, and Harry was glad to see that there was a press area in the back that seemed to be containing the reporters, at least for just then. There were a number of Aurors present in formal red dress robes and Harry recognized a few of them from that night. They looked like they were surrounded by their families. Then there was a table filled with department heads and Harry recognized Madam Bones and Miss Cooper. There were another few tables for the Wizengamot.

The headmaster came in just a bit before Fudge, for which Harry was grateful. Dinner was served, and people talked around Harry. Hermione and Ron kept to safe topics of conversation, surrounded as they were by adults. Eventually, a witch that Harry recognized as the Deputy Minister for Magic he'd met the last time he'd gotten awarded went on stage and announced a start to the banquet and there was suddenly an abundance of food being passed around the table.

"You got your speech?" Ron asked quietly.

Harry nodded.

"Did you decide who you wanted to read it?" Hermione asked.

"Well, you helped write most of it," Ron told her.

Harry pointed at himself.

"Are you sure about that?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded.

Eventually the Deputy Minister went back up on stage and introduced Fudge who gave a sanctimonious speech about bravery and the truly final end to the war against "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Harry found himself becoming upset and blocked him out. His speech lasted probably ten minutes and then his Deputy went back to the podium to announce those being recognized.

Aurors were awarded for valor, some for injury in the line of duty, all of them being brought up on stage to be pinned with their award by Fudge. There were brief commendations of great deeds followed by handshakes and placards and numerous flashbulbs. Madam Bones was brought up to receive the Order of Merlin, First Class, and she took the time to thank her Aurors, both those who had been there at the final battle, such as it was, and those who had fought and fallen in the first war. The Headmaster was called up to be similarly awarded, for his role in planning the death of Voldemort, and he too gave some brief words about the sacrifices made to ensure a peaceful wizarding world. Professor Moody's name was also called, but it seemed the retired Auror had decided to stay at home. Then it was Dad being called up for his role in finding where the Death Eaters had taken Harry and for protecting him from a hoard of Death Eaters. The specifics behind his Dark Mark were not discussed, and Dad didn't say anything after being pinned for the second time with the Order of Merlin, Second Class. Harry didn't need the program to know that he was next, and probably last.

"Our final awardee tonight needs no introduction," Fudge's Deputy said. "Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the young man who has been once before on this stage for another great act of bravery and selfless sacrifice and is tonight being recognized for willingly walking into a pit of vipers, knowing that death was likely, for the promise of a future without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. He is once more being awarded the Order of Merlin, though this time it shall be the Order of Merlin, First Class. Mr. Potter, please join us on stage to receive your award."

Ron gave him a pat on the back as Harry stood up and headed for the stage, feeling once more as if he were walking into the aforementioned pit of vipers. First things first, he had to shake Fudge's hand and then he just had to stand there as the Deputy read out the commendation that came with his award certificate.

"Harry James Potter is being awarded on this, the Ninth of July in the third year of the seventy-first alignment over the Ministry of Magic for the United Kingdom, for exceptional services to the Ministry and the wizarding world as a whole. At the age of fourteen, Mr. Potter agreed to take part in the Ministry of Magic's mission to destroy the Dark Wizard, 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,'" Harry would have rolled his eyes if he hadn't already heard the phrase used so many times already in all of the other commendations. "Mr. Potter's role involved delivering himself unto the above Dark Wizard and his Death Eaters with no knowledge of any plan to rescue him, with only the assurance of an end to the greatest adversary our world has ever faced, and no assurance at all of his own survival. A matter of prophecy and dual fates, Mr. Potter's actions were the central piece of this mission, without which our world would still fall under the specter of the most powerful Dark Wizard of our age. The grievous injuries and ordeals he endured were predictable consequences of his decision and yet, in spite of his proclivities, he chose with certainty to move forward for the protection of the greatest wizarding society on this earth. There can be no doubt that his brave actions and selfless sacrifice are deserving of our highest honor, the Order of Merlin, First Class."

Harry had tensed up at the word proclivities, but he relaxed a bit once the commendation was actually over, though he tensed up again when Fudge appeared in front of him and pinned him with the medal. There was another handshake and then he was handed the certificate and commendation as flashbulbs went off over and over. The Deputy stood to the side and Harry knew that it was time for him to speak. He suffered through one last handshake and went up to the podium, setting aside his certificate and pulling out his notes.

He looked out over the crowd, flashbulbs going off in his face, and reminded himself of why he was there. He didn't want to open his mouth, but he knew he had to. He had to speak up; for himself, for those who came before him, supported him, saved him. He was terrified to find himself truly voiceless but what was the point of having a voice if he didn't speak up. He still wasn't speaking though. He swallowed hard and he could hear a buzz from the assembled hall. He looked down at his notes, at the first line, and willed it to come out of his mouth.

Then Fudge was there, all smiles, and he put his hand on Harry's shoulder.

"Yes, thank you, Harry," Fudge said. "Thank you again for your phenomenal service to the ministry, now I suppose it's time for some dessert and some socializing. Another round of applause for our most distinguished honorees tonight."

People started applauding and the hand on Harry's shoulder started tugging him to the side. Harry's own hands started shaking as he let himself be guided towards the edge of the stage.

"That's a good lad," Fudge said in Harry's ear. "By the end of the night, no one really wants to hear a long speech anyhow."

Harry froze up and pulled away. He looked at his friends, looking at him encouragingly and took a deep breath. "I wanted to say thank you!" the words exploded out as he returned to the podium. "Sorry, I did have a few things I wanted to say… Got a bit nervous is all." His voice came out lower than he was used to and he tried clearing his throat a couple of times. He looked out over the crowd, waiting for the chatter to die down again. Fudge seemed frozen off to the side.

"I wanted to thank everyone first, of course. My Dad, um, my Dad came for me alone, without back up, he came for me, to rescue me, and I would have died if he hadn't. Even then, though…" He cleared his throat again and actually started consulting his notes. "By the end of that night, the both of us were cornered by Death Eaters, and I felt so much relief when those first Aurors arrived and got us out of there. The Headmaster, of course, and Madam Bones, making all of those plans, and trying to make sure I came out alright. I am very grateful to be alive and with you all today."

"There is something though that I feel must be addressed." He held up the commendation. "'Inspite of my proclivities,'" he shook his head. "Tonight I was awarded for my 'brave actions,' but I never felt brave. I was told that I could help destroy Voldemort once and for all; that by giving myself up to him I would ensure his downfall. I was told there was a good chance that I would die. It didn't feel like a brave decision. It felt like the only option. I knew that Voldemort would never stop. That he would figure out a way to come back some day and he'd pick up where he'd left off. I knew that I couldn't survive a world where Voldemort had returned and started killing off the people who stood up against him as I knew that my friends and family would do."

"It wasn't a brave choice, it was the only choice, but it still took bravery to follow through. Back in January, an article was published without my consent or foreknowledge that outed me as gay. I had already come out to my friends and family and found acceptance there, but I wasn't ready for everyone to know. That decision was taken from me, but again, I had to take what bravery I had and face the world as it was." "A lot of people started to question me after that. They questioned my actions the year before when I rescued my friends from Greyback. They questioned whether I belonged in the house of the brave. They questioned whether I should play Quidditch. They questioned whether I had a place in our school. How was it, that no one had been asking these questions the day before? How was it that it seemed perfectly normal, for me to be heroic and brave and athletic one moment, but not the next. How odd it was, that the people who knew me, suddenly thought I was a completely different person. I hadn't changed. I was the same person, but suddenly I was getting pulled out of bed at five o'clock in the morning by housemates who wanted me to quit the team, and I was getting hexed in the halls."

"I didn't need to be straight to be brave. I didn't need to be straight to face Voldemort, or Greyback, or even a damned basilisk. I didn't do any of that to prove a point, I just did it because I had something to fight for and I'd be damned if I did nothing. I wasn't brave in spite of being gay, being gay didn't make my decisions or my survival any harder, but even still I get sneered at by people who think there's something wrong with me. That I'm less than I could be if only I were straight."

"Yet even before I had come out, I'd experienced that sort of treatment before. A rumor had started towards the beginning of my third year that I had been bitten by Greyback over the summer. The year before I had entered the Chamber of Secrets and slain a basilisk to save a fellow student, but as soon as these rumors started, people became convinced that I had returned to school with evil intent. People questioned my place in the school, they hexed me in the halls, and they even tried to kill me, all because they thought that lycanthropy had removed my humanity. If I had had lycanthropy then, I would have died when two of my fellow students deliberately exposed me to wolfsbane. I almost did die regardless. It didn't matter that my humanity has always been on display. They heard a rumor about me and they tried to murder me."

"When I decided to face Voldemort, it wasn't for revenge, it wasn't because I thought it was my best chance for survival. I faced Voldemort because I wanted to save the people I loved. I faced Voldemort because I thought it would be worth it, even if I died. I proved my humanity that night, even though many of you might have doubted it had you had known what it was that truly stopped Voldemort that night."

Harry tore open the clasp of his cloak, letting it fall behind him as he pulled down on his collar to expose his shoulder.

"He wanted to use my blood. Blood of the enemy, the ritual called for. He never would have used mine though, if he had known that Greyback had bitten me the night I fought to get my friends back. His ritual sought to link his soul to a new body; well he merged his soul with the curse that is in my blood, and it was a wolfsbane coated dagger that snuffed out his short-lived rebirth."

"I have been called a monster, I have been called an animal, and yet my humanity shines through. My humanity is in my love for my friends. My humanity is in my bravery and in my fear. My humanity was there when I told Headmaster Dumbledore and Madam Bones that I was willing to give my life for a world without Voldemort. My humanity was in my screams of pain as I was tortured for that decision. My humanity is right here before you now."

"Selfless service, that's what this commendation says. Selfless service, yet I know from my third year that there are many who don't think a werewolf is capable of such a thing. Has your estimate of my actions changed now that you know what I am? What will you write it off as? I've shown my humanity time and time again over the past year through my actions. So if my actions aren't the actions of a human, if you don't think there is a soul residing within this body before you, if you think that I am a monster, then maybe I don't want to be Human. Because I know who I am. I am Harry James Potter, son of Severus Snape, Lily Potter, and James Potter. I am a Gryffindor and I am a Seeker. I am a gay boy living with lycanthropy. I love my friends, and I love my Dad, and I love my school and I'd risk it all over again to keep them safe. So if you think that my sexuality makes me less than you, if you think my lycanthropy makes me a monster, maybe you should look in the mirror and ask yourself what you would have done if you had been in my shoes, and think to yourself what exactly it is that makes us different."

Harry cleared his throat once more. "And that concludes my remarks. Please enjoy the dessert. I told the organizers that Treacle Tart was my favorite, and I think I see it there, so you're welcome."

Harry gathered his notes and his certificate and moved off the stage, and past a flummoxed Fudge.

"That was a very nice speech, Harry," the Headmaster said when Harry sat down.

"Thank you, Sir," Harry said. He glanced over at Dad and swallowed hard. "Um, surprise."

"I constantly am," Dad said.

Harry grinned.

"Well I think you've earned your dessert," Dad said. "It was good to hear your voice."

"I was worried for a bit there," Ron said.

Harry shrugged. "I've always drawn strength from my friends."

The rest of the night was awkward, to say the least, but Harry had his friends and his Dad, so he just let everyone else be awkward and ate his dessert.

Germany was awesome, Harry thought. Only a few days into their trip and Harry was convinced that he hadn't ever had so many consecutive moments of fun in his life. Tomorrow would be a bit more somber, they were going to a museum about the war against Grindlewald, but so far there had been exceptional food, and sightseeing, and a racing broom museum, and Harry and Ron had gotten a few goes around the obstacle course track they'd had set up next door.

News of his speech had made the news in Germany even, though between dying his hair and a headband, no one had pointed him out. The Grangers though, seemed to have decided to keep up with wizarding news, and had purchased newspapers whenever they'd been in any of Germany's wizarding districts. They'd given him some concerned glances but hadn't actually brought it up. Hermione had probably talked to them.

Harry wasn't worrying about any of that though. He was just enjoying himself. This particular evening was going to be particularly enjoyable, though.

"How'd you sneak out?" Draco asked.

"My friends are covering for me," Harry said, plopping himself down in Draco's lap. "Hermione's taking Ron out to see his first muggle movie. So everybody gets a nice romantic date night." It was a shame, because Harry had never been to a movie theatre himself, but such were the sacrifices one made to snog one's boyfriend.

"I thought we'd go out on an actual date," Draco said, holding up two bottles of what Harry identified as polyjuice potion.

Harry grinned. "It won't be the same," he said. "If I'm not sitting across from the prettiest boy I've ever met."

"Sacrifices must be made," Draco said. "Although the gardens I'm taking you to might just be pretty enough to satisfy you."

"Are you taking me somewhere fancy?" Harry asked, giving him a kiss.

"The fanciest," Draco said.

"And then what?" Harry asked.

"And then I take your breath away," Draco said.

"You already do that," Harry said, knowing it was cheesy.

Draco gave a low hum at that. "That was some speech you gave," Draco said, running a hand through Harry's hair.

"Did you like it?" Harry asked. It had been printed in full in the Quibbler, but all of the other papers had just talked about Harry coming out as a werewolf. It was a good thing the wireless had been broadcasting the award ceremony.

"Well I was thinking that you should have let a Slytherin help you with your prose, but it was very good for a Gryffindor."

Harry grinned. "Well you've got a charming tongue, maybe you could teach me a thing or two right now. Draco kissed him.

Originally, they had planned to join Hermione after the first full moon of the summer, but since Harry had come out, there really wasn't any reason for him not to just go ahead and transform in the werewolf area within the Black Forest.

"You're sure you'll be alright?" Dad asked.

"I'm sure," Harry said, letting his wand disappear into his pocket bracelet with a thought and Harry wished there was enough room in there for a spare set of robes. As it was, all he had room for besides his wand was a bit of paper and a pen in case he needed to remember something. The spell that the headmaster had used to sink the bracelet into his skin had been modified and it took only another thought for the bracelet to merge into his wrist. It would still be there after his transformation.

"You're going to make him nervous," Ron told Harry's Dad. "You'll be fine, Harry. Besides you already have plenty of experience." This he said with a bit of a wicked grin.

Ron had been taking the mickey ever since he'd found out what the dress code at the resort was.

"Experience?" Dad asked.

Harry blushed and mumbled, "Skinnydipping."

"How scandalous," Dad said in mock surprise.

"My biggest scandal of the summer," Harry said.

Ron laughed.

"I honestly wouldn't have thought you had it in you," Dad said.

It was Harry's turn to laugh. "That's what Ron said."

"Alright," Dad said. "Well, make sure to eat plenty of food before the transformation."

"I know Dad."

"And try to explore around, get comfortable in your surroundings," Dad said.

"I will."

"Though if you're feeling anxious you can take some time for yourself."

"Dad, I'm going to be fine."

Dad sighed. "This is your first transformation without support."

"There is support," Harry said.

"It's your first transformation without me," Dad said.

"I'll manage," Harry said. "And then you can pamper me all you want tomorrow."

Dad gave him a hug.

"Alright," Dad said. "Ready to go?"

"As I'll ever be," Harry said. "What are you doing tonight? Besides worrying?"

"I have some potions periodicals to catch up on," Dad said.

"I've got a date," Ron said excitedly.

"You've mentioned," Dad said. He held out his arm and Harry grasped it firmly.

"I think I'm going to have fun," Harry said.

They disapparated with a crack.

Germany lasted over a month but even so, it felt like it was over too soon when they got back to England. Mr. Weasley was waiting for them at the International Portkey office within the Ministry.

"Your mother says you didn't write enough," Mr. Weasley said.

"I've got pictures," Ron said.

"That might mollify her," Mr. Weasley said.

"What have we been missing?" Harry asked. They had left soon after the award ceremony, and Harry had been purposely keeping away from any British news during his trip.

Mr. Weasley hesitated. "You have a lot of people supporting you," he said.

"Which means there's a lot of people I need support from," Harry said.

"Dumbledore won't let anything happen," Mr. Weasley said.

"Which means they want to kick me out of school," Harry said.

"It's not their decision," Dad said.

"My radio silence probably didn't help," Harry said.

"I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd love to do an interview with you," Mr. Weasley said.

Harry looked to Ron, who gave a shrug, and then to Dad, who gave a nod. "Probably a good idea," Harry said. There were enough Slytherins in his life, he could probably make that work in his favor.

"It's good to be home," Ron said.

Harry himself couldn't agree. Considering the company, it was like he'd never left home at all.

A/N: Sort of a bittersweet moment for me. I've been doing this for so long. So, so long. I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Up next for me I've got a BH6 story I've had on the back burner for a while and I've been having thoughts about a Voltron reboot (with soulmates) for a while (OMG the last season left me so angry).

Fic recs? We've got desert born by discordiansamba on AO3, Keith turns purple at the age of three and lives the rest of his childhood in the desert, alone after his dad dies until Shiro finds him.
I've been on a non-fanfiction kick lately. I read the extended edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Also Artemis, by Andy Weir was awesome (Same author as The Martian). And in queer literature I listened to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and read by Lin Manuel Miranda. I also got Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (A bit of an odd writing style but I got into it). Hero by Perry Moore (Gay superhero). Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (An openly gay boy goes to a new school and back into the closet to find out how people see him when he isn't just 'the gay boy'.

Reviews are welcome but please PM me with constructive criticism.