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In St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, things were a little bit mad.

The place was crawling with Aurors, for a start, ever since the first few people had staggered in carrying other, less conscious people and claiming that they were Death Eaters who'd been knocked out or killed in battle. As soon as the Death Eaters began arriving, so did a score of others, some of them still children, injured in what appeared to be the same battle.

There were bodies.

Augustus Pye seemed to be the only one who kept his head and understood what was going on, and as such soon found himself suddenly in charge of several wings of the hospital. It was a heady sensation, but he had other matters to attend to as well; a hospital crawling with Aurors was sooner or later going to be a hospital crawling with reporters.

He only really began to worry, however, when a thick flood of people suddenly appeared, crowding into the emergency services area. Firstly, because he hadn't expected this many casualties; secondly, because Harry and Sirius didn't seem to be among them.

The first news he had was when a young blond woman arrived carrying Severus Snape in her arms.

"He's hurt," she said. "Fix him now."

"Listen, I have thirty people waiting -- "

"Fix him now," she snarled, and Augustus found himself automatically helping her lay the unconscious man out on a bench. A good thing, too; the injuries along his scalp were more severe than they looked, and he'd lost a lot of blood.

"He'll be all right," he said, working first on the laceration itself and then taking measurements to determine how much blood-replenishing potion he'd need. "Is it over?"

"Yes," she answered shortly.

"Did we win?"

"He was slain."

He looked up at her, startled. "You-Know-Who?"

She nodded.

"He's dead?"

"I saw it," she replied. "Stabbed, like so," she continued, demonstrating the movement of a hand holding a knife against her body. "Look, there."

He followed where she pointed and nearly swallowed his tongue in shock.


Despite the sudden influx, Augustus had managed to find them a room away from the noise and fuss, which Harry was grateful for. The young Healer had run off after ascertaining that nobody was immediately dying, but he returned within ten minutes to see to Sirius' arm and the still-raw scar on Remus' throat. Tonks had escaped with only a scraped-up elbow, which was an irony that nobody had the energy to laugh at.

"Where's the body?" Harry asked, when Augustus returned. Remus had left it with a pair of Aurors and gone with Harry and Tonks, nearly falling over when he finally released the mobilicorpus spell that held Tom Riddle's body suspended in the air at his command.

"Under guard," Augustus replied reservedly. Harry sighed. "It's safe, don't worry."

"I'm not worried about it coming back to life or anything," Harry said. "I'm worried about someone stealing it."

"Ah. Seen and believed?" Augustus inquired. Remus chuckled wearily, then coughed. Augustus leaned back and glared disapprovingly at him.

"You've a bruised windpipe and some scarring. I'll have some potions and hot soup sent in when things calm down a bit. In the meantime, try not to talk," he said. Remus nodded.

"Now, let's see to young master Black," Augustus continued, bending over the bed where Sirius lay. Glastonbury, perched on the headboard, hissed warningly. "It's all right, I'm sure you did a very good job," Augustus said, and Glastonbury's feathers settled a little. Harry watched as the Healer examined the arm from all angles, listened to Sirius' chest, checked his eyes, and muttered a number of charms.

"Cracked ribs and a little mending left on the arm. I'm going to have a bones expert come in. If he wakes up, don't move him," Augustus said.

"What if he...doesn't wake up?" Harry asked in a hushed voice. Augustus put a soothing hand on Harry's shoulder.

"There's nothing wrong with him. At a guess, I'd say his body's taking some time to heal. I'd suggest you lot do the same -- if you don't sleep now you won't sleep for quite a while to come. Um, there's one other thing..."

Harry saw Augustus' eyes dart to Tonks and back, nervously.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's...Harry, your scar..." Tonks ventured. Harry touched his forehead, but he couldn't feel the familiar raised, jagged lightning-bolt.

"Is it gone?" he asked. Augustus went to a small cabinet in the wall and took out a round mirror, about the size of his palm, offering it to Harry. He brushed his hair up off his forehead and looked down into his own tired face.

It didn't register immediately; he saw dark smudges under his eyes, blood on his cheek and chin. Then he saw it; where his scar had once been was a deep red bruise, about the size of a knut. He rubbed it, wondering if it was another spatter of blood, but it didn't change -- merely ached, dully, as bruises do.

"I think it's a fingerprint," Augustus said quietly. Harry glanced up at him, then back at the mirror. "I don't know why it's changed and I'm not sure I want to, but if you're inclined to tell me what happened..."

"Sirius reached into me and took it out," Harry said to Remus, who rubbed a thumb over his lips thoughtfully. "He held it up and called his name and crushed it."

"Took what out?" Augustus asked, looking bewildered.

"Augustus, I think you'd better go," Tonks said gently. "For your own good."

The Healer glanced at Harry, then back at Tonks, and nodded slowly.

"I'll send that specialist in for Sirius. Oh...I thought you'd like to know, Severus Snape is still alive and he's having the most awful row with three or four Aurors and a werewolf," Augustus added.

"I'll straighten it out," Tonks said, standing up. "What about that Malfoy boy? He looked to be in a bad way..."

"Imperius, I'd say, hard to tell...."

The door shut behind them and Harry found himself with one man who was unconscious and another who couldn't properly talk.

Remus spread his hands, gave him a small, tired smile, and gestured him forward. Harry stood in front of him, where he sat on the hospital bed, and lowered his eyes.

"I couldn't kill him. I know what he did..." he said, his stomach knotting and churning. "But I couldn't."

Remus laid a hand on his head, thumb pressing gently over his new scar.

"Thanks," Harry said.

There was a quiet, urgent sort of noise and Harry looked up into the other man's face. Remus' other hand was a fist, knuckles pressed against his lips. When their eyes met his fingers flexed and he cupped Harry's cheeks in both his hands, pulling him forward and kissing him gently on the forehead.

"He did kill you, didn't he?" Harry asked, leaning back. Remus' eyes flicked to Glastonbury.

"Nine lives," he said hoarsely.

"That's cats."

Remus bowed his head and rested it in his hands, laughing silently.


In the morning, of course, every Wizarding paper in Great Britain headlined Harry as the hero of the hour, never mind who had killed Voldemort or who had died in the battle. A photo snapped of Harry, standing uncertainly outside of Sirius' door, hollow-eyed, blood still smeared across his cheek -- that was the image that went around the world. That and the body of Tom Riddle, lying as if in state on a stone slab in the St. Mungo's morgue.

Very few Death Eaters had escaped -- Peter Pettigrew was caught not two hours after Voldemort's death, trying to sneak into a magical pet shop in Diagon Alley. Enough had been captured and had talked loud and long enough in captivity for the Aurors to become aware of Sirius Black, that scoundrel masquerading as Nigel Padfoot. The morning after the morning after the battle -- everything was now dated from that day, it seemed -- it was Sirius' picture, from a casual snapshot Colin had taken of him at the high table, that made the front page. Heir Apparent: Sirius Black The Second In Cahoots With Potter.

"Well, it's a very good use of the word cahoots," Tonks said, trying to sound light and cheerful. Sirius still wasn't awake, which meant that light and cheerful around Harry was somewhat hard going. Ron and Hermione were probably coping the best; they merely sat with Harry and kept quiet most of the time. Harry hadn't left the hospital since he'd arrived.

"The funerals are starting tomorrow," Harry answered. Tonks glanced at him. "I saw the paper while you were sleeping."

"It could have been much worse," Remus said, coming into the room. "It could have been all of us. As it is, we got off lighter than they did."

"How's Arcadia?" Harry asked.

"Grieving. Severus is with her. He's completely at a loss, but she doesn't seem to want much more than somewhere to cry, right now," Remus replied. "She lost a lot of her pack." He hesitated. "Bellatrix died about twenty minutes ago. They couldn't stop her bleeding and the potion wasn't working as it ought. They think she'd put some protective hexes on herself that may have backfired."

Harry nodded. "Neville?"

"He's hanging on. Everyone else -- well, all the children -- have been discharged."

"I'm sorry about Fred's eye," Harry said quietly to Ron.

"Don't be. He loves the new one. Moody's showing him how to use it."

Harry smiled a little. "Good."

Hermione squeezed Harry's hand. "We should go eat."

"Go -- bring me a sandwich?" Harry asked.

"Sure, mate," Ron said, taking Hermione's hand and giving her a silent signal not to object. "Back in a few."

"I'll go too, I'm famished," Tonks said.

"Take your time," Remus murmured to Tonks, as they left.

"I heard that," Harry said. Remus came to take the seat Ron had vacated, studying Sirius.

"You should at least go home and sleep a little, Harry," he said.

"At Fourteen Back?" Harry asked. "Without Sirius?"

"He's going to be fine, the Healers all say so. It just takes time."

"Like with you and the map? You're a werewolf and it took you days to recover, months to be really healed," Harry said. "He's human."

"He's Sirius. He finds ways," Remus replied. "What I want to know is how he did it."

Harry shook his head. "He said something about having the power to touch souls...I don't know."

Remus leaned forward, resting his arms on the bed. He looked strangely childlike, as if he were seventeen again too, silver hair notwithstanding.

"Didn't Nigenae say something about that?" he asked, studying Sirius' face. "When he was talking about how Sirius might have put himself into the map....he said that someone drawn from the map might have the power to touch another person's soul. He poured so much of his soul into that map, when he came back to us...he's made up of soul, not like ordinary people who have souls and bodies. He's through-and-through, maybe. With all the magic and mystery that implies. Intrinsically, in a way he may not even be able to consciously articulate, he understands souls. They're not mechanical, Harry, not everything can be laid out for you in a diagram."

"But to reach into my head and -- " Harry gestured in the air.

"It might have been easier in some ways. That part of Voldemort didn't belong to you. To take your own soul out -- that would take the power of a Dementor. To take someone else's out of a place it never belonged...well. We discover our strengths when we're most vulnerable," Remus concluded. "And Sirius was always strong in his magic. He'll be all right, Harry."


Remus sighed. "I don't know. But you sitting in a dark hospital room won't help him any."

"I need to talk to the Prophet, don't I."

"I won't force you, but it would be helpful. I have already, to try and cushion you a bit. But half of the papers in England think you're dead, you've disappeared so completely since yesterday."

"Are they waiting?"

"They're...loitering, I'd say," Remus said. "Even if you just talked to one or two people, it would be good. People have been celebrating -- Diagon's just shy of being a riot scene."

"Is this how it was last time?" Harry asked. "The celebration?"

"Yes. As far as I know. I wasn't much a part of it."

"Did you hate it?"

Remus nodded. "I'd lost three of my friends to the fourth, so I thought. I wondered, in the celebration of his death, where the mourning for my friends was."

Harry nodded. "Remus....I have to ask. All those werewolves who's a good thing, politically, isn't it?"

Remus frowned. "I would never wish anyone dead, Harry. They died because they didn't have magic, not the sort that would really protect them. If they'd been allowed to go to school, like I was....but they didn't. So they died. And Fenrir's legacy goes on."

"But if someone had to can use them, can't you? To stop what Fenrir began?"

"Don't you think their deaths would be rather empty, otherwise?"

"What will you do?"

Remus bit his lip. "Go to the Wizengamot. With your help, if you'll give it, and with Arcadia's if she will. Show them that werewolves were willing to die to protect people who hated them, who made them live like animals. Show the world that we're not monsters. I owe them that at least."

He gave Harry a sidelong smile. "Finally ready to fight that battle I ran away from when you were thirteen, I suppose. It takes me a while to screw up the courage for these things, but I get there in the end."

"This wouldn't have anything to do with having to get a permit to marry Tonks, would it?"

"A permit they'd never give," Remus answered. "Not to a Dark Creature who wants to marry an Auror."

Harry nodded. "I used to think it would be really easy, you know. Just kill Voldemort! Then everything will be normal."

"Not finding it quite so normal?"

"There's funerals, and trials that I'm going to have to go to, and some of them are going to go free -- just like last time. And last time Dumbledore hid me away somewhere, but now I'm going to have to face people, every day, who think I'm a hero for something you did."

"Do not ever think that you are not a hero, Harry. Without you, we never would have had a chance. If you couldn't kill a man in cold blood there's no shame in that."

"Are you ashamed of yourself?" Harry asked, curiously.

"I should be. I've tried all my life not to be the murderer that Fenrir is, before I even knew who Fenrir is. I'm not, though -- ashamed, I mean. Voldemort killed the only people I loved, and then when I found a new family he tried to kill them, too. I'm..." Remus rubbed his eyes with his hand. "I'm proud that I made the choice. There are a thousand times when I wouldn't have had the choice to become a murderer, so when I finally did commit the act -- I'm proud that I could own it. That it was me and not the monster who killed him."

"I'm sorry," Harry said.

"Don't be. Better me than you. There's no blood on your hands, Harry, and if people think you're a hero for committing murder -- and they will, no matter what we tell them and no matter how loudly we say it -- at least you have the comfort of knowing you didn't do it. Imagine going through life being loved and idolised for the single thing you're most ashamed of doing. At least you can say you didn't do it, to yourself if no one else will believe you." Remus smiled. "Besides, you make a better idol than I do. Which reminds me, I almost forgot -- you and Sirius are being awarded the Order of Merlin, first class. Tonks and Neville too, and Snape, now that we've straightened everything out with the Aurors. Pretty much everyone else who was there is getting a second-class."

"What about you? And Arcadia? You deserve more than seconds."

"Werewolves can't receive civic awards."

"But you bloody well killed the Dark Lord with your bare hands!" Harry said furiously. "All Snape did was get hit on the head!"

"Thank you," said a voice in the doorway, and Harry looked up, startled. Severus Snape stood there, eyes deep-sunk, a strip of white bandage across his forehead. There was a dark purple bruise along the left side of his face. "It is nice to find consistency in ingratitude; at least that way one grows to expect it."

"He did save your life, Harry," Remus said.

"One does not stand and gape slack-jawed at the Dark Lord while waiting to be murdered," Snape said.

"I wasn't gaping at him," Harry retorted. "I was waiting for Remus to kill me."

Snape lifted an eyebrow at Remus. "Oh?"

"He was the final horcrux," Remus said. "Didn't you see the vision? I thought everyone in the church saw it."

"I am a skilled enough occlumens to conceal my betrayal of the Dark Lord; do you think he goes into my mind without my permission? And you sit, alive," Snape added to Harry.

Harry shifted in his seat, embarrassed.

"We managed to get it out without having to resort to drastic measures," Remus said. "So in that sense you still saved his life."

"Thanks," Harry muttered.

"It was instinct, nothing more," Snape replied ungraciously, turning to regard Sirius. "So this is the troublemaker himself, is it? Time-turner, I suppose."

"He preserved himself in a diary," Remus answered calmly. "Much as Tom Riddle did, without quite intending it. A sort of anti-horcrux, you might say."

Snape sniffed. "As arrogant as ever; I might have suspected. Do try to keep him from creating public scandal. No doubt, unleashed on modern society, he will enjoy himself to the disadvantage of others."

"That's not true!" Harry said furiously. "You don't know anything about him!"

"Harry," Remus said warningly.

"He's done all kinds of things for the Order and risked his life just as much as you have, and he's going to be a Healer and cure lycanthropy -- " Harry broke off, realising he'd said too much. Both men were staring at him.

"We're back! Oh, hello Severus," Tonks said, pushing past him through the doorway. "Harry, we brought you a turkey sandwich and some crisps -- "

She hesitated, so suddenly that Ron and Hermione ran into her. "Bad time?"

"No," Remus said. "Come in, Tonks. We were just congratulating Severus on his Order of Merlin."

Harry opened his mouth to say they must be giving them out like candy, but Snape had saved his life. Damn him.

"Congratulations," he said instead. "Thanks for the sandwich, Tonks, but I need to go do some things. Remus...?"

"You have a visit to pay before you speak to anyone," Snape said sharply. Harry looked at him. "Draco Malfoy is asking for you."

"Draco Malfoy can kiss my -- "

"Imperius," Tonks said. "He was under imperius, Harry. They don't know for how long, but it's really strong -- they're still bringing him out of it."

Harry looked to Snape. To his shock, a faint blush of shame appeared on the professor's face.

"I am not the only skilled occlumens," he murmured. "I was angry with him; I looked no further. I did not know."

"That's why he didn't fight, during the battle," Remus said. "He hadn't been told to. It's a miracle sombody didn't kill him outright."

"He wishes to speak with you," Snape repeated. Harry considered.

"No," he said finally.

Snape stared at him. "What did you say?"

"I'm not going to see Malfoy. I'll see him when I'm done," Harry answered.

"You impudent little -- "

"I will see him when I am finished," Harry repeated, in a voice so steely that even Snape paused. "Remus, come with me?"

Remus nodded, wide-eyed, and followed Harry out of the room.

"That was....unusual," he remarked as they walked down the corridor.

"I'm done being anyone's pawn, especially his," Harry answered. "They don't get to have their Chosen One and order him about as well."

He arrived in a little lobby where a handful of reporters were standing, some of them dictating to quickquotes quills. As soon as they noticed him they rushed forward, but Harry said "Stop," and they stopped, so suddenly that a photographer actually skidded into Rita Skeeter, knocking her over.

"I have something to say," he said, glancing up at Remus before continuing. "I'll tell the whole story later. It doesn't need to be told now, and some of it isn't mine to tell. Don't talk," he added to one short, balding man who was opening his mouth to ask a question. "Tom Riddle was stabbed to death two days ago, and most of his supporters are scattered or imprisoned by now. I don't know how everyone is yet -- you probably know more than I do. I don't know where I'm going yet, either; probably home for a few days, once I know everyone is out of danger. At the moment, I have nothing else to say, so you may as well not bother. Except," he added, grasping Remus' sleeve without turning around, as Remus moved to leave, "that I've been told I'm going to have an Order of Merlin. I wanted to say thank you to the Ministry, because I know it's a big honour. And I want to say thank you to them for ignoring the stupid and biased law about werewolves and awarding Remus Lupin an Order of Merlin First Class as well. I think he's the first ever, aren't you Remus?"

Remus blinked at Harry, confusedly. The reporters all glanced at each other. This was News.

"Mr. Lupin," said one particularly bold reporter, into the silence that stretched out between Harry and his audience, "how do you feel about being the first werewolf to be awarded an Order of Merlin?"

"Surprised," Remus said faintly.


"I never believed you when you said you were almost a Slytherin until now, Harry," Remus said, standing outside of Draco Malfoy's hospital room. "You just lied to a whole crowd of newspaper people!"

"It won't be a lie tomorrow, after the papers are printed," Harry replied. "The Ministry can't possibly not give you one now. Can you imagine them trying to retract your Order of Merlin?"

"You are just like your father!"

"Thanks," Harry said, and pushed the door open, leaving Remus behind in the hallway.

Draco was sitting up in bed, separated by a curtain from another bed, where Harry could see Neville's touseled hair peeping out from underneath a blanket. Neville...had not got off lightly.

"He's sleeping," Draco said dully. "Been doing that a lot."

"Yeah, I see," Harry answered. "Snape said you wanted to talk to me."

Draco swallowed. "I didn't do it. Any of it."

"Yeah you did," Harry replied. "You just didn't want to."

"It wasn't me, I mean."

Harry nodded. "That all?"

"Potter -- Harry -- "

Harry turned, one hand already on the door.

"My head's....cloudy," Draco whispered. "I don't remember things the way they happened."

"You were a git to me for six years. You called my best friends names and made fun of people who couldn't fight back. What more did you want to know?" Harry asked.

Draco's eyes fell, and Harry felt suddenly horrible. Sirius would be ashamed of him.

"Listen, it wasn't your fault," he said, returning to stand at the foot of the bed. "Before he got to you, you helped. You didn't kill anyone, least not that I know of. He did it to you. You didn't ask for it."

"What're they going to do to me?"

Harry shrugged. "Put you on trial, maybe. All they can really convict you of is being an ass, which isn't something they put people in prison for, more's the pity. Snape'll probably speak up for you."

"What do I do?"

"Why ask me?" Harry asked, surprised.

"Who else can I trust?" Draco said, smiling mirthlessly. "You're a bastard, Potter, but you're a Gryffindor. You're morally obligated not to kick an enemy when he's down."

Harry shrugged. "When I figure out what happens next, I'll let you know. You might start by giving Neville a hand when he needs it, and he will for a while. You owe us, from before. Help Neville out and I'll make sure we're even."

"Does that mean I have to be nice to dotty Luna?" Draco asked.

"Yes," Harry replied, and since Draco didn't seem to have anything else to say, he left.

Remus and Tonks managed to coax Harry home that night, so that he could get a few hours of real sleep; Bowman was waiting for them in the garden and hugged Harry and Mrs. Jenkins cried a little and said he was a dear boy, which was a dire indication of Harry's life to come.

He had to sleep, Remus said; there were funerals in the morning and it was bad form to fall asleep at a funeral. Harry smiled, just a little. He hadn't even realised it, but three days after the battle was December twenty-fourth; Christmas Eve. He wondered what the Dursleys were doing. Muggle England probably didn't even know.

There were three funerals; there was also a memorial for the werewolves, led by one of Arcadia's young pack-companions, a boy who'd had enough schooling before Fenrir got him that he could speak well and read a short speech. Remus wore the Order of Merlin that had arrived by owl express that morning and stood next to Arcadia, with Severus on the other side. Arcadia wore Severus' Order. The newspapers ate it up; Harry felt very tired.

When they came home from the funerals on Wednesday, Sirius was still asleep. Harry slept in the hospital.

He woke on Christmas morning around three am, to the sound of some mediwitch's heels clicking in the hallway. He stretched and crawled off the cot he'd transfigured from a chair, rubbing his eyes and finding his glasses on the table next to Sirius' bed.

"It wasn't worth it, you know," he said softly to Sirius, one hand touching his arm. Sirius' head and shoulders were twisted away, towards the other wall; he sometimes moved in his sleep but never woke. "I mean, I wasn't. I'm not any great brain, I'm not the best wizard of my generation, I'm not destined to do great things. I would have done it."

To his shock, Sirius answered him.

"I'm a selfish bastard. I did it because I'd rather see the world end than see you dead."

Harry gaped as Sirius rolled over and smiled up at him, pushing himself up onto his elbows.

"How -- were you -- when -- "

"About an hour ago. I had to pee like you wouldn't believe. Didn't want to wake you," Sirius added.

Harry dropped down into the chair next to his bed in shock. Sirius sat up and swung his legs around, then held his head dizzily. Harry immediately stood up again, almost banging his head on Sirius' chin, and stared at him.

"Pfwoo. I feel like hell. What's going on? He is dead, isn't he? I thought I heard him scream..."

"He's been dead three days," Harry said, almost hysterically.

"Oh. That's all right then," Sirius replied. "How'd we do? Where is everyone?"

"It's three in the morning."

"Is...." Sirius hesitated. "Is everyone still alive?"

Harry started to laugh and cry at the same time, which hurt. He wrapped his arms around Sirius' shoulders and felt his reassuring warmth, let Sirius pull him close and whisper ridiculous reassurances in his ear, since Sirius had no idea whether or not it even was all right, let alone whether it ever would be.

But he believed him.


"Is this a happy ending, Cerastes?" Polaris asked me, standing in the chilly garden of the hospital. He had thrust his hands into his pockets and was staring at the road, idly.

"No," I told him. "There are no happy endings, Polaris. There are happy moments; times we stop and find ourselves joyful. But they're not endings. The only endings are when people die."

He gave me a sharp and all-too-perceptive look; this was not the laughing Polaris who came to my town and upset my happy life nine months ago. Then again, I was not the shallow shopkeeper who had sold him his book, nine months ago.

"I thought death could make me happy."

"Death only makes you dead, Polaris."

"Yes; I know." He scuffed the grass with his shoe. "I'm going to Oxford, Cerastes. Wren invited me and I can't say no. I love you but I have to go to Oxford. I have to go searching for something instead of running from something, for once in my life."

"That's probably for the best," I said, and saw his face fall. "I'd have been lonely without you, and my new shop needs a guard dog."

"Your new shop?"

"Indeed. I couldn't stand one more winter in Wales."

I handed him my new card. The Oxford address was in small but elegant print in the corner. "It's not happily ever after, Polaris, but I hope it will do."

"It is happily ever after," Polaris said fiercely, as the sun went down and lit his face in one last brilliant flash of golden light. "It is, Cerastes. It is."

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