The celebration is hushed, so unlike the loud and raucous star-showering ones from the many decades before. Not a single star falls, not a firework ripples the sky; nor does a soul laugh, or even an owl flap its wings in a melodious victory. No, it is nothing like the celebrations of before. This gathering is quiet, so very quiet, taken in by quiet eyes, gentle promises, muted triumphs, and silent smiles, and entirely nothing more.
He had entered silently through the unlocked door leading into the London house. He heard soft music and lifelessly happy words drifting in from the living room. He put his cloak on the coat rack, smiling at the simplicity of such a thing, plated gold hooks against a plain white wall. So normal, so strange . . .
How was it that he felt so at home, yet so very alone, all in one single moment? He could not comprehend it. A slight gasp made him jump, twist around, see. His thoughts and worries were gone in seconds, replaced by something - something tasting of sweet salt.
"Harry . . ."
A small but loving hug, lasting many long moments. A smile shared between friends, like the birth of the messiah, the opening of a delicate rose. But the eyes are sad.
"Hermione." Harry Potter savoured the name that escaped his lips, having not said her name - his best friend's name - for many years, stepping back a bit in the dimly lit hallway. "Love . . ." He reached to touch her cheek, caressing it gently with the tips of his fingers.
Hermione Granger took the hand tentatively tucking her hair behind her ear, stroking her temple, and pressed Harry's warm palm against her cheek. She closed her eyes, letting herself fall into that familiar heat. She finally looked up at the black haired man; her cerulean eyes filled with unshed tears, and hugged him once more, not wanting to let go . . .
Their long awaited embrace is forced to finally end, but is done so willingly, so they may face each other once more. Gentle eyes wander into tender ones, as if meeting each other, loving each other, for the first time.
"Harry Potter," a low voice intruded and the two reunited friends turned.
In the doorway revealing the living room to the front hall stood a man looking so different from his years at the school to which they had all once belonged. He had a hand on the doorframe and a glass of something in his other, each steadying him in one form or another. His eyes were shadowed and voice sheltered, cold even, but he was a wilting flower, leaning so his true height, his true feelings could not be noticed.
Harry pulled away from Hermione and appeared uncertain, trying to decide whether to stay or flee. "Ron," he replied finally, his voice soft and somber. "I was sorry to hear about Fred . . . I - I didn't have a chance to write, and - "
"It's okay. We understood." The face was expressionless as well.
The scarred man, hurt more deeply than just a jagged line on his forehead, could say nothing in return, no matter how hard he searched in his heart for an answer. Harry stared at his old friend, whose red hair was still primly cropped close to his scalp and brown freckles still obvious from a sun-kissed summer - just like it had been in school. How he had longed to see that face, cracked in a smile or laughter. For the so few years they had been apart, it felt like a lifetime - a wasted lifetime.
"You look well, Harry," Ron Weasley remarked impassively, seemingly not noticing Harry Potter's heartbreak.
"So do you." Harry timorously put out his hand, boldly trying to say something he feared would not be understood.
The emotion is clear. Or is it? Nervous, like the first step a boy ever took as a man. Contemplating, misunderstood, misunderstanding - unsure of the consequences, doesn't care about the consequences. Detached . . . will just take them as they come.
Ron stared down at the offering for a moment, then slowly straightened himself, eyes never leaving the battle-calloused palm. He removed his hand from the molding and cautiously slid his hand into Harry's. As soon as their skin touched, hands clasped, they both pulled, and stumbled, collapsing into the other. The glass went shattering down the hall toward the stairs. Both failed trying not to weep as they held each other close.
"I'm so sorry, Harry, I just . . . I just couldn't bear it . . . Hermione and I, we - "
"I can't believe I'm seeing you again," Harry sobbed into Ron's shoulder. The world seemed to faze a bluish green, glitters of crimson entrancing him as he drawing in the not forgotten cinnamon smell of his brother. "After hearing that . . . that your house was destroyed, I couldn't bear it. For months, I thought you might have . . . oh, God, Ron, I cried so hard when I found out you were still alive!"
"You weren't supposed to know!" Ron moaned, ignoring the pain of Harry's glasses, askew and rubbing sharply against his cheek. He inhaled the smell of his boyhood friend, breathing memories and laughs and tears. He let another sob escape his lips and held on more tightly. "No one was supposed to know, not even Hermione. He - He needed to think - to think all that. I'm so sorry you found out so late . . . You must not have thought I cared!"
The girl smiles sadly at them, wishing to be included but knowing her place. There is time now, time for everything. Time for words that had never been spoken, yet were and are always understood. Time for life, time for music, time for songs never written before. There is nothing but time.
"The thought crossed my mind," Harry laughed into Ron's hair. He felt elated, alive once more. The room spun and rewarded him gloriously with a blur of black, red, green, and violet coats hanging on the wall, spinning a wondrous web of pigments and tears. "I almost didn't believe you were . . ." Had his spirit really been so far gone?
"Hermione, if you don't get here this instant, I'll smack you," Ron said hoarsely.
She joined the group and they pulled her close, tears mixing in an array of briny trails down faces pressed together. Their hands interlocked, fingers interlacing and creating a maze that could never be broken through again. Lips sought cheeks and other lips, whimpers of pain and despair became one. Once more came the feelings, flooding through like an uncontrollable river, of never letting go again, staying like this for always, never letting anyone in.
This feeling is as open as a door, at least to the figure approaching from the lit parlor. He is saddened and amused by this spectacle, letting it go on for quite a while as the three share unintelligible murmurs with each other, quiet words no one else can or will ever hear. For that, he is jealous, but he is also glad.
"So, the famous Harry Potter shows his face at the party. Finally."
The group broke apart just enough so Harry was able to look up and greet the sapphire eyes waiting patiently, a self-satisfied smirk dancing in those bottomless irises. Another smile flitted across the once-lost boy's face, this time not as elated but just as pleasant. Ron and Hermione let him go, understanding. They knew they couldn't keep Harry, at least not for the time being.
"Did you say something to me?" Harry asked, boldly stepping forward.
The wintry man arched a menacing eyebrow. "I think you heard me, Potter."
In the same forward movement he has just performed with Ron, Harry's arms are around the other man, pulling him into a welcoming embrace. He slings an arm around the man's neck and holds him close, whispering into his ear.
"Good to see you again, too, Malfoy," Harry murmured tenderly.
"I saw you not a week ago," came the archetypal nonchalant response.
Harry smiled, hugging the man who he had come to know so well a bit tighter, happy to see another face. "You can't honestly tell me that you didn't miss your mate."
"I had other things to worry about, thank you very much."
The voice is cold, drawling with such indifference that any other man might have been concerned. But concern . . . concern is only laid down now when absolutely necessary. No, concern is a forgotten problem waiting in the depths of many minds, too far down to reach in time of such quiet happy joy.
Harry felt relief rush through him as he pulled away from his comrade, sprinkling upon him like a sudden summer rain, gentle in its antiquity and incredible in its actuality. He was among friends, a house brimming full with them, celebrating with a gentle reckless abandonment. His sorrow and delirium were replaced by raindrops dripping with elation, realization.
"My good friend, we've finally done it!"
"Don't sound so melodramatic, Potter, it was only a war."
Harry shoved the man away indignantly, shaking a finger, still teary from the moments before. "Draco Malfoy -!" He stopped when the blonde man laughed softly as he folded his arms across his body and took a small sip of his drink, grinning at him over the glass. "Good gods of Merlin, Harry, not taking my harmless prodding as easily as before, are you?"
His seriousness did not lift. "I didn't think I would see you again."
"Can't get rid of me that easily," Draco said, this time sliding his own arm around Harry's neck and drawing the man close. Draco kissed Harry on the cheek and Harry did so in return - a promise kept. No matter how much they joked about the day their first, and only, kiss would come, they honoured the miracle of life with a quick yet sweet embrace.
They stand there for several moments and curious eyes peer at them, eager to meet the heroes. But the men do not care, for their lives intermingle now in the way two snakes mate, curling violently around themselves in a forever-fight form dominance, interludes of understanding breaking their battles momentarily, happily, in search of brotherly, spiritual solitude only the other will ever truly comprehend.
"Go on and greet your brethren, Mr. Potter; I know them almost better than you do now." He laughed softly, for despite all his taunting, the two men had grown to respect and love each other as only brothers intrepidly intermingling together in a never-ending - yet now finished - battle can. "We'll trade stories sometime later. This isn't the time."
"Oh, but Mr. Malfoy," said a new voice, echoing the thoughts of a bright young woman, "there is time for everything now. Now that was once started is now complete."
Harry felt himself give a small cry, falling into the arms of man so resembling a father. They shared soft whispers of condolence for a lost wolf, a darkened twinkle, and a silenced but not forgotten laugh. Even with so many given back to the earth, the night-haired man could remember no other time when he had felt so suddenly at home, surrounded by the survivors . . . surrounded by the arms and love of friends and colleagues, all blood and kin to him now, no matter how long it had been since they'd last met. His heart leapt and crumpled at each reconciliation - the thoughts of times joyful and sad throbbing through their veins, each in their own conflicted ways.
Men and women embrace him as he comes further in from the hall. He feels drained of tears, momentarily stunned at the number of people collected in the room, but would have cried more if he was able. He feels unspoken words tumble out of his mouth as he is finally able to spend time with them, instead of just quick bouts of orders or information as he and others went flying through a checkpoint, office, or rune.
A sandy haired man, his boyhood classmate, seen just the night before, trying to make him smile and ignore the stench, helping him away from the remains of war, only needed to smile. Blaise, the only other silver encrusted emerald to come back to the Light and resist the Dark, who brought down the strayed be-speckled red-haired man in Manchester early that morning, ending all chance for another uprising, resisted an embrace. A young Asian woman, a respected Auror nearly lost saving the hospice months before, gave him a grateful kiss from her wheelchair. Merely a nod was required to his shadowy professor, the one who had pulled the snowy-haired man from the rubble in the early years and who had avenged every death ever witnessed within the walls of the school.
All those who he had once known from the short years gone by were there, in the warm home of a dear friend, to mark and mourn.
The war is over, Harry thought dreamily as a sobbing Ginny Weasley a while later, grieving the death of her brothers and rejoicing in the breath of life, jumped into his arms. I feel alive again, truly alive. He spun her around, their words a mixture of laughter and tears, blending together like a rainbow cascading over a dew-kissed afternoon. The One-Who-Should-Always-Be-Named is gone forever.
Temperate chuckling accompanied a forgotten joke near the corner of the room where Ron and Hermione stood, speaking fondly with Draco and Blaise. Harry gave Ginny a chaste but affectionate peck on the cheek and went to visit with the four. As he approached, the phone rang, startling those who rarely heard something as brash as a telephone ring.
"Damn," said Hermione with a smile. She gave Harry's hand a squeeze as she passed him.
The four friends, grown far beyond their years, watch her cross the room to the ringing telephone in silence, not wanting to leave her behind in the talk. The thought of who might be ringing traverses their minds with annoyance; who would dare interrupt such a celebration of success, of joy, of life? They watch as she speaks into the receiver and see her smile slowly begin to fade.
"What?" Hermione gasped, her voice hushing the room instantly. The company all held their breaths, not wanting to guess what was wrong, for too much had been wrong in the past few years. "Yes - yes, of course. I'll turn it on." She hung up and, taking a quick glance around at the wary faces in her home, hurried out of the room.
The russet-haired woman returned, wheeling a television on a stand into the room, dragging a cord behind her. "Ron, help me with this," she said in a low, commanding voice, never raising her eyes as she pushed the television against an empty wall. The redheaded man plugged in the set and Hermione pulled out her wand.
"Extendo imago," she muttered at the television, switching it on with her free hand.
Harry Potter and his companions felt the strange prickle at the back of their necks of electricity and magic working together, and it was not just because of Hermione Granger, whose words had put the picture coming from the television on the wall behind the television.
She stepped back, stunned, until she bumped into Ron. Harry felt an invisible force carry his legs toward the two and put a hand on Hermione's shoulder, not believing what he was clearly seeing. Someone, perhaps Severus or Draco croaked, "Nox," and the lights dimmed.
Transfixed by the never-ending evil within the world, where men are never satiated by even the most potent of power and wickedness, the gathering feels the remaining colour in their lives die with the fall. This new event shatters everything they had fought for, everything they had lost, and everything they had ever won. The group is forced to realize that life is forever a torturous circle in which it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to escape, and the troubled friends cannot fathom why joy never seems to overcome evil, or why the flapping of an owl's wings cannot quell the aching of the most stalwart heart. They do not notice as their hushed celebration slowly passes into the mists of time, to be cherished on some other date when there is time to reflect on such things.
"We just ended our war," said Ron, his voice hoarse with amazement.
"And this is the beginning of a new one," added Hermione, her eyes reflecting the images of two remarkable stone edifices suddenly diminishing into the depths of evil and hate. Her two friends could feel her trembling and her voice was choked. "We can only hope it will not end with as much blood spilt in ours."
"But it already has," Harry mumbled softly, drawing Hermione to his chest and putting an arm around Ron's shoulders. "It already has, and the deaths must be stopped." The shocked stammering of a reporter did not register in his ears as a tear, sad this time, trickled silently down his cheek.
"But how?" someone asked softly. "How can it be stopped?"
"I do not know," admitted the Boy Who Lived, watching the pictures with a sickness he never believed he would ever feel, "but our lines with them, with everyone, must now cross. We can no longer exclude ourselves, for the magic of our lives will be over if we do. This is not a war of one faction against the other anymore; this is a war of the people, of Man, and we must fight not only to save our innocence, but also our freedom and our sanity. Without them, we will become like the ones who did this - hollowed by greed and envy - and humanity will be splintered, if not destroyed."
"To the Light," Draco Malfoy whispered after a long moment of silence. He raised his glass to the frightening images before him and bowed his head.
"To the Light," mumbled the inhabitants of the room. "To the Light."
And so the solemn company looked on with silent tears and quiet eyes as stars fell, and heroes rose, and a new battle against the Darkness began.