Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Bard of Morning's Hope. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Kain for the prompt.
"Mr. Potter! A minute of your time!"
Harry rolled his eyes enormously as he turned around. He hadn't been at the initial announcement of the Bard's discovery and capture, but it seemed that some of the reporters had decided he was fair game anyway. And Kingsley had never said that he would keep Harry's name out of the articles.
"What?" he asked the man who had bustled up behind him. He was wearing a pair of blue robes so shiny and reflective that Harry caught a glimpse of his own disgusted scowl in them, and clutching a wand made of almost equally reflective shiny brown wood. He paused when he came close to Harry and stared at him.
"I mean," said the man, waving the wand and conjuring a camera and a piece of parchment along with the ink that he needed to use, "I want to know how you determined the identity of the Bard and captured him."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Minister Shacklebolt gave you all the detail that you needed in his conferences yesterday," he said, and added, when the man started to open his mouth, "I know he did, because I heard the congratulations all over the place."
The man remained still for a second, examining Harry as if he couldn't believe that he was serious, and then muttered, "But he didn't give much detail. I thought you would be the one who could give me the real story…"
"You have as much of the real story as you need." Harry gave the man a smile that might look nasty. He didn't particularly care if it did. "It means that you can go home and ponder on the fate of someone who was affected by the spirits of the dead and driven mad. It means that maybe you can think more about stopping wars than causing them."
"Causing them? I never—"
"You cause unpleasantness by insisting on blaming me or praising me for a normal Auror job," Harry cut in. "And the stories I saw yesterday weren't about Colin and the way he suffered, as they should have been. They were about me and whether I was a hero and even had the right to suspect people who fought at the Battle of Hogwarts."
"You must admit, it was very unusual for a hero to suspect another hero…"
The man's voice trailed away under the weight of Harry's stare. Harry snorted and turned around. "I have an important appointment to keep," he said over his shoulder. "But don't let me get in the way of fabricating stories. I know you will anyway. I just don't have to help you."
He had barely got out of the Atrium when he heard footsteps behind him. Harry turned around, touching his wand, ready to lash out if he had to, but it was Ron, shaking his head and walking faster until he fell into line behind Harry.
"I think you scared him enough, Harry. I'm surprised he didn't have to cast a Freshening Charm on his pants."
Harry smiled faintly and shrugged a little as he turned towards the interrogation rooms. "You know how much I detest them."
"What brings you to the Ministry so early?" Ron had a voice that he seemed to think was sly. Harry and Hermione could both have told him otherwise, but they left it alone because that way, they knew when he was trying to get something past them. "I thought you'd be making sure Malfoy and Mum got home safe."
"Wow," said Harry solemnly. "I knew you were bad at innuendo, but I had no idea how bad."
Ron laughed. "Well, what have you given me to work with? A few relationships that the papers did more about than you did, and then you were dating my sister." Ron shuddered eloquently. "Anyway. I'm going to enjoy making fun of you as much as you made fun of me when I was staring off into the distance during that one meeting because I was thinking about Hermione's eyes."
Harry grinned. He had to admit that that time, he'd made a lucky guess that Ron was thinking about Hermione; he hadn't been sure. "What if I were to tell you that Draco does this thing with his lips where—"
"No details, mate!"
Harry laughed. "Anyway, I have to give details about that smuggling case they're arresting Dennis for, and enough details about the Bard for them to decide if he was really obstructing justice or not. He did choose Veritaserum willingly."
Ron winced. "Kingsley is holding Dennis for the smuggling, then?"
Harry rolled a shoulder. "Amazing what politics he's willing to ignore when I've just handed him the political coup of capturing the most notorious murderer since Voldemort."
Ron flinched at the name, but it was absent. "I wish it didn't have to be you, mate."
Harry smiled wearily. "I know, but what matters is that the Bard is gone and Dennis is in custody for the crimes that he did commit."
"And you have a Malfoy-friend."
Harry flipped Ron off and continued on his way to the interrogation rooms. Ron didn't accompany him because he was leaning against the wall, wheezing with laughter at his own joke.
And I have a Weasley-friend, and a Granger-friend, Harry thought, letting his smile fade only when he had his hand on the knob of the door. If I don't have any Creevey-friends anymore, well, that's the price I chose to pay.
"You're sure you want to do this?"
Harry leaned over and gave Draco a quick kiss on the lips. "I'm sure that I want to do it with you, if that makes sense?"
Draco grimaced and closed his eyes for a second. Then he nodded, and stepped back as Harry reached out and placed his hands gently in air on either side of him, as though he was pressing down masses of cloud.
Harry had said that he had to speak to Creevey. Why was more than Draco could understand, but he respected Harry for wanting to do it anyway. And he was happier when Harry had told him that he didn't think they had to go back to Hogwarts. Harry had been practicing steadily at his Master of Death powers ever since the night in the graveyard.
He thought he could call Creevey to him.
They were outside Number Twelve Grimmauld Place at the moment, but within the flickering, silvery-fire-powered wards that would specially defend Slytherins. Draco had thought it was best, although Harry had offered to go to the Manor if it would make Draco more comfortable about this.
But those wards hadn't been proof against the Bard. And Draco didn't want the ghost that had killed his father near his house ever again.
Harry gave a loud grunt and pushed down with his hands even harder, as though the clouds he had called were resisting him. Draco felt a cold touch on his forehead and cheek, less like a wind than a hand. He shivered, and then the cold swirled up in front of him and formed into the image of Creevey's face.
Draco stared. He had thought that Creevey was either trapped forever by the Bloody Baron or else mingled with so many other ghosts that there was no way Harry could isolate him. But no, there he was, drifting back and forth.
Draco swallowed. He had been willing to let Harry try this because he had thought he wouldn't succeed, honestly. It was beyond frightening that he had. Draco glanced at Harry.
Harry was almost grey with exhaustion, but he stood on his feet and gazed calmly at Creevey, only shaking his head a little when Draco mouthed something at him about running. Draco couldn't remember the words a minute after he said them, anyway. Harry inclined his head and murmured, "How are you, Colin?"
Creevey blinked and drifted, lifted one hand and scrubbed the air as if polishing a window, and finally focused on Draco. A surge of hatred seemed to grip him when he did, and he made a motion as if he would dive forwards.
Harry lifted a hand and twisted it, and Creevey stopped. Draco stood there, panting shallowly. He could see the sweat traveling down Harry's face, onto his neck and the collar of his robes, gleaming in the light of the wards. He wondered if the distance he would have to sprint to the back door would be short enough to let him outrun an enraged ghost.
If Harry loses control. Harry hadn't lost control yet.
"Colin?" Harry whispered. "Draco didn't kill you in the battle. Did he hurt you somehow? Why do you want to attack him?"
Creevey was silent for a long second, twisting in the air as though he was on a hook. Then he jerked himself as if coming to a stop and said, "If I kill him, then I can go and tell my brother I did a good job."
Harry closed his eyes as if in pain. Well, the Creeveys had been his friends, Draco reminded himself. A hard thing to remember when they had wanted to kill him so badly, but it would be different for Harry, even now.
"Dennis isn't going to be talking to you anymore," Harry said quietly. "Did you talk to him?"
"Not so he could hear." Creevey was focusing more on Harry now, and Draco was just as glad. It meant he wasn't glaring at Draco, for a start. "But I was there, part of him. Near him." Harry just nodded as though that made sense. "I could hear what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He wanted the Malfoys gone because they were such opponents of Muggleborns. And I knew that would make my brother feel good."
Harry closed his eyes again. Draco could only watch him and wonder what he was thinking. Mostly, Draco was thinking that he didn't know how Harry could continue talking to someone who had as good as admitted that he wanted Draco dead.
Harry could feel a dull throbbing beneath his breastbone. So that was it. It wasn't one of the ghosts going mad that made them attack Narcissa, or even Colin losing control. It was that Dennis spent so much time thinking about Colin and what he wanted that his desires influenced him.
Harry gently pushed away the thought. Dennis couldn't be arrested for something that technically wasn't a crime, and he already was under arrest in a way that ought to prevent him from interacting with Colin again. Harry's task now was to ensure that Colin could have some measure of peace instead of living over his horrible memories, or his brother's horrible memories, or the memories of the ghosts trapped with him.
Harry looked up and held out a hand. Colin drifted towards him, looking unsure. Scared.
I don't know everything about being the Master of Death, but surely some of it ought to be about bringing peace to tortured souls. Harry breathed out hard and said, "Most of you is trapped by the Bloody Baron—your soul and the ghosts that joined you. But I want you to remember something in case you get loose again."
Colin only stared at him with big eyes. Then he blurted, "Get loose again? What?"
His memories might already be fading. Harry hoped so. Whether it was the Bloody Baron's confinement that made them go or Colin's own transition into the endlessness Esther had described, either would be better than what he was feeling right now.
"You're your own person," Harry told him quietly. "You're your own force of will. The thoughts of your brother and the ghosts mingled with you are incredibly powerful. I know. But you can fight free of them." He reached out and swished his hands down once, thinking about the haunted house he had visited the other day. There had been a ghost trapped there, one Harry had managed to free and send on his way. "I'm going to try and give you your will back."
There was a particular direction he had to work, a key he had to twist in a lock. He had managed it with that other ghost. Harry wasn't sure he would manage it with Colin. But he wanted to try.
It ought to be easier with Colin, since I knew him, Harry thought, and looked up, and held Colin's eyes. He concentrated on the fun-loving boy he remembered, whose passion was photography, and who had wanted to fight Death Eaters even if he wasn't sure what it meant, and had hero-worshipped Harry and loved his little brother—
There was a deep sensation through the center of Harry's chest, as though he had really wrapped his hands around a key and turned it. Then Colin floated back from him, one hand fluttering up to rest on his chest. He looked shocked.
Harry could already feel a difference in the air around him, less cold. He looked at Colin and whispered, "I couldn't summon all of you. Part of you is in captivity with the Bloody Baron and always will be. But that part of you is the one attached to the mad ghosts, and the past since you died. If you can remember your life…"
"I can be free," said Colin, and he lifted his misty hands to his face.
Harry looked politely away. He thought he had no idea what Colin was feeling right now, what he could be feeling.
"I don't want to be here," Colin said suddenly. "I don't want to see Malfoy again."
"Then you don't need to," said Harry, and held out his hand. The air in front of him grew, at least to his sight, bright and white, the color of the version of King's Cross where he had met Dumbledore. "Like I said, it will only be part of you that goes free, but it's the better part."
Colin gave him a single intense glance, and turned to face the light. He didn't move, but he and the light merged, growing bright enough that Harry's eyes hurt, and he had to look down.
Then he was gone.
That part of him, Harry thought, and swallowed, lifting his hands to allow the magic he had gathered to depart. He was tired now, shaking. He knew what he had spoken was true, including all the insights he'd had about how Dennis had influenced Colin and how part of Colin was trapped with the Bloody Baron while the rest was now free. He just didn't know where that knowledge had come from, or what had spoken it through him.
And he could turn away from the magnificence and the fear, both, and bury his head in a warm, living shoulder, and feel himself encircled by the arms of someone concerned about him. Harry sighed and dug further into Draco. Draco's heart was beating, slowly, but beating. He was alive.
As was Harry himself, in the end. He had to master his powers, but he was still living, and he wasn't going to join the Bloody Baron in admiring ghosts more than humans.
Draco didn't ask questions. Maybe he didn't care that much about the answers, but he also seemed to realize how much Harry needed simple contact right now. He rocked him back and forth, even after Harry knew he could have broken away and stood on his own.
He could have. He just didn't want to.
When Draco's tight grip grew anxious, though, Harry leaned back and looked up at him. Draco's eyes widened, and his mouth curved in a tentative smile. Harry nodded to him.
He didn't have to pretend with Draco. He didn't have to hide. He had saved Draco's life, and Draco—had changed. He had presented himself as bait for the Bard with complete trust in Harry, trust that had been slightly misplaced. He had made mistakes, but he had also fought back, and survived, and even done the impossible: got along with Harry's friends.
There might be things about being the Master of Death that Harry could never share with Draco, but he didn't think he could really share them with anyone living; that was the thing. What mattered was that he was glad he had Draco there as part of the living people he knew, and who drew him back to his own world.
"He's gone," Harry finally said. "Part of him. And I think I'm ready to go inside." He leaned forwards and kissed Draco.
Draco sighed into the kiss, and his heartbeat increased. Harry smiled and held him there, kissing, until Draco finally broke away with a panting gasp and raced straight towards the back door of Grimmauld Place without looking back.
But also not too fast, Harry knew.
Harry closed his eyes, and saw the white light of King's Cross Station one last time. He could imagine Colin getting on a train, if he wanted.
And he could also imagine what was going to happen once he got inside.
He raced after Draco.