Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: What happens when the fighting ends? How do you pick up the loose threads of your life and weave them back together? A post-war scenario, multi-character.
Author's Note: "Restoration" began as a response to word #67 on the 15minuteficlets livejournal community, tacked on a response to words #69 and #70, and continued to grow from there. Somewhere along the line it acquired a theme and something that might be termed a plot, though its structure and time-flow remain fairly haphazard.
To forestall questions: no, I don't know the overall course of the war, nor how Harry killed Voldemort, and I don't particularly care. All that matters is that they did win, though not without a price, and life continues in the aftermath. Also, this is a ONE-SHOT. It is NOT the start of chaptered story. It does, however, have a kinda-sorta sequel, "Paint the Town," which is also up on this site. (Be warned: while "Restoration" is genfic, "Paint the Town" is very definitely not.)
Thanks to my betas: Lasair, Miss Cora, and Quetzle. All remaining canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, implausible characterizations, bad dialogue, boring passages, and Americanisms are my fault, not theirs.
Building on Sand:
The war was over.
Ginny tried to force the idea through her mind. The war was over. Voldemort was dead; Harry had killed him. Dumbledore was dead. Percy, who'd apparently seen the light and become a spy for the Order, was dead. The Death Eaters were dead, running from the Aurors, or locked up pending trial.
Harry was in St. Mungo's, recovering from Bellatrix Lestrange's attack and the backlash of Voldemort's death. Ron and Hermione, completely ignoring their NEWTs and their final weeks of school, were camped out by his bedside.
And Ginny was stuck in Hogwarts revising for sixth year exams, as if nothing had happened.
She felt numb.
Her friends and teachers, understanding that she'd been close to the heart of the final battle and had lost family, were cautious about approaching her -- trying to not to wake bad memories, she supposed -- which was simultaneously comforting and irritating as hell. The only people who acted normally around her were Professor McGonagall, Snape, and Luna Lovegood.
Professor McGonagall was, so far as Ginny was concerned, as close as a person could get to being dead cool without ever approaching cool in the traditional sense. But she was a professor and she'd never been close to Ginny, so that didn't help much.
Snape might have saved all their lives in the end, drugging the Death Eaters to slow their reactions in the last battle, but he was still a toad-licking bastard. While it was reassuring that some things never changed, you can't carry on any sort of friendship with a man who's both your teacher and utterly insufferable.
That left Luna, who was still incomprehensible to everyone, Ginny being no exception to that rule. But Luna was friendly enough in her abstracted way; she never tiptoed around Ginny as if she might shatter if pushed the wrong way, and she would listen and make reassuring "hmms" and "ahs" when Ginny needed to pour everything out to someone.
Ginny asked, once, if Luna wanted her to return the favor.
"No, that's all right," said Luna. "I talk to the portraits, or the owls, or the Giant Squid in the lake. They're good listeners."
"Oh," said Ginny. "I suppose that makes sense." And it did, somewhat. She still talked to Sir Vladislav, the enchanted suit of armor she'd befriended in her first year, and it did help a bit. But Sir Vladislav, kind as he was, hadn't been there for the last months of the war, and there were times Ginny needed to be with someone who'd lived through the chaos with her. She needed to reassure herself that she wasn't alone and it hadn't all been a muddled nightmare.
Luna, apparently, could get on just fine by herself. She didn't need to prove that the world was still there outside her own experiences. Ginny felt, sometimes, that Luna wouldn't so much as blink if someone told her that her whole life had been a dream; she'd just shrug and go on exactly as before, not caring if her reality was objectively real as well.
Ginny couldn't quite wrap her head around the mindset needed for that attitude. And Luna, when Ginny told her this theory, looked blankly at her as if she couldn't understand how someone wouldn't be able to ignore anything she didn't want to acknowledge.
All they really had in common, thought Ginny, was a shared time of madness and war. Beyond that, they couldn't even understand each other, and trying to build a friendship on that shaky a foundation, using each other to put themselves back together, was a lost cause.
Luna agreed absently when Ginny informed her of this conclusion. Then she asked if Ginny thought there might be a way to adapt the link between Harry and Voldemort into a charm to activate the Dark Mark, and thus undermine attempts at the Imperius defense in the upcoming trials. Ginny blinked, said she'd heard of a few potions that might be useful in activating dormant magic, and dragged Luna off to the library.
When they left Hogwarts the next year, they took a flat together.
Neville Longbottom stepped off the Knight Bus and let his trunk drop to the ground. He was home. The war was over, he'd taken his NEWTs, he'd left Hogwarts, and he was home.
The letter had been short -- not much more than, "Your grandmother died. The estate is yours now." -- but knowing the date of her death, he could read between the lines that she'd been cursed in a last-ditch attempt to ensure that the side of light wouldn't enjoy their victory unscathed. Not content with turning his parents into vacant shells, the Death Eaters had stolen his grandmother from him as well.
Neville sighed. He would have liked someone to come with him while he set the house in order and sorted through all his grandmother's things, but as usual, nobody was available. Ron and Hermione were at St. Mungo's with Harry, Ginny was mourning with her family, Luna was off in Norway with her father, and he'd never managed to find other friends close enough that he'd trust them to watch while he fell to pieces going through his grandmother's letters.
"Why me?" he muttered, looking absently over the vast banks of flowers his grandmother had planted -- the ones he'd tended every summer since he started Hogwarts. He liked flowers. They didn't have any expectations of him, good or bad.
It was funny that when he finally felt almost like a competent, useful person -- something he'd wished for all his life -- it did him no good at all. Life just shrugged and tossed more pain at him, watching to see if this was what it took to break him or to reshape him in his father's image.
Neville squared his shoulders. He was a registered Herbology Master. He'd sent Rodolphus Lestrange to prison. There was no way an empty house -- even one weighted with the accumulated dignity of all his ancestors -- would defeat him.
Holding that determination in the front of his mind, Neville hoisted his trunk and set off down the drive.
After the battle, when the bodies had been identified, Mrs. Weasley braved the Underground and the streets of Muggle London to knock on the door of the small flat.
Penelope let her in warily.
"I don't know how to do this," said Mrs. Weasley abruptly. "I was thrilled when Percy proposed; you were good for him. Even after he left, I hoped he might come to his senses and... Well. But now, even now that he's--"
She drew a deep breath and said, carefully, "My son is dead. But I still consider you family, if you want."
Penelope sat heavily on the sofa, her hand flying to her mouth.
"You didn't know." Mrs. Weasley slumped, her short, motherly figure almost a transparent shadow of itself. "I'm sorry -- I thought, since they printed the names in the Daily Prophet -- I shouldn't have assumed."
"It's... it's all right," said Penelope, her voice shaky. "It's better to know."
"It's better to know," repeated Mrs. Weasley, seeming to gather herself. "Yes. Yes, it is.
"When Percy left you, I know he said all manner of awful, hurtful things. He said similar things to me. But he... he... there isn't any good way to say this. Percy was a spy for the Order. He had to leave you to keep up his cover -- he couldn't be seen with a Muggle-born fiancée. And he couldn't tell you, in case you were captured -- he couldn't even tell us, it was that secret.
"But he left letters, in case he…" Mrs. Weasley trailed off, pressing a handkerchief to her eyes. "Well. In any case, he left you a letter. Here." She fished a blue envelope from her purse, dropped it into Penelope's numb fingers, and bent down to give the younger woman a brief, one-armed hug. "Shall I stay while you read it?"
She paused, and Penelope was vaguely conscious of shaking her head.
"Well, I suppose some things are best done privately. I'll leave you for now. But you can call me anytime -- we'll keep a fire burning. We all need a shoulder to lean on -- and Percy would have wanted--" Mrs. Weasley choked back a sob, and gathered herself again. "I still think of you as family, and I want you to call if you have any problems. Good-bye, Penelope."
She let herself out.
Penelope sat on the sofa, staring at the unopened letter. Then she rose, laid it on the end table, and went out for lunch.
She let it lie untouched for two days, looking at the blue envelope with fear, anger, love, jealousy -- all sorts of swirling, confused emotions. On the evening of the second day, after knocking back a shot of the Scotch she'd bought specially for this event, she opened the letter.
"Dear Penelope," it said. "I have no right to speak with you. However, I flatter myself with the hope that you will allow me to explain myself now that I am -- and if you're reading this, I assume that I am -- no longer among the living."
Penelope set down the letter, took another swallow of Scotch, and considered. She knew what he had written, perhaps not word for word, but close enough. She'd long been able to finish Percy's thoughts -- the excited ones about his work, the worried and angry ones about his family and the state of the Ministry, the happy ones about their approaching wedding -- by the time he turned inexplicably cold in one week, and threw her things out of their shared flat in the next. She didn't really need to read the letter.
"Percy, you idiot," she murmured. "You utter idiot. Was it worth it?"
She glanced down at the letter, flipping through the pages to the last paragraphs before his signature.
"I don't ask you to forgive me," he'd written, "as I know I had no right to make decisions for you, nor to steal the life we'd planned together, regardless of how necessary those decisions may have been to the successful conclusion of the war; and I do dare to hope that our sacrifices played some role in that struggle. I ask instead that you not forget me; that you find it within yourself, someday, perhaps many years in the future, to visit my grave; and that you be happy.
"I love you, and doubtless continued to love you until my unfortunate demise; I am certain the knowledge of your well-being comforted me in my last hours. Your survival and happiness will continue to comfort me now that I am, as Headmaster Dumbledore once said, embarked upon the next great adventure.
"Be well, Penny. Yours, Percy."
"Be happy, Percy?" Penelope asked, looking at the engagement picture she'd never quite brought herself to take down from the wall. The beaming, photographic Percy held her own image as though he'd never let go. "Be happy? I was going to do that to spite you, and now you ask me yourself. God, I hate you."
She dropped the letter to the floor and hunched in on herself, hugging her knees to her chest, staring into the void. "I miss you. I hope it was worth it.
"Be happy. Ha."
The More Things Change:
"You realize that, as Headmistress, I can't condone your behavior toward the other Houses."
"I'm aware of that."
"So why are you still acting like a bastard, Severus?" Leaning forward over her desk, Minerva steepled her fingers and raised an eyebrow at her recalcitrant Potions master.
"Perhaps because I am one?" He glared back, refusing to give an inch.
Minerva pressed her lips firmly together and counted to ten. "Setting that obvious truth aside, the war is over. Voldemort is gone. You don't have to play Death Eater anymore. Stop penalizing the other Houses, or I'll be forced to take action."
Snape shrugged. "As you wish. While you're taking action, please inform the other professors that the war is over, Voldemort is dead, and they don't have to treat my Slytherins as miniature Death Eaters. Particularly not the ones who renounced him."
He spun on his heel and stalked out the door, robes swooping behind him like the dark wings of a bad-tempered guardian angel.
Minerva watched his retreat and sighed, massaging her forehead with her fingertips. "Albus, I have the highest respect for you, but there are some days I'd wish you alive again so I could strangle you myself. How am I supposed to solve this?"
Albus Dumbledore's portrait made no answer, but the twinkle in his painted eyes did nothing to settle Minerva's nerves.
Ron and Hermione took a flat just off Diagon Alley. Officially this was because they were inseparable friends -- which was, of course, true. Unofficially, they had whisked Harry from his bed at St. Mungo's to recuperate among friends, and the flat was more of a fortress than a welcoming home, all things considered. Nobody save Remus Lupin was left in a position to protest this arrangement, and he, convinced Grimmauld Place was barely fit for human habitation in general, was content to leave Harry in Hermione and Ron's capable hands.
The next year, Ginny and Luna took the flat upstairs, whereupon the girls proceeded to knock a hole in their floor, run a ladder downstairs, and magically obscure the alterations from their Muggle landlord's eyes.
"You'd always be going up and down anyway," said Ginny when Ron protested the noise and mess. "We might as well make it convenient. And for goodness' sake, Ron, we're witches -- it'll all be cleaned up by dark."
The ladder did prove convenient. And private. But that last, as always, was left unspoken.
It wasn't as if they had no other friends and no lives outside of the flat where Harry recuperated away from the cheering, pressing mobs eager to see their hero. Ginny in particular had friends all through the wizarding world, in addition to her professional herbology and potions contacts. She also -- to Ron's dismay -- took to dancing at Muggle nightclubs and coming home at scandalous hours.
Hermione was wildly enthusiastic about her job with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and might have lived in her office if it weren't for her friends -- though she did, when pressed, admit to having lunch or tea with various intelligent conversationalists from time to time.
Ron, who by the end of the war had an ingrained distrust of the Ministry, refused his father's job offer and instead -- to Ginny's disbelief -- joined the twins at their joke shop. He was hoping, he said, to get a branch established in Hogsmeade, so he could escape the Diagon Alley shop and his unofficial job as guinea pig. He had also taken up a quest to attend every Quidditch match he possibly could without resorting to a Time Turner, since Hermione refused to smuggle one out of the Ministry.
As for Luna, beyond editing the Quibbler for her father, nobody ever knew quite what she was up to. But she never published any of their secrets or revealed Harry's location, so the others didn't inquire too closely.
Their lives might have pulled them apart, sent them down separate paths as the months passed, but they continued to gravitate back to their linked flats, drawn by Harry's bone-deep calm and his obvious content in a life of peaceful obscurity. He didn't talk much anymore, though Neville assured them that he looked fine when he Floo'ed over to help sort through Mrs. Longbottom's effects, and Professor McGonagall mentioned that he seemed to enjoy brief arguments with Snape during his occasional visits to Hogwarts.
"He seems happy, I think," said Hermione the autumn after Ginny and Luna had moved in, "and of course I want him to be happy, but is it quite healthy for him still to keep so much to himself after all this time? Shouldn't he be bored by now?"
Ron shrugged from where he sprawled on the sofa. "Nah. He isn't shutting us out -- just doesn't have much to say -- and he gets out enough."
"What I think," said Ginny, "is that he's resting. Think about it -- finally he hasn't got anyone telling him he's worthless or that he needs to save everyone from an evil lunatic. And if he stays quiet and private, he doesn't have people fawning over him either. Let him be, Hermione. The last thing he needs is for us to start pushing at him."
"We should buy him flowers," said Luna suddenly in her abstracted yet definite manner. "Or go hunting for a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. He might like that, and I'd like photographs for the Quibbler's next bestiary edition."
"Maybe next year, Luna," said Ron as he drew her a little closer to his side. Hermione rolled her eyes at the display. "For now, let's just enjoy having Harry around without those screaming idiots sending Howlers and love letters -- though I bet he wouldn't mind if I answered the girls instead of him."
"Wanker," muttered Ginny as she leaned over from her perch on the sofa's arm and smacked her brother's shoulder. "But honestly, Hermione, don't worry."
"Oh, fine," said Hermione. "Let Harry go on 'resting' or whatever he thinks he's doing. But I'm still keeping an eye on him."
"Aren't we all," said Ron, eyeing the private ladder, the owl-proof windows, and the Fidelius-charmed rooms. "Aren't we all."
So they waited for the day Harry would be ready to step back into the world, the day they could finally relax, take down the walls of their improvised fortress, and watch him return to the sun.
During the last months of the war, Draco began to notice things. The Dark Lord was a bit mad. His father was a bit of a fanatic. They both considered him useless, overly excitable, and expendable. And they expected him to torture and kill people.
He began to notice that Muggles were, in fact, people. And while he hated them in the abstract, it was hard to maintain that hatred when confronted with a young couple whose only crime had been to wonder if the Riddle House really was haunted. It was even harder to watch while the Dark Lord stripped half the skin off their living bodies, and then placed them under Imperius and had them skin each other, blood slicking their mutilated fingers and desperate horror lurking in the backs of their glazed eyes.
Draco was more relieved than ashamed when his father told him the Dark Lord considered him too impulsive to learn the finer points of torture before their final victory. His emotions were equally mixed when he realized he couldn't muster the hatred and killing anger needed to cast Avada Kedavra, and had to rely on non-lethal hexes in battle.
He'd chosen his side, but more and more he thought he'd picked the wrong one.
He was almost ready to snap when Professor Snape hinted, circumspectly, that there might be a way to escape this disaster in which he'd snared himself. Draco gathered Vince and Greg and dropped his own hints about getting out -- less subtle than Professor Snape's, but then, he knew his friends. He could see Vince's twitchy fingers and the shadows behind Greg's blank expression, and he knew that while they liked rough games, they didn't like how far the Dark Lord wanted them to go.
He couldn't risk telling Blaise, Theo, Millicent, or Pansy's hangers-on; he wasn't close enough to them to know which way they'd jump. As for Pansy herself, Draco had a sinking certainty that she'd never abandon the Dark Lord, not even for him; the last few times they'd talked, she'd had a disturbing light in her eyes, the same light he'd seen in his father's face. Millicent, though, apparently had her own doubts, because she scared Greg white by appearing behind him at the rendezvous point Professor Snape had assigned.
Like the others Professor Snape had smuggled out of the Dark Lord's fortress, they gave their information to the Order of the Phoenix. Then they sat out the final weeks of the war, hidden under Fidelius in Sirius Black's house -- which now belonged to that werewolf Lupin, of all people, when it should have gone to Draco, or at least to his Muggle-loving Aunt Andromeda. Draco found it hard, though, to muster the snide outrage he remembered using against Lupin back at Hogwarts. He was tired, and he'd finally realized what his father had meant when he said Draco was too impulsive and callow to see things as they really were.
Granted, he thought his father didn't see very well either, but Lucius was right that Draco had never much bothered to look at anything. He'd trusted others' opinions, or believed his own wishes and jealousies, instead of opening his eyes and seeing what was in front of him.
There were days Draco wanted to steal a Time-Turner, go back, and kick himself in the arse.
And then the war was over. The Dark Lord killed Dumbledore, Potter killed the Dark Lord, Weasley and Granger killed Draco's father and his Aunt Bellatrix, someone arrested his mother, Pansy killed herself rather than surrender, they all returned to Hogwarts, and there was, as he'd once heard Potter say, great rejoicing.
Draco drifted through the end of classes, sleepwalked through his NEWTs, and stayed on at Hogwarts as Professor Snape's unofficial assistant. It was the most charity he could bring himself to accept, and he had, after all, nowhere else to go. So he drifted.
His life had been stolen from him -- yet he couldn't quite make himself blame Potter and his friends. He still thought Muggle-born wizards would never fit well into magical society, and he still thought Muggles were a danger, more so now that he'd seen the Order of the Phoenix use their weapons. But Muggles were as human as he was and he couldn't quite bring himself to hate them anymore, not now that he'd seen what that hatred led to.
Yet he couldn't hate his parents either. What sort of son would he be if he hated his parents? They were blind, true; they were, by most definitions, evil; and they were probably a bit mad; but they were his parents.
His parents who were dead or in prison, waiting trial with the other Death Eaters. His parents, who'd ensured that he took the Mark himself. His parents, who'd left him a legacy of distrust and hatred from the side that won the war.
Oddly, it was Lovegood who finally snapped Draco out of his funk. He'd been flicking stones aimlessly into the lake, seeing how far he could move them before his levitation spells wore off, when she spoke behind him.
"The squid doesn't like that."
Draco spun, furious that Potter's creepy pet Ravenclaw had sneaked up on him. "Why should I care what the sodding squid likes?"
Lovegood shrugged. "Why should you care what anyone likes? That's what the Death Eaters thought. But you left them."
Draco snarled. "So what. Nobody believes me when I say I never killed anyone. Nobody believes that I left because I didn't want to be there -- they see the Mark and think I'm evil and I ran like a coward. I'm not evil!"
"Okay," said Lovegood.
"Okay. I believe you." Lovegood bestowed an absentminded smile on him, and continued her walk around the lake.
Draco stared after her. She believed him. Lovegood, with her vacant smiles and her conviction that every bit of bollocks the Quibbler printed was true, believed him.
He found himself laughing, a sound rusty from lack of practice -- laughing until he almost choked and his hand against his side was the only thing warding off excruciating pain. The whole world was against him, convinced in their righteous anger that he was just waiting for an opportunity to set himself up as the Dark Lord's successor, but Lovegood -- Loony Luna Lovegood -- believed him.
It was a start.
Dulce Et Decorum Est:
"We are gathered to remember those who have fallen, those who paid the price for our peace and our freedom. Let their sacrifice live forever in our memories, as the ideals for which they fought live in our hearts.
Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts, descended from the platform to polite applause. She sighed, softly, and took her seat, waiting for the next speaker. "Tell the truth, Severus -- how many fell asleep?"
"Only six that I could see," replied Snape. "Most listened. A handful might even have understood."
Minerva sighed again, massaging her temples. "I should never have become a teacher. I have far too little faith in people's ability to learn from mistakes."
Snape shrugged, a twitch of shoulder under his black robe. "You're in good company."
"I need a stiff drink tonight, to help renew my pigheaded conviction that we can force them to learn," decided Minerva. She smiled at Snape's raised eyebrow. "Yes, I'm human, Severus. As Deputy Headmaster, you should be aware of my failings."
"I see. In that case, I think I'll join you in that drink."
They quieted as a young woman -- a former Ravenclaw, if Minerva recalled correctly -- stepped up to the podium. "Sonorus. My name is Penelope Clearwater. I didn't fight in the war. Like many of you, for a long time I didn't want to believe the war was coming. Neither did Percy Weasley, my fiancé. But after the attack on the Department of Mysteries he saw the truth and admitted his failings, admitted that in his denial he'd helped He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named gather power. Percy joined the Order of the Phoenix and fought as a spy within the Death Eaters. And he gave his life for our cause."
Miss Clearwater paused for a shaky breath. "I'm not a brave woman. I couldn't have done what Percy did, neither admitting guilt nor walking into the lion's den. Some days -- a lot of days -- I wish that he hadn't been so brave, that he hadn't been able to do it either. But he did. And he gave his life. And we won.
"All Percy wanted was to be happy. All he wanted was for the world to be at peace and in order, and for people to be happy. In his honor, let us enjoy the peace he helped win. But let us remember those who were brave so we didn't have to be. Let us remember those who fought so we could stay safe. And let us remember those who... who died to give us a chance at happiness."
She clutched the podium, and raised her voice slightly. "Let them live in our memories with honor, where they will never die. Quietus."
Miss Clearwater left the platform to polite applause, seasoned by fierce clapping from the knot of Weasleys toward whom she headed.
Minerva leaned toward Snape. "Percy Weasley was a spy?"
He nodded. "Yes. He fed misinformation to Fudge -- misinformation from both sides -- and told us what Voldemort wanted Fudge to know. We disrupted several attacks that way."
"Oh," said Minerva, and then, more tentatively, "How did he die?"
"He grew careless in the last week, overconfident. Voldemort called him into the back rooms for an interrogation." Snape paused. "He died several hours later."
"Oh," said Minerva again. "...I think, tonight, I'll finish the bottle. Some things are best faced without the burden of sobriety."
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "That sounds better and better. The more of this I sit through, the more I remember why I've tried to forget."
Minerva summoned a small laugh. "Think of it this way: at least you don't have to speak. And they didn't convince Harry to come."
Snape shot her a half-hearted glare. "I almost think Potter would be an improvement, self-absorbed brat though he is. At least he wouldn't get maudlin -- no, he'd tell everyone they damn well deserved what they got for not doing anything sooner, for dumping all their hopes on him and then refusing to believe his warnings."
"Perhaps we did deserve it -- or deserve his contempt, at least. There are days, Severus, when I seriously believe Albus's behavior toward Harry was criminal."
"Only some days? Minerva, Albus played the last three decades as a chess game, no matter how much he tried to convince himself he wanted only the best for all his pawns." Snape summoned a small, bitter laugh of his own. "Then he died, left a Gordian knot of hatred and fear for us to untangle, and told everyone that their problems were over. 'Be happy,' he said. Lunatic."
"As I believe you once told Harry, stop being a self-pitying idiot," said Minerva. "You wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you weren't beating your head against immovable walls. Now hush -- they're introducing Neville Longbottom."
"Founders preserve us," muttered Snape, but he subsided into a sardonic silence and the first annual War Memorial service continued.
He had no memory of the battle.
"It was awful, you killed Voldemort, and it's over," Hermione told him when he asked what had happened, and she refused to say anything more.
Ron, usually so quick to spin tales of their adventures, clammed up almost as tightly. "We Apparated in, got off a round of curses before they noticed, and it went to pieces. Bellatrix Lestrange nearly got you -- grazed your sleeve with Avada Kedavra -- thought you were dead -- Hermione and I went after her and Malfoy's dad. You got to Voldemort, he killed Dumbledore, you killed him. Next thing I knew I was waking up here."
Harry stewed for weeks in his hospital bed, wondering what he had done that was so dreadful they wouldn't tell him about it. He'd killed Voldemort. Fine. Great. How had he done it? How had he killed someone who was mostly immortal? How gruesome had it been? How much blood was on his hands?
Finally he managed to stare Neville into admitting that they'd seen him cast a curse at Voldemort -- nobody had heard exactly what, over the noise of battle -- and there'd been a tremendous flash of light followed by a tortured scream and an explosion. Somebody had activated the emergency Portkeys the Order members had been wearing, and they'd all appeared in St. Mungo's. Harry had collapsed with his hand pressed against Voldemort's dead body, over the spot where his heart should have been. And there was a body, this time. This time he wasn't coming back.
Harry poured through his old notes on potential ways to kill Voldemort, but couldn't find anything that would produce that sort of reaction or require physical contact. It must have been dark magic, dark enough that he hadn't dared to write it down. But neither Ron nor Hermione flinched away from him, and he didn't feel corrupted, so he eventually concluded the spell couldn't have been too horrific -- or had at least been justified enough by Voldemort's own evil that it didn't destroy Harry for using it.
At that point, it occurred to him that he had no more purpose in life. He'd fulfilled the prophecy, Voldemort was dead, the Death Eaters were in prison, and he was free. It was rather terrifying -- what was he supposed to do now?
Rest and recover, according to his friends. Figure out who he was, according to Remus. Stop being such a self-pitying imbecile, according to Snape. Be happy.
Fine. He could at least manage two of those, and he was fairly certain he'd figure out who he was eventually. Maybe that would bring happiness with it.
So Harry rested, first in hospital and then in the flat Ron and Hermione procured for the three of them. It was oddly peaceful, not having death and violence to worry about. He didn't even miss their more innocent adventures for several months, and by that point he was well enough to Floo out to Neville's place -- now warded under Fidelius, which kept reporters out of Harry's way -- and help poke around the Longbottom family heirlooms, some of which responded as badly to normal magic as normal magic responded to Neville.
Harry said as much once, adding that he wouldn't have wanted to see what Potions accidents previous Longbottoms had caused. Neville stared blankly at him for several seconds, and then, to Harry's bewilderment, almost passed out from laughter.
He visited Hogwarts as well, helping Professor McGonagall rebuild the wards, attempting to eat Hagrid's cooking, and stopping by the dungeons to annoy Snape. The Potions master was as bitter, unpleasant, and sharp-spoken as ever, and his glare was still poisonous, but Harry had watched him throw himself in front of curses meant for other people, and had -- during some of his efforts to keep Voldemort out of his mind -- seen the various tortures Snape had suffered to regain the Dark Lord's favor after the Third Task. It no longer surprised him that Snape thought most people were incompetent, pampered sheep.
Having decided that continued hatred was pointless unless it gained him something, Harry found it amusing to exchange insults with the man. If, along the way, he picked up some tips on magic or memories of his parents, that was all to the better. Snape almost relaxed into their new, more equal antagonism, as if he'd been waiting for a target willing and able to stand up to his venom; it was reassuring to know he would never mellow.
But by the end of his second year of 'figuring himself out,' as Remus put it, Harry began to notice his friends' muted worry, their quiet wondering about when he'd finish putting himself back together and pick up a more normal life. He realized that while he'd stopped pitying himself, while he'd rested and recovered, he still didn't have a particularly good idea who he was. And while he was content, he wasn't happy, not the way Dumbledore had meant.
He took to following his friends around to their jobs and outings, hoping he'd discover something that called to him. He already knew better than to try joining Ginny's research into the areas where herbology and potion-making intertwined, but he'd hoped some of her friends might be helpful. Unfortunately, they were either involved in equally esoteric work or too intimidated by his scar to talk to him. Ginny also took him clubbing, which, while interesting, wasn't exactly what he was looking for.
Hermione showed him around the Ministry, where she worked to get civil rights for werewolves and house elves, and to improve interspecies relations between wizards, goblins, centaurs, and merpeople. Harry found it interesting in theory but deadly boring in practice, particularly since he thought some of Hermione's plans were as half-baked as SPEW had been.
Ron took a broader approach and dumped him off on various family members: Mr. Weasley and his new assistant Penelope Clearwater, cataloging Muggle Artifacts; Mrs. Weasley, running a foster home for war orphans; Bill and Fleur Delacour, picking their way through Death Eaters' bank vaults; Charlie, working to convert Azkaban Island into a nesting ground for Hebridean Blacks; Fred and George, whooping over strange accidents in the back room of their joke shop; and Ron himself, now managing the shop's outlet in Hogsmeade. While it was pleasant to catch up with the family, nothing clicked.
In desperation, Harry turned to Luna. "Can I visit the Quibbler," he asked one morning, "or is it all top secret?"
Luna smiled. "We don't keep secrets; we reveal them. I'm leaving in half an hour." Harry decided to take that as an invitation and followed her through the Floo connection.
The Quibbler, surprisingly, was staffed by fairly normal people instead of a horde of Luna clones. Harry clamped his jaw shut to keep from gaping, but Luna caught his reaction anyway.
"We do print regular news as well as interesting articles," she said dryly. "There's no reason to lose business just because most people have minds locked tighter than Gringotts vaults."
"Oh," said Harry, knowing she considered him one of those unfortunate people.
"Closed minds... oh, that reminds me," said Luna, her pale gaze turning inward and abstracted again. "I have someone I think you should meet." She led the way through the messy desks, the stacks of paper, and the busily shouting, writing, and fire-talking people.
"In here," she said, waving at a closed door on the back wall. "I'll be in my office, two doors to the right."
Harry eyed the door suspiciously -- you never knew, with Luna, what might be lurking behind it. He knocked cautiously.
"Come in," called a vaguely familiar voice. Harry stepped in, shut the door, and turned to face the room's occupant.
"Potter?" Draco Malfoy, pale and thin as ever, seemed as flummoxed as Harry. Then he leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Lovegood brought you, didn't she. Thought it would do us good to reconcile or some nonsense like that. Right. We've met, we haven't killed each other. That's good enough for me. Now go away."
Harry stood firm. "Not until you explain what you're doing here."
Malfoy sneered. "I work here, you idiot." Harry bristled, but he noticed that the sneer seemed tired, as if Malfoy's heart wasn't in it.
"Okay," he heard himself saying. "What do you do?" Malfoy eyed him strangely, as if he couldn't believe Harry wasn't starting a fight. Harry found it hard to believe himself.
"I do travel guides," Malfoy said eventually. "I take a trip somewhere, see the sights, take photos, and write it up so people feel they've been places without actually paying to go there."
"Sounds interesting," said Harry, and it really did. He'd always wanted to travel, but the Dursleys refused to take him along on holidays, and then, with a war on, he couldn't exactly take time off to play tourist. Outside of battles, he'd never been anywhere besides Surrey, London, and Hogwarts -- the mad cross-country trip before his eleventh birthday didn't really count. "Where have you gone?"
Malfoy waved a hand at the framed photographs on his office walls. "Around. France. Greece. South Africa. Japan. Tibet. Russia -- lots of Russia. Peru. I'm off to Haiti next week."
"What's it like?"
"Relaxing, actually," said Malfoy. "I'm good with languages, and nobody outside of England knows who I am." He scowled. "You have no idea what that's like -- people spitting on you in the street because of your parents, and because you used to be a snot-nosed idiot with your head stuffed up your arse."
Harry laughed. "You'd be surprised," he said, "or maybe not. Don't you remember fifth year, when everyone thought I was lying or insane?" Malfoy looked vaguely embarrassed. "It's not much better when everyone comes up to tell you what a hero you are, or wants an autograph."
"I suppose," said Malfoy. Then he frowned. "As interesting as this is -- both the conversation and the fact that I don't want to smash your face into the floor after more than five seconds of your company -- I do have work to finish. Go away."
"Fine." Then a thought struck Harry. "Maybe we should try this again some time."
"And give Lovegood the satisfaction?" asked Malfoy, eyebrows arched skeptically. He sighed. "We might as well, or she'll keep bringing you here until we strangle her. Come back at noon and we'll do lunch."
Harry left the building feeling oddly light inside. He still had no idea what he wanted to do. He still hadn't figured out 'who he was.' But seeing Malfoy, seeing how one person could change and find a new purpose to his life -- that gave him hope for his own efforts.
Maybe this was what it felt like to be happy.