Disclaimer: HP isn't mine.
Just a little idea I had one day a few weeks ago. This was actually supposed to be part of my By Fives fic – in fact, it sparked off the idea of By Fives – but I figured out pretty quickly that it doesn't really match the mood of the rest. And so, voila! Instant oneshot.
The sun dawned bright and early, and the dew that clung to the vibrant April grass shimmered like bits of blown glass. A cool, sprightly breeze ruffled through trees and flowers, setting petals to fluttering and carrying a fine misty fog over the countryside. Squirrels chattered excitedly at each other from their perches in high branches and birds twittered their shrill morning greetings for the entire world to hear, entirely unconsiderate of late sleepers.
Harry Potter sprawled under a tree near his cottage and smiled beatifically up at the sky, a pale blue canvas stained watercolor shades of red and orange. Clouds formed and drifted slowly overhead, edged in gold and shaded a light smokey gray.
He didn't so much as stir when a subdued popping noise sounded from a few feet away, heralding the arrival of one of those special few people he'd keyed into his wards.
Life was good in that moment, and nothing – not even Hermione's disapproving frown as she stared down at him – was going to ruin his mood. He'd quit, and it was the best feeling in the world.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Harry James Potter?" she demanded in that stern, slightly shrill tone she'd picked up the moment she'd found herself the prepubescent substitute mother to two troublemaking Gryffindor boys all those years ago. Harry's smile grew slightly nostalgic.
"Nothing much. Looking at the clouds. That one's Fluffy. I mean, it's fluffy, yeah, but it also looks like Fluffy the Three-Headed Murderous Dog Monster. Oh, and there's Snape's nose, floating over in the east. Not perfect, I admit, but it's a pretty good likeness, if you ignore the fact that it looks like there's bogeys coming out of it."
Hermione stared at him, obviously appalled. "You're cloud-watching? Harry, the Ministry is in very real trouble! Minister Brackwell's set nearly the entire Department of Magical Law Enforcement on Lady Mortua and they're failing miserably. They need you!"
"Mortua. Voldemort. I sense a theme. Really, I'm beginning to think Dark Lords as a whole are just unimaginative sods that never grew out of their angst-drenched teenage years. They probably go off and write about blackened roses and the howling abysses of their souls when they aren't torturing minions or taking over the world."
"This is serious, Harry!" Hermione insisted, though her lips twitched quite against her will.
"Yes, it is," Harry agreed blandly, loving the feel of the early morning sun on his face. "Clearly, someone must tell evil wizards and witches to come up with better monikers. I mean, really, Lord Voldemort? Lady Mortua? Lucy Luscious?"
"Malfoys are an odd bunch, and Lucius wasn't even the worst. You don't want to know what Draco likes to call himself."
"But why…" Hermione paused, scowled, and shook her head to clear her mind (the resulting flurry of bushy brown hair whipping through the air struck Harry as being potentially dangerous to small animals and young children), and ground out, "Harry. You have a duty."
"I used to think so, too. And then I realized that no, I really don't. And isn't it wonderful?"
She sighed, obviously struggling for patience. "Harry," she said, "you can't just quit being a hero. It just isn't done."
"And yet somehow I'm doing it," Harry replied, with just a hint of acid bubbling beneath his congenial tone. "I told the Minister that I'm done; I told the press, and now I'm telling you. I have a life, Hermione, and I'd like to have a job that doesn't involve me fighting the Ministry's every battle and does involve me getting paid."
"But – "
"I'm not Batman, Hermione. The Ministry can't just snap their fingers and expect me to go all brooding vigilante hunter for them...although it'd be pretty wicked if they started flashing a lightning-bolt signal in the sky," he added thoughtfully.
"People depend on you."
"Well, maybe they ought to learn to depend on themselves," Harry said reasonably.
For once, Hermione had no smart answer. Instead, she heaved another put-upon sigh and gingerly lowered herself onto the grass next to her friend. They stared at the sky in silence for a few long minutes that slowly went from awkward to peaceful.
"It does look like Snape's nose," Hermione admitted after a while, studying the cloud.
Harry grinned. "It's odd, isn't it? I feel like he's glaring down at us right now."
"Don't even talk like that," Hermione said with a dramatic shudder. "The man already thinks he's akin to a god; the last thing he needs to hear is that we thought he was glowering down at us from the heavens."
"Snape as god. Would explain why the world's so utterly buggered up and everyone's miserable."
Hermione snorted, then abruptly turned earnest. "Harry," she said, brow furrowing in a curiosity that was, for once, unrelated to anything academic, "What…what is Draco's name for himself?"
"You really want to know?"
"Honestly, Harry, have you ever known me not to want to know everything?" Hermione asked archly.
"Yes, Harry, I want to know."
"The Delectable Drake Dog."
Hermione tried to think of something to say, other than, "What kinds of drugs is he on?" or "What kind of idiot would actually call himself that?" Finally, she settled for a plaintively perplexed, "But why?"
"Who can fathom the mind of a Malfoy?" Harry asked philosophically. He definitely wasn't about to tell Hermione the truth, considering the entire humiliating ordeal involved him, Draco, Seamus, a truly unholy amount of firewhiskey, an evidently dyslexic tattoo artist, and crossdressing.
Seamus and Harry had long since vowed to never speak of that night again, and had managed to get Draco to at least shut up about it in public, but the Malfoy heir took a kind of strange pride in the fact that he'd Rebelled Against Polite Society and just wouldn't let the story die.
No matter that its death was long, long overdue.
Hermione shot him a sharp look that stated clearly that she knew he knew more than he was letting on, but for once she just let it go and went back to cloud-watching, saying nothing more than, "Who would want to fathom the mind of a Malfoy?"
He snorted, but sobered quickly when Hermione shifted beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder and gazing worriedly into his eyes. "Harry," she said, her voice shaking just a little under the strain of an overabundance of concerned sincerity, "are you absolutely certain that this is what you want? That you're reallydone with being a hero?"
Harry hesitated, swallowing down a flippant response in favor of one that wouldn't make his best friend want to hit him. "Hermione," he said slowly, "people…they want heroes, but they don't need them. The thing is, they're never going to realize it if I keep showing up in the nick of time to save the day."
Hermione opened her mouth, but he silenced her with a hard look and said, "I can't keep mothering the entire magical world. Dumbledore – Dumbledore could manage it, could be their hero on his own terms, but I'm not him. I just want to be left alone."
After a long moment, Hermione smiled. It was a little sad, but it reached her eyes. "You never will be left alone, you know. Not really," she pointed out gently, even as she let go of him and leaned back to face the sky again. "The Weasleys and Remus and even Malfoy and Headmistress McGonagall - "
"That's not the kind of alone I meant."
Her smile got a little brighter, but she didn't look away from the clouds. "That one up there," she said after a moment, staring at a particularly odd-looking cloud off on the horizon. "It looks a bit like Aberforth's goat, don't you think?"
She didn't mention Harry's quitting again. Thank God.
Or rather…thank the almighty Snape.
Harry smiled contentedly, watching the clouds drift above him as Hermione murmured the occasional comment at his side. He'd quit, and he never felt better.
This came dangerously close to swerving into the HHr lane, but fortunately I applied the brakes and steered back into Genfic traffic without incident.
Also, review. Lady Mortua – er, Opalish – commands you.