Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Chapter One: Issues of Victory.
And just like that it was over.
Harry lay curled up on the hard stone floor of the castle keep, rigid and unmoving apart from the faint trembling that proved he was still alive. Parts of his body screamed in agony, but he refused to give in to it and cry out, until someone touched his shoulder and called his name. Then he jerked reflexively and his body twisted in a final spasm of pain that pulled a low moan from deep in his throat.
"Harry," the voice persisted. Ron. Oh thank God, Ron was still alive; he'd finished it in time after all. Slowly, his eyes opened and he looked up at his friend, blinking in the harsh sunlight, so bright after the darkness behind his closed lids.
"Can you sit up mate? Here…" Ron's strong arms pulled him into a sitting position and he groaned and rested heavily against the wall, eventually sagging sideways to lean on his friend's shoulder.
"Is he gone?" Harry's voice was a croak and he coughed, then winced and closed his eyes as the pain shot through him again. He might have a few broken ribs, he thought. Small price to pay, when so many others were dead.
"You did it Harry! He's not coming back this time." There was a trace of disbelief in Ron's tone. Harry couldn't quite believe it either, but if squinting around the keep and seeing Snape's crumpled body didn't convince him, the sight of Aurors disarming surrendering Death Eaters did.
"It's finally over then." Relief, pain, awe, disbelief and shock all gathered their forces in his battered body, and tears that he never thought he could cry, stung his eyes. All those dead, all those that he had loved and tried to care for and had failed, hadn't died in vain after all. He blinked rapidly as he realised that there was no one he would rather share this moment with than Ron. Right from his very first day at Hogwarts, Ron had been by his side; it was right and fitting that he be here now.
As Ron nodded beside him, they both looked around at the scene through jaded eyes. Both had seen too much blood and death in this war. It was quiet, there were no celebrations; too many had died for that yet. Just the faint murmur of Aurors directing the prisoners to a corner of the warded keep, and the faint cries of a woman in grief in the castle grounds somewhere.
"You need anything, mate?" Ron asked quietly. Harry shook his head.
"No, not yet. I'll have to get these ribs seen to, but they can wait, I just want to sit here for a bit."
In silent understanding they fell into a comfortable silence and watched. Occasionally, a Healer would come and ask if they needed anything, but they waved them off and were soon left alone entirely. Savouring a new-found peace, thinking about the future – realising that he actually had a chance at a future now, Harry suddenly found himself at a loss. What was he to do with himself now his job was done? The Ministry and the Aurors could clear up the rest; he assumed that they could manage that much on their own. They'd never had much time for him anyway; they wouldn't miss him now.
From time to time, tired Aurors led more Death Eaters to the top of the keep and deposited them with the growing number of prisoners. Everything was subdued, everyone was tired and grey and sick of war; thankful it was over and now preparing for the long recovery. It was a sobering thought. So much to repair, so many to grieve over, so much to rebuild, and Harry wondered if the Wizarding world would ever really recover.
Shifting slowly to avoid aggravating his ribs, he turned to face Ron. "Nothing will ever be the same will it?" A laugh rang out across the keep before Ron could reply, and they turned to see both of the twins trying to get through the narrow door at the same time. Trust Fred and George to make one smile with their antics. The two scrabbled, pushed and retreated before the faint amused voices of them both carried to Harry's ears.
"After you, my good sir," said George, with a flourish of his hand and a deep bow.
"Why, thank you," replied Fred, and strode regally through the doorway, spotting Harry and Ron leaning up against the wall. "Brother dear, I do believe that is the boy wonder and his faithful sidekick sitting all alone over there."
"I think you may be right Fred. They look to have their gloomy faces on." George came up beside Fred, and smiled.
"We can't have that, George."
"No, we cannot. They cannot simply sit around lollygagging while everyone else does the cleaning up."
"They need to make themselves useful," agreed Fred, taking a small brown parcel from his robe pocket as they made their way over to Harry and Ron. "I have just the thing, too. Remember we need someone to test the new Weasley's Wizard Wheels…"
Harry had a ridiculous grin on his face now, but he couldn't move if his life was in danger, which it quite possibly was if the new Wheels hadn't even been tested yet. "You two stay away from me," he joked, voice still raw and throaty. "I've just bloody well saved the whole world, I am not going to be turned into a toad. Least not until my ribs are fixed anyway."
"Harry, Harry, Harry," Fred shook his head.
"Do you honestly think that we would…"
"Use the hero of the wizarding world like that?" finished Fred, smiling and sliding his eyes over to Ron. "Youngest brother here is a different pot of haddock though."
Harry laughed, immediately regretting it and lapsing into a weak coughing fit, as a sharp pain lanced his chest once more. Damn, he really needed to see a Healer. Quickly, Ron was on his feet, the smile gone from his pale, tired face.
"Come on Harry, I've had enough of this, you need to get those looked at now. George, help me get him to his feet." The twins responded, serious now, moving to help Ron get his arms under Harry's and lift him to his feet. With George on one side and Ron on the other, they made their way slowly towards the Healer's station. Harry discovered with an acute twist of pain as he stood, that his ankle was sprained, or possibly broken, and so their progress was slowed even further.
It began as the odd hushed greeting, as Harry and the Weasley boys, men now, limped across the square - a respectful 'well done Harry' or 'thank you' from those they passed, but there were now hundreds of people lining the walls of the keep, the majority of the Death Eaters having been captured. Harry thanked them with a smile, and then someone began to clap, and one by one they all took up the tribute. It rippled across the windswept keep until a groundswell of applause and cheers, happy faces, some with tears, accompanied them.
He tried to care that he was the centre of attention; he'd always hated that part of his life, but he was just too sore and tired and relieved that it was all over to worry. Acknowledging them all with a smile, his attention was drawn to the Death Eaters in the corner, some of whom were also smiling and clapping. He didn't think that would get them very far if mercy was what they were hoping to achieve, but he almost wished that it would. Voldemort was gone and the war was over and peace had to start somewhere.
Standing apart from the rest, Harry saw a familiar blond head. Malfoy. He was unmasked, as all the Death Eaters had been upon capture, and the hood of his robes was pushed back ensuring that he was easily identified. He looked exhausted, not much different from the last time he had seen him, actually, although he was dirtier, thinner, and the dark circles under his eyes were more prominent. Perhaps he was trying to be noticed, perhaps the others were shunning him or perhaps he was distancing himself from them. Whatever it was, Malfoy was watching him with a look on his face that Harry had never seen directed at him before. Pride.
In a second he made up his mind, and he turned to Fred.
"Fred, do me a favour will you? Go tell whoever is in charge of the prisoners that I want Malfoy kept separately from the others. Isolate him in one of the Ministry cells and let no one talk to him."
Fred looked at him in surprise, as did Ron and George. "Are you sure you want to do that, Harry?" he asked, his gaze sliding across to the blond.
"Are you out of your mind, Harry?" Ron exploded next to him. "You don't need this crap, stay as far away from him as you can. Let Azkaban have him."
"I need to know his story, Ron. For my own peace of mind. I can handle him, I can take care of myself."
"I know…it's just…it's Malfoy, Harry!"
"Yes, Ron, I know who he is and what. But you didn't see him the night that Dumbledore died… you weren't there. I need him to answer some questions."
"Alright," replied Ron, looking doubtful. "Just don't get taken in by his lies."
Harry sighed, and the intake of breath made his chest hurt once more, and a frown of pain crossed his face. "I'm not going to fall for anything. Trust me."
Fred left them at the Healer's station and went to find the Auror in charge while Ron and George helped Harry onto a blanket on the ground, calling for a Healer.
"I hope you know what you're doing Harry," Ron finished.