Title: A different river.
Period: A few months after DH.
Rating: PG-13 mostly. Might turn R eventually, but I make no promises.
Pairings: Eventually Harry/Draco. Ron/Hermione, Dean/Luna, mentions of Harry/Ginny.
Warnings: SPOILERS! Slash.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his friends doesn't belong to me. I don't make any money
out of writing and posting this stuff.
Summary: After defeating Voldemort and taking some well-deserved time off the trio and their friends return to Hogwarts for their seventh and last year. Everything is as it has always been - and everything has changed forever, irrevocably. Relationships are tested, reassessed and redefined as Harry and his companions face the dawn of a new era.

This is a multi-chaptered kind of deal, but it won't turn epic – don't you worry.

My humble thanks to kind and patient beta Laureen without whom this fic would never have been posted.

A different river – Prologue

"Coming back to the place you started from is not the same as never leaving." - Terry Pratchett



"How do you reckon they'll sort the new kids now that the Hat's in ashes?" Ron slouched in his seat, looking supremely comfortable with his long legs sprawled in front of him. The sun coming through the compartment window glinted golden in his unkempt hair. Next to him, Hermione looked up from her book – Numbers, and Their Meaning – and gave him a weary look.

"The Sorting Hat isn't in ashes, Ron. Voldemort's – oh, give it up, it's not like the name's jinxed anymore – his fire didn't damage it at all. Professor Flitwick found it on the ground outside the castle after the battle, and it's perfectly fine. Honestly, don't you ever pay attention to what's going on?"

"Had other things on my mind, hadn't I?" Ron's voice lost its cheerful tone, and he looked away. Harry, who had followed the exchange from his seat opposite the pair, recognized the suddenly stricken look on Hermione's face – he shared the anguish it betrayed as the memories came trickling back, like cold water trickling in under a closed door. He did not try to shut them out, but braced himself for the emotional onslaught, hoping that it would be over soon.

The battle of Hogwarts and its aftermath: a nauseating blend of exhaustion, relief and grief. Vivid images of faces contorted by fear and pain or, worse yet, faces devoid of any emotion, forever frozen, empty masks... Dead bodies in neat rows: Colin Creevey next to Lupin next to Tonks, next to Fred.

"How…" Hermione hesitated, "how is George?" After the battle she had rushed of to Australia to find her parents and restore their memories. Harry had gone with Ron and his family to the Burrow, and there they had received word that Hermione would spend the rest of the summer in France. Harry guessed he could understand her parents – had he had a daughter, he would have liked to keep her close after what had happened, too. But it meant that neither him nor Ron had seen Hermione until they met at King's Cross a few hours ago, and she had very little idea of what had happened with their friends since they parted.

Ron kept his eyes firmly locked on the green landscape swishing by outside the window, but his voice was steady as he answered. "He's doing all right, all things considered. Opened the shop again, just a week after – after the battle. Percy's staying in the flat too, keeping an eye on him. Says George works harder than he, Percy, ever did at the Ministry. Dad figures he just wants to keep himself occupied, not having to think about…" He paused. "He… is not the same, though."

No, he wouldn't be, Harry thought. His twin dead– half of him gone – how could he be the same? The guilt formed a hard knot in his stomach, as it always did whenever he thought of those who had died in that final stand against Voldemort and his Death Eaters just a few months ago. Irrational as the feeling was – and on some level, he knew that it was just that – he could not shake it. Maybe if he had been stronger, smarter, better, maybe then Fred would still be alive…

"It'll be weird coming back, won't it?"

Harry lifted his head and looked at Ron. His best friend met Harry's gaze steadily, and in his eyes there was no blame, no anger. Harry nodded gratefully. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I guess it will."

Hermione, who had taken Ron's hand, shook her head slowly. "We saw Voldemort die in the Great Hall. And tonight… tonight we're having dinner there. We'll have lessons in the classrooms where we fought for our lives. Where… " Her voice faltered.

"Where others gave up their lives," Harry finished grimly.

"Yes…"

Silence fell in the compartment as the train rushed on, leaving a trail of white smoke in its wake. Ron stared out the window and Hermione returned to her book, though she kept her fingers firmly entwined with Ron's. Harry watched them enviously. Ginny was somewhere on the train, and for a moment he longed to go and find her, sit next to her and talk about all those things they had not yet had time to talk about…

But he dismissed the thought – it was too early for that. Too much had happened in the last year, had changed. For now, he needed to be alone. Needed to, for once, exist and live only for himself. Ginny had kept her distance, though he caught her looking at him with that blazing look of hers every now and then, and he thought that maybe she understood. Understood as much as anyone, who was not him, could ever understand.

The door to the compartment slid open and Luna, followed by Dean, stepped inside with a brilliant, albeit vague, smile. "Hello," she called happily, sitting down next to Harry as Dean stuffed both their bags onto the shelves above the seats.

"Luna! Dean! It's so good to see you!" Hermione beamed, seemingly relieved at the interruption, and even Ron broke away from his reverie.

"All right, mate?" he asked Dean.

"Yeah. Summer's been pretty quiet, compared to last semester."

"He came to visit me, you know," Luna told Harry, pointing at Dean. "We had to move to a new house, Dad and I, because the old one was quite demolished. Apparently a couple of Death Eaters tore it down when Dad would not stop printing the truth about You-Know-Who."

"That's… a shame," Harry said awkwardly. To his complete lack of surprise, Mr. Lovegood had failed to tell his daughter the truth about what had happened when their house was destroyed. But, though he felt little sympathy for the wizard who had betrayed them to the Death Eaters, he saw no reason to burden Luna with that particular fact.

"Yes, it is a pity, because we lost quite a lot of very interesting artifacts, but I really like our new house, it's right up the hill from the Weasley's. And Dean helped us move," she added with another bright smile.

Ron smirked, winking at Dean, who flushed but still managed to look rather pleased with himself. "We saw Neville," he told them. "He was surrounded by a huge crowd of kids, wanting to know all about how he beheaded that snake. Said he'd join us later."

"He's a bit of a hero now, isn't he?" Luna noted, picking up what seemed to be the latest edition of the Quibbler, a drawn picture of a huge, green-blue creature splashed over the front page. "Having led Dumbledore's Army last year."

"We're heroes, too," Ron said, sounding somewhat affronted. "We were looking for Horcruxes! And anyway, you and Ginny helped him, didn't you? So you're heroes as well."

"I don't know," Luna shrugged, not looking up from her paper. "I spent a lot of the time locked up in Malfoy Manor, you know, and Ginny was sent home, so –"

"Talking about Malfoy Manor," Dean interrupted, "look who's here."

They looked the way he pointed, and sure enough, there was Draco Malfoy, walking past the compartment. He looked healthier than the last time Harry had seen him, just a few weeks after the defeat of Voldemort, but his face still looked strangely drawn, and it lacked its usual sneer. He was alone, his bag slung over his right shoulder.

"I didn't know he'd be coming back," Hermione said quietly.

Ron snorted. "He's got some nerve, showing his ugly face here after what he and his family's done. I can't believe that McGonagall's letting all those Slytherins return. You shouldn't have spoken in his and his parents' defence, Harry, maybe they'd be locked up in Azkaban with their Death Eater pals now."

"Well, I – " Harry started to say, but was cut off by Hermione.

"Of course McGonagall's letting them return. Most of them haven't done anything; they can't help who their parents are."

"No, but you didn't see them lining up to fight You-Know-Who, did you?" Dean asked seriously. "And Parkinson, she wanted us to hand Harry over, remember?"

Hermione blinked, looking shocked. "She did?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Stood up while you were down in the Chamber of Secrets and told everyone that they should give me to Voldemort. No one else seemed to think it was a very good idea, though."

"Well, she's a cow," Hermione admitted. "But the rest of them… I mean, they're not very nice, but it's not like they're all evil, is it?"

"Yes, it is," Ron muttered. "Listen, Hermione," he added, when she gave him an angry stare, "when did we ever meet someone from Slytherin who was even half-way decent?"

"Slughorn's not so bad," Hermione said immediately. "He fought with us. And –"

"– and Snape," Harry finished quietly.

"Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess Snape turned out to be all right in the end." Ron waved his hand dismissively. "So that's two out of how many? I still say the Slytherins got nothing to do at Hogwarts."

Dean yawned and rolled his shoulders. "I think most of them aren't coming back in any case. You know, those who stayed in school up until the last battle are just returning for the last month before taking the N.E.W.T.s. Figure they learned enough, even with the teachers we had last year…"

"But that's less than half of our year," Hermione said with a frown. "How are –"

But before she could finish, Ron gave a low cry: "Hey, I can see Hogwarts!"

They all turned and peered out through the window. As they talked, twilight had slowly fallen outside, and now they could see the towers of Hogwarts castle as dark silhouettes against the darkening sky.

"We better get changed," Dean said, but none of them moved, eyes locked on the achingly familiar sight.

Ron shook his head. "Blimey. I just can't believe we're back."