by Silver Phoenix
Nineteen years later…
"Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
The typically cool, female voice in the lifts at the Ministry of Magic sounded annoyed. Bran Bennett gradually realized that this was the third or fourth time it had repeated itself, and that he had been standing in the lift with the golden grilles opened to Level Two for quite some time. He muttered an apology – although he realized as soon as he had done it that it was stupid, apologizing to a lift – and walked out into the corridor, still feeling dazed. The golden grilles snapped shut behind him quickly, almost as if in contempt.
Bran stood there for a moment in the middle of the busy corridor, with people rushing about their business all around him, trying to get his head on straight. He hadn't been able to sleep the night before – not that he was expecting to – and his head felt fuzzy. Everything had a dreamlike quality to it. He felt different, but this corridor looked the same as it always had. It seemed wrong somehow. How could people still be going about their daily business? Didn't they know that everything was different, everything had changed? Bran shook himself and headed down the corridor, towards Auror Headquarters, dreading what was to come.
Hubert Humfrinkle was waiting for him in front of the heavy oak doors that led to Auror Headquarters. He wasn't an Auror himself – far from it, in fact - but as Chair of Inter-Departmental House-Elf Relations, Hubert was one of Bran's primary contacts in the Department of Magical Creatures. Hubert was looking at him with pity and concern, but there was something else there as well. As Bran approached Hubert and numbly shook his hand, he realized it was something like awe, or respect.
This was the look that Bran had craved since boyhood. Even before he'd discovered magic and learned about Dark wizards and Aurors and all the rest, Bran had always wanted to be a hero, had always craved that look of awe and respect. It was what led him on the path to become an Auror in the first place. But nothing in all the books he'd read about the Dark Times of Grindelwald and Voldemort, nothing in any Professor Brigstocke's tales of danger and Dark magic, nothing in the duels he'd faced as a member of Dumbledore's Army, the self-defence club at Hogwarts, nothing in Auror training or even his first year as a certified Auror had prepared him for the grim reality of battle and loss. He was a hero, and Gav was gone. That was the reality of being an Auror.
"All right then, Bran?" Hubert asked nervously. "Well, I mean of course you're not all right, but…"
"Are they waiting, then?" Bran rasped out. He was surprised at the hoarseness of his own voice. He must have shouted his vocal cords raw last night, two words over and over again. EXPECTO PATRONUM…
Hubert nodded. "Inside. I'll walk with you."
Bran had been partnered with Gavin Brighton on the first day of Auror training. The Head – who had immediately become Bran's hero at age eleven, when he had first heard the stories about him – had addressed them all that first day and then read out names in pairs. This was something the current Head had changed when he had taken over; all the trainees lived and worked and trained in a group, but the Head also stressed the need within that group for a partner and a confidante, someone who would be by your side for all the important things, someone you could really rely on during the strenuous training process. Bran had nervously awaited his name, and when the Head had called his name next to Gavin's, his hopes had been dashed. Bran was a Muggle-born from Wales who had grown up on a farm and had been shocked to learn at the age of eleven that wizards existed and that he was, in fact, one of them. He was quiet and hardworking, the quintessential Hufflepuff. He was old-fashioned like his dad, shy but easy to befriend, good at sport but rubbish at Quidditch. In his first year at Hogwarts he had eagerly eaten up every story about the heroes of the wizarding world – both the true ones he learned in History of Magic or Defense Against the Dark Arts, and the legends whispered in the boys' dorm at night. Bran had worked hard, steadily and patiently, to get the grades required to be considered for the Auror trainee program. When he had gotten his acceptance letter it had been a dream come true.
Gavin had been in Gryffindor, a few years ahead of Bran, although they had both ended up in the same trainee group. Gav was from South London, loud, brash and reckless. He loved pubs and women and brawls and general mischief. In fact, Gav had spent most of his time at Hogwarts trying to outshine the legendary Weasley twins by getting into a spectacular amount of trouble. He was also, improbably, a genius. He somehow fumbled his way into excellent N.E.W.T. grades, which were wasted as he spent a few years after Hogwarts bombing around London and getting into pub fights. Then, suddenly, Gav had decided that he wanted to become an Auror. Miraculously, he had got through the application process without offending someone important or missing an exam and had ended up in training with Bran. On that day when their names were called side-by-side, Bran had remembered Gavin's reputation from school and had been less than thrilled that the two of them had been paired up.
It had been difficult, at first, with them being so different. Bran was doggedly by-the-book while Gav seemed determined to do the exact opposite of everything they were told. Bran was cautious, Gav was reckless; Bran was considerate, Gav was just downright rude most of the time; Bran worked hard at everything he had to learn while Gav just seemed to pick things up effortlessly. Eventually, though, Bran found his frustration ebbing away. Although they were so different, they also had a lot in common. Both of them were Muggle-born. Both of them, despite being fully immersed in the wizarding world, had never quite gotten the appeal of Quidditch and still loved Muggle football, although Gav was a West Ham fan while Bran loyally supported Swansea. Both of them had lost their mothers – Gavin's mum had left when he was only three, Bran's ma had died of cancer when he was six. It turned out they were both in Auror training for the same reasons – they secretly dreamed of helping others, of being heroes. And both of them hero-worshipped the Head.
Somehow, by the end of training, the two of them had become as close as brothers. So when they were both assigned to Azkaban as fully certified Aurors, it had seemed too good to be true…
Hubert and Bran had arrived at a rich, oak door. Bran had been dimly aware of walking through the cubicles, of the fact that the others had been staring. He also realized now where Hubert had been leading him, because on the shiny plaque on the door they were facing was the inscription:
Head of the Order of Aurors
Despite everything, Bran felt his heart speed up. He had seen and spoken to the Head, of course – in his application interviews, a few times during training, a quick greeting in the corridor or in the lift – but never in his office, and never about a specific assignment. He had thought that his debriefing would be in the usual room and would include Smythe, who had been the senior Auror on call at Azkaban last night, and maybe Sri, who oversaw all the Aurors at the prison. But certainly not the Head himself. Numb and dazed as he was, it was slowly dawning on Bran that the attack on Azkaban prison last night and his part in defending the prison had been rather significant.
Hubert clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder and then knocked on the door. Someone called, "Come in," and Hubert opened the door. Bran trailed in after him.
The office was cluttered, messy. The bookcase on one wall was packed; a few books had been jammed in places they didn't quite fit or had been stacked upon other books. The wastepaper basket was empty, although several crumpled pieces of paper were lying on the ground very close to it. A broom was propped up in one corner and a Quidditch poster was hanging crookedly on the wall (Bran recalled the girls at school bragging about an all-witch team, which the poster must have featured, because a red-headed witch kept zooming by on her broomstick and winking at him). On the opposite wall hung a giant corkboard with a colourful assortment of items tacked onto it: photos, newspaper clippings, memos, handwritten notes, some stick-figure drawings and finger paintings clearly done by children, a few Christmas cards, and strangely, an aging copy of the chocolate frog card that featured Professor Longbottom. There were stacks of paper and file folders on the desk, and several picture frames containing photos of Potter with his wife and two boys. And behind the desk sat the man himself – Harry Potter, the Boy who Lived, the Man who Defeated, the Head of the Aurors.
But he was not the only person sitting behind his desk. Bran felt as though he had stepped into one of his history books, because next to Potter sat Ron Weasley and his wife, Hermione Granger-Weasley. The famous trio. Names and stories that everyone in the wizarding world knew by heart. They had evidently been discussing something, but trailed off as Bran walked in the door.
"Thank you, Hubert," Harry Potter said quietly. "If it's all right with you, could we speak to Bran in private, first?"
Even Hubert, who was at least twice the Head's age, looked intimidated by the three of them. "Not a problem, not a problem…I'll be out there, just feel free to call if you need me…" He gave an awkward nod to the three of them and then hurried out the room, closing the door behind him. Bran stood there, trying not to stare.
"Have a seat, mate," said Ron Weasley. "If you can find one in this mess, that is."
"You're one to talk," his wife scoffed.
"I am not messy, your son is messy."
"Oh, so he's just my son, now?" she said acerbically.
"Yeah, you can take Hugo and I'll have Rosie, she's the good one." Weasley grinned and winked at Bran.
His wife rolled her eyes. Then she said kindly, "Would you like a cup of tea, Bran?"
Bran was still in awe. He realized his mouth was slightly ajar and quickly shut it, sitting down rather heavily in the chair on the opposite side of Potter's desk.
"No," he said rather belatedly to Granger-Weasley's question. "No, thank you, though."
"Go on then, Hermione, I'll have one," said Ron Weasley.
"Make your own," she retorted, but then she said, "Harry, where is the kettle? Ron's actually right, it is a bit of a mess in here."
"I know exactly where everything is," Potter said defensively, digging a kettle out of a desk drawer. He removed a quill from where it was jammed inside the spout and then levitated it over to Granger-Weasley. She filled it with water from her wand and then said a spell to set the water to boil. The Head Conjured some teacups while Weasley produced tea bags from somewhere (a fleeting thought crossed Bran's mind that he hoped the tea bags weren't from his shop). Within a few seconds three steaming cups of tea sat in front of the trio, and despite his refusal a cup was also levitated over to Bran. He wrapped his hands around the warm cup and realized that he had wanted a cup of tea, after all. It dawned on Bran that he hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon.
They sat in silence for a few moments, drinking their tea. Then finally, Potter said, "Bran, I'm very sorry to have to do this and I know it's going to be difficult for you, but I'm going to need you to tell us exactly what happened last night. I've heard from Smythe and Sri already, but I'd like to hear it from you, directly. I thought you might not be up to a regular debriefing with everyone, so that's why we're speaking to you here, in private, if that's all right."
Bran nodded. Potter paused, and glanced at the two people next to him. "I also hope you don't mind that Ron and Hermione are here. I thought…well, all three of us have a vested interest in Azkaban, as you know."
"Well, two of us do, anyway," Granger-Weasley said, giving her husband a look. "Ron invited himself. "
"Quite right, too," Weasley retorted. "Azkaban is big business for us…I need to know what went wrong just as much as you lot do. You don't mind, do you, Bran?"
Bran shook his head, still bewildered. The trio seemed to take this response as a signal; they fell silent, expectant. It finally became apparent to Bran that they were waiting for him to start talking. He closed his eyes and tried to think of how to begin, tried to organize the thoughts and pictures flying around in his muddled, sleep-deprived brain.
"It's better this way, mate," said Weasley quietly. "Like a bandage. Just rip it off in one go."
Bran nodded, set down his tea cup, and took a deep breath. Then the whole story poured out of him.
For fifteen years the house-elves had been the guardians of Azkaban, thanks primarily to one of the people sitting with him in this room. With the help of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, a young Hermione Granger had, famously, first proposed the idea of house-elf guards after the disastrous attempts at wizard and even goblin guards in the years following the final defeat of Voldemort. Bran knew that it had been regarded almost as a joke back then, that Granger-Weasley had nearly lost her job over her fight to install the house-elves as guards and to increase their rights and responsibilities. Bran had difficulty fathoming such an era; he had been a Muggle kid at the time, with no inkling of the wizarding world except for a few odd incidents here and there. In Bran's wizarding world, the house-elves had always been the guardians of Azkaban, powerful beings to be respected. They were admittedly a bit odd at times, and they could be unorganized if not given clear instructions to follow by the Aurors. They were no longer servants as they had been in the old days; Bran had always thought of them as colleagues and could not imagine a world in which they were not. When Bran really thought about it, he supposed there was still something of a servant in them – the elves always needed to be given clear instructions and orders to follow; it was a fundamental part of their nature, as he understood it. But Bran could never quite get his head around the fact that only a few short years ago, house-elves actually lived up to their outdated name and served old wizarding families in their homes, like butlers or maids. Household servants…these beings that could sap a wizard of his magic and keep it from him with almost no effort on their part. It was ridiculous.
The Aurors' role within Azkaban had changed over time. In the first few transition years, the Aurors posted at Azkaban had had far more responsibilities at the prison. They had dealt with unruly prisoners, created and maintained new security charms within and surrounding the building, and constantly monitored the prisons and the house-elves' magic. Officially, the Aurors were still in command, but nowadays the prison basically ran itself. The house-elves' magicless cells were indestructible, the inmates usually subdued to their fate. The elves ran the day-to-day affairs of the prison smoothly and efficiently. As time wore on, the Azkaban Aurors' jobs were more about dealing with threats from without rather than those within the prison. Other than the odd pureblood nutter here and there, people generally accepted the house-elf guards at Azakban now. In fact, Hermione Granger's career had skyrocketed after the first few trial years of success and she had eventually taken on a prestigious position in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement as Head of the Affairs of Magical Beings and Creatures. The only ones, it seemed, that were unhappy these days with the house-elves' appointments were the beings whom they had replaced – the Dementors.
Pickings were slim these days for a creature who fed only on unhappiness and despair. The wizarding world Bran had always known was a relatively calm and peaceful place, not exactly a breeding ground for hopelessness and gloom. So a building full of formerly powerful Dark wizards robbed of their magic was like a feast for them; a stronghold of depression and misery. The Dementors had, on two previous occasions, tried to take Azkaban back. This was now the Aurors' purpose at Azkaban prison: to protect it from its increasingly desperate, hungry former guards. Twice the Dementors had been driven away, the second time only a few years before Bran had completed training. The Dementors were always a threat, hence the honour of being chosen as an Azkaban Auror; but after a year at the prison Bran had, admittedly, started to become a bit too comfortable. The Dementors' third – and Bran now realized, probably final - attempt had been last night.
"I arrived at Azkaban at six for my regular shift," Bran began in his low, quiet voice. People here in London seemed to have a hard time understanding him sometimes. They claimed he had a strong Welsh accent, although Bran failed to hear how he sounded different from anyone else. As a result he had started speaking more slowly when he had come here. Gav had always joked that he sounded like he was trying to lull people to sleep.
"There were five of us down my end of the prison, as always – myself, Smythe, Harris, Kapoor, and…and Brighton." His voice cracked, embarrassingly, on Gav's surname. Bran brought his teacup to his lips for something to do and found it was empty. He set it down on the desk with a clatter.
Bran cleared his throat. "It was a quiet night. I did some paperwork in the office, then did the rounds with Gav…Rowle was in top form, hollering as usual…"
Weasley called Rowle something extremely colourful under his breath. His wife, amazingly, did not blink. Bran remembered that it had been Weasley's famous Flagrante spells that had helped convict Rowle and a dozen others, years ago, of torturing a Muggle family.
"We tried to reason with him a bit, talk to him, but he's a bit off after being in there all these years. So…well, we decided to bugger it, if I'm honest, and give him a Sleeping Draught just to shut him up. Gav left to get it. I was with two of the guards – Mitsy and Cobb, they're in charge of Rowle's Block – when I heard…I heard a sound like an explosion, and Gav screaming."
He stopped. His mouth was dry; he licked his lips. Granger-Weasley wordlessly Conjured him a glass of water. Bran picked it up off the desk gratefully and took a long gulp before continuing.
"I went after him, turned the corner into Block E and…the outside wall was gone, blown to bits, there were…there were some casualties – the house elves from that Block, two of the prisoners – I'm sorry, I can't remember who…" He felt embarrassed. He was an Auror, trained to remember details, to memorize the minutiae of a room as soon as he'd entered it, to notice things others would not.
Potter shook his head. "Don't worry. You're doing fine."
"Are they all right?" Bran asked suddenly. He felt guilt eating at him; how had he not remembered them, the house-elves and the prisoners strewn across the ground amongst the rubble?
"The prisoners and most of the house-elves are being cared for at St. Mungo's. They're in serious condition, but stable," Potter replied. He hesitated. "Do you know Grumkin? Fitz?"
Bran nodded, picturing the stocky little house-elf Grumkin and the wisp of an elf they called Fitz. Potter shook his head sadly and Bran felt the tightness in his chest increase a little more. Weasley had placed one hand over his wife's.
Bran closed his eyes momentarily. They sat in silence for a few moments. When Bran opened his eyes, Potter said gently, "You got to Block E, saw the wall was gone…"
"Right. The Dementors…they were streaming in the opening, flying down the corridor. I had heard Gav screaming but I couldn't see him straight away, they were everywhere…" He suddenly felt he should defend his friend, protect the memory of a top notch Auror. He took a deep, shaky breath and addressed the Head, who was watching him with a grim and serious look on his face. "We've all had Dementor training, you know that, sir…but in training it was always just one, or two…he…he didn't have a chance…"
"How many of them were there?" Potter asked quietly.
Bran's heart was starting to pound as he remembered the details. He could still hear Gavin screaming. "Dozens," he whispered. "I'd say maybe fifty, sixty. More had already gotten in, though. We found them later."
Weasley swore again. "How in Merlin's name didn't the Detectors go off?"
The Dementor Detectors had been another Weasley invention, a modification of one of their joke shop products. Originally it had begun as a Blues Banisher, a device that could be set to monitor a particular person's emotions and to sound off when they were feeling unhappy or upset (it had, incidentally, become extremely popular with wizards desperate to avoid the mood swings of the special witch in their life). George Weasley had invented it for the joke shop; Ron Weasley, in his capacity as Device Development Consultant to the Aurors, had modified the Blues Banisher to pick up on pockets of extreme unhappiness anywhere, not necessarily just in a particular person. Pockets of extreme unhappiness, of course, usually could only be found where Dementors were present. Thus the Dementor Detectors had been born.
"And how did there get to be so many in the same place at the same time?" his wife replied worriedly. "They've never been able to organize or work cooperatively in the past…that's why all of our attempts at talks with them have failed…"
"If you don't mind me saying, ma'am," said Bran quietly, "I think it might be because we never had anything worthwhile to say, in their view."
Potter nodded. "They want to feed, Hermione. They know we can never give that to them. So they've organized, in their desperation. We've denied them long enough," he said.
"But the Detectors," Weasley repeated emphatically. "How did all of them suddenly fail all at once?" He looked at Potter. Some kind of private exchange seemed to occur between them although nothing was spoken aloud.
"You really think…?" Weasley said quietly.
"Someone on the inside," Potter confirmed. Bran suddenly shuddered as thoughts began to crowd into his head, faces and names of the people he trusted the most in the world…he pushed the thoughts aside. There would be time to think about this, too, later.
"What happened next?" the Head asked. Then, quickly, "if you're all right to carry on."
Bran nodded. Like a bandage, he thought. "I had no idea what was happening for a few seconds. Everything had gone cold, dark…everything seemed impossible, like you couldn't do anything or feel anything other than…than how I was feeling…well, you know," he finished lamely. All three of them nodded. He could see in their faces that they all knew exactly what he had experienced.
"I yelled for the house-elves to get help and find the other Aurors…one of them disappeared – it was, yeah, it was Mitsy…then I saw – it was…"
A swarm of black descending upon Gav. His friend screaming, screaming out unintelligible things, reliving something terrible from his past. The sound, that rattling. A glimpse of Gav's body in that flurry of black, his back arching unnaturally, his head being thrown back, his soul being sucked out…
"What did you do?" Hermione Granger-Weasley said quietly after he had described the scene to them the best he could.
"I tried to think of something happy, but I couldn't," Bran admitted. "It was…there were so many of them. But then…then Kreacher turned up."
The house-elves of Azkaban had no one single leader; all of them were technically under the authority of the Order of Aurors. But in Bran's mind, Kreacher was head of the house-elves. The stories went that he was a veteran of the Battle of Hogwarts and that he had been the first to use the no-magic prisons that the house-elves were now famous for. The wizened old house-elf had a history with Potter himself, Bran knew. He had even heard rumours that Kreacher had been Potter's servant, once, in the old days – but that was difficult to believe.
At Azkaban, Bran had never heard Kreacher issue an order to a fellow house-elf, had never seen him at any official meetings or named in any memo. Still, somehow, all of the Aurors knew that Kreacher was in charge. He was always consulted, if informally, on matters pertaining to the prison or the prisoners, always the one that was sought out when something was amiss. So when Kreacher had suddenly appeared, a fierceness glowing in those bulbous eyes, a being of stories and legends, it had allowed Bran to grasp at an emotion that had seemed impossible in the Dementors' coldness…hope.
"Kreacher turned up, and I felt a bit better with him being there, but it was still difficult to focus, with so many of them… So I just…don't know, really…I concentrated on Gav, like, what his…how he's been a mate, you know…and then…"
Shouting hoarsely at Kreacher, the little house-elf who had been at Azkaban since the beginning. Something about helping, an order the elf could follow. Feeling something happen, feeling the cold and the darkness recede from around him and the house-elf at his side. Focusing with all his might on Gav, his unlikely best friend –always laughing, joking, full of life - and then an overwhelming sense of power, of conviction, of might, before he'd screamed at the top of his lungs – "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"
The trio sitting at the desk in front of him were silent as Bran described all of this as best he could. Weasley let out a breath; he had been holding it.
"And then…I don't know what happened. I didn't see my Patronus, just a…a blinding light…like the whole world had gone white…and then I realized that Kreacher was holding my hand…and then they were gone. The Dementors."
"What do you mean, gone?" Weasley asked.
"Gone as in…gone. They disappeared. Vaporized, like."
Weasley stared, his mouth agape. "Blimey…so it is true. You killed them."
"Don't know, sir. They were just…gone."
"Dozens of them."
Granger-Weasley had grabbed a piece of parchment and was furiously scratching down notes. Potter was watching Bran, still calm, but his eyes betrayed a sense of astonishment and…something like pride. Bran was struck with the sudden realization that he had done something rather spectacular.
Not spectacular enough…
"Then I went to Gav," Bran said quickly, rushing to get through this part that he had been dreading, "and he was…he was on the ground, staring up…and…I could see it was too late…that they'd…the Kiss…"
Potter nodded, graciously sparing Bran from having to say it out loud: Alive, but gone. Never to laugh, joke, nothing…ever again. An empty shell.
"You kept fighting, though," Granger-Weasley said softly. It was a statement, not a question.
Bran swallowed hard, and nodded. "I knew Gav was…he was gone, so Kreacher and Cobb and I ran for Block D…there were more Dementors there; Mitsy must have found Kapoor and Smythe because they were already there, fighting them off. There were maybe another thirty or forty Dementors…and I could see that Kapoor's and Smythe's Patronuses were getting weaker…"
The house-elves each taking one of his hands - Kreacher his left and Cobb his right. The elves looking up at him with those bulbous eyes, waiting for the order so that they could do what they knew they could. Croaking out one word for them: "Again." Feeling the calm and the power flow through him once more, then raising his wand with Kreacher's hand still in his own and shouting the Patronus charm again. The white and blinding light again. Then silence.
"It was easier from then on in. We met up with the other Aurors and moved through and cleared each Block. There were a few more pockets of resistance, a few other places where they had broken in. Not like…not like where Gav had been though. Fewer of them. Harris down the other end of Azkaban had a close call, but we…well, we got there just in time."
"And every time, you partnered with the house-elves and…" Weasley snapped his fingers. "Gone."
"Fascinating," Granger-Weasley breathed, still scribbling furious on now a second piece of parchment. She looked up at her two companions, eyes shining. "I can't believe…after all this time…how did we not think of it before? How did I not think of it before? House-elves partnering with wizards, augmenting each other's magic…"
Weasley shook his head in amazement. "Daft, isn't it? Could you have imagined this, Harry, back in the days of good ol' S.P.E.W.?"
His wife elbowed him. Bran hadn't the faintest clue what Weasley was referring to, but although Granger-Weasley looked annoyed as she continued scribbling away, a smile was tugging at the corner of her lips.
"I don't really understand what happened, to be honest," Bran said, spreading his hands out, palms upwards in a gesture of helplessness. "I just gave them the order to help, and…"
"Yes, and that's the wonderful thing, Bran," said Granger-Weasley, looking up at him in admiration. "You thought to ask them for help."
Bran was puzzled. "Why wouldn't I?" he said. Granger-Weasley looked as though she might leap over the desk and hug him.
"And that's…that's pretty much it," Bran said. "Once we were sure the prison was cleared, Smythe contacted you, sir, and then Sri turned up and I told her what I've just told you."
Potter nodded. "You've been brilliant so far, and I know this isn't easy, but I have to ask - is there anything else you think might be important right now?" he said. "Now that all this is…fresh in your memory?"
Bran thought these memories would always be fresh. Walls exploding and shouts of horror; house-elves lying sprawled across the cold stone floors of Azkaban; blood on those stones; the desperation of battle and a ringing in his ears; black-cloaked figures swooping past him, around him; cold and despair running through him; the rattling, the screaming; Gav in the midst of all of them, head thrown back, back arched, soul seeping out of him; Gav, glassy-eyed and still on the ground, mouth slightly ajar…how would such memories ever fade?
"I don't think so," Bran croaked out. "Sir," he added belatedly.
The Head sat back in his chair and then looked at both of his friends in turn. He said nothing for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. Bran waited.
"Bran," said the Head finally, and despite everything Bran felt a little thrill at being addressed by name by his boyhood hero, the man he admired the most in the world. "I hope you understand," Harry Potter continued slowly, "that what you did last night was incredible. Unprecedented. You somehow bound house-elf magic to your own. It seems you didn't just protect yourself from the Dementors, or drive them away…you've done something else entirely."
"Azkaban's probably safe for awhile, I'd think," Weasley said with a grin. "Once the other Dementors get word that there's some kid Auror running around blowing up Dementors with the house-elves, they should leave you be for awhile."
"And you've opened up a whole new avenue for house-elf/wizard relations…intertwining magic, partnering together…" Granger-Weasley said excitedly.
"I think," said Harry Potter, "that you've started something, son."
Bran blinked, dumbfounded. He'd only used the Patronus Charm. And asked the house-elves for help. It didn't seem like much, especially… "But I couldn't save him," he blurted out, his voice cracking.
The three of them went silent and exchanged glances. Bran had left something out, something he was ashamed of.
"I…I said something to Kreacher," he admitted. "After I saw Gav lying there. After he'd been Kissed. I wasn't thinking, to be honest…I said something about helping Gav…I…I told Kreacher to bring him back. I made it an order. And Kreacher got real upset, you know how the old ones are, they'll still hit themselves sometimes if they can't do what you ask…"
Potter smiled ruefully. "I'm well aware."
"It was…it wasn't right." Bran bowed his head. "I'm sorry that I did that," he said quietly.
"You'd just lost someone," Potter replied. "We do desperate things, sometimes. I'm sure Kreacher tried, too. I think we can all safely say, after what you've just told us, that after all this time we still underestimate the house-elves. But even their powers have a limit." He sighed, running a hand through his thinning hair and glancing at a tattered old photograph framed on his desk. The photograph was of a small crowd of people – Bran picked out Albus Dumbledore, a young Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, Mad-Eye Moody...heroes from the past, faces and names he'd known since first year. "Even they can't bring someone back."
Weasley looked at his wife and this time she quietly placed a hand on one of his. Bran realized that of all the people he could have possibly told this story to, these three were probably the only people in his world who would understand.
"What now?" he asked, his voice raw. "What do I do?"
"What do you mean?" Potter asked, not unkindly.
"I mean, you say I've done something…something big, but…I've lost my friend, and…and other people are dead. And I have to live with that, all the same."
Potter nodded, knowingly. The three of them waited patiently, seeming to recognize that Bran was not finished.
"I mean, where do I go from here? What do I do now?" he said, feeling lost. He looked at each of them in turn, these three people who had changed the wizarding world, who were still changing it.
"What did you do?" Bran asked. "If…if you don't mind me asking. What did you do, after everything that happened to all of you? After the Battle of Hogwarts…but before you started your lives and everything else…what…what did you do, in the interlude?"
Harry Potter looked at his friends, then back at the young Auror sitting in front him.
"Well," he said, "it's actually an interesting story…"
Author's Notes: When the Harry Potter series ended I felt that something was missing. The epilogue of Deathly Hallows just didn't do it for me; there were too many loose ends and so much more character development to explore. So in 2007 I started writing this in an effort to tie up those loose ends. Nearly six years later, it's finally done. Rowling herself probably wrote half the Harry Potter series in the time that it's taken me to write just this one story, but I'm pleased (and I hope that you are too) with how it came out. This story would have never been finished at all if not for my fabulous, amazing beta, Michael Ho. Thank you one last time for your hard work, inspiration, and encouragement.
Thank you also to all of the readers who have continued to read this story. Now that it's completed I would love to hear your thoughts on the story as a whole. As in the prologue, I wanted to do an epilogue from a new character's point of view and show the trio from an outsider's perspective, and hopefully you have enjoyed reading about Bran and the wizarding world nineteen years later. Personally, I think I'm finally done with this story and these characters - but if anyone is up to the challenge, I'd love to read more about Head of the Aurors Harry and his world nineteen years later. Hope that others are writing some great post-Deathly Hallows fics out there and if so, I would love to read them.
Thank you, thank you, thank you again for reading my story.