After the Fall

After the Fall

A Harry Potter Post-Series Fic

Summary: After the fall of Voldemort, comes the long winter of Harry's discontent. Not particularly shippy, not particularly nice or fun.

Note: Should be obvious that this isn't totally in line with the Epilogue and various errata JKR has provided. At least 90 canon-friendly.

Rating: T

Somewhere between Voldemort's birth and his death, he had done at least one good, worthwhile thing.

That was what Harry kept telling himself while he watched Malfoy struggle with his own one, good, worthwhile thing. That was the excuse he used to try to hold back any pity, any sign of weakness.

The skinny blonde man was sneering while he did it, too. That sneer, so reminiscent of Snape's, made Harry even angrier. It was hard enough trying to go back through his memories and rewrite them, to try to imagine Snape as having been on his side. He wouldn't, couldn't try to do the same this ingrate.

So Harry stayed in the shadows and watched Draco try to do things right. It was a pathetic show, at best, but it was his job, now, to try and keep Draco out of trouble. There was no Headmaster Dumbledore to come swooping out and lecture him. No Snape to protect the boy and try to teach him by a silent, hidden example how to be a better man.

And Draco was still dangerously on the edge, that fine line he walked between tolerably nasty and outright evil.

Harry sipped his drink, glancing around at the street. Nobody else was watching Draco, which was a welcome change. Apparently the Ministry had finally decided the former Deatheater didn't require watching, after months of surveillance.

It made Harry's job easier, not having to worry about bumping into anybody else.

Draco finally gave up and left. Harry let him go; one of Hermione's Watchall spells allowed him to track the other wizard silently. It worked better than the Ministries tricks, keeping him one step ahead of Draco.

He watched the orphanage for a while more. Most of the children there had been left fatherless by Voldemort's work, but Harry knew there were a few in there cursing his name as well. He knew that when the Ministry had given the Malfoy's responsibility for the care of the war orphans as a condition of their release they had hoped the job would force them to turn over new leaf's.

Harry was a bit less credulous than them, but also a bit better armed to try and save the boy's soul.

It was a thankless task, and one that Harry wasn't too enthusiastic about. The thing of it was, though, that it had been Dumbledore's task. The one he had insisted on. The one he'd berated Snape about.

And these days Harry was trying very hard to make sure Dumbledore's insane plans, ideas and crusades were completed.

Admittedly, he couldn't do a lot about keeping all the Hogwarts children safe. He wasn't even sure he could teach them. Now that Voldemort was gone there was a possibility that the Defense Against the Dark Arts position was no longer cursed, a possibility that he could do some real good for the students.

But he was too young, yet, and even McGonagall had told him to apply himself to advanced studies and work as an Auror if he wanted to get that position. Harry definitely did not want to work as an Auror—he had no desire to kill again. Ever.

His collar buzzed slightly, hissing. He unhooked the golden watch from his pocket, extending it out the length of the chain to keep it as far from him as possible when he opened it. It was Arthur Weasley, he noted, examining the tiny golden likeness critically. This piece of magic was flawed, somehow, and he couldn't figure it out. He knew Hermione would have been able to, and it drove him mad. He didn't understand why the movements of the tiny face that represented Arthur moved a moment after it spoke.

That made him wonder where Hermione and Ron had got off to now. Probably they were off watching dragons or some such by now.

"Hello, Mister Weasley," said Harry.

"Please, Harry, call me Arthur," said the older man, for the million and first time. Harry had absolutely no intention of actually doing that.

"What's wrong?" asked Harry, noting the pronounced squint of the imitation-Arthur. He had stipulated that the watch-phone ought to only be used to contact him in case of great emergency.

"Er, your old pal Longbottom and his boys, they had a little confrontation trying to bring in one of the old Deatheaters."

"Is Neville okay?"

"He's unharmed, but he asked me to contact you. Said he had something important to show you. Something you need to see, he said."

"Okay," said Harry, checking the coin in his pocket. Why hadn't Neville used that to contact him? Or had he, and Harry had missed it? Harry knew the improved stealth spells Hermione had given him often disrupted normal communications. That's why they had built the watch, which was a direct one-way link to the only person at the Ministry Harry trusted, in case they actually did find something.

Or maybe Neville had wanted it to be an official call. That thought chilled his bones.

"Where is he?" asked Harry. He took the directions quietly, nodding. "Say hello to Mrs. Weasley for me." Then he closed the watch, severing the link.

He checked once more on Draco, then silently stood up, checking the wand at his hip.

This wand barely worked for him, not like any wand he'd had before. It wasn't truly his yet, and he was having trouble getting used to that. Still, the two wands that worked best for him right now were the two wands he didn't want to use. He didn't want to use Dumbledore's wand, which would always work for him, but worked far too well, and so had been put back with Dumbledore, where it belonged.

Which left trying to break in a new wand.

He Apparated in the small closet of his apartment, the one with the iron bands and the traps. The rest of it was protected by a field preventing incoming travelers from Apparating, shunting them into the Trap-Closet.

"Glad tidings, good nights," said Harry firmly. The door swung open.

It had been his idea to build a trap for incoming Apparators. Hermione had built the most complex of the spells, the anti-Apparating field that shunted people into the closet. Harry had insisted on building the rest of the security system himself.

The apartment was bare. He tried not to think about his things, unpacked in the other room. He tried not to think about inviting friends over, or anything else normal. Not right now.

He grabbed the already-packed bag—or, more precisely, the bag he'd never unpacked—and grabbed his broom. It was an hour's flight out to the remote country-side, but he preferred riding his broom places, these days. Otherwise it felt too much like frantically running across the countryside, on the run from Voldemort.

He didn't even go camping anymore, much to Luna's disgust.

"Are you sure he's coming?" Luna asked Neville. Neville wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, trying to hold down his supper.

"I had the Ministry contact him," he said, trying to keep his grimness out of his voice. He wished he could find Hermione and Ron. "He'll be here."

Luna blinked owlishly at him. "It's not your fault, you know. You couldn't have known."

Except he should have. All his life Neville had been fighting desperately to just be a little smarter, just be a little faster. All his life he'd known that at the end, it would come down to this. He'd be a little too dumb, a little too slow, and somebody would be dead.

Somebody, in this case, was his good friend and mentor, Dillon Kareds. Kareds was his partner, the Auror showing this junior Auror how to do the job. Easing him into slightly harder jobs.

Luna was standing between him and the room that held the body. She'd already torn him out of there once, with strength Neville had no idea she possessed.

Luna raised one eyebrow slightly. "Are you sure this is a good idea? There are lots of witches and wizards who could handle this."

"He'll want to know," said Neville, just a bit bitterly. "He needs to know. It's his bloody project, isn't it? Reform a Malfoy? He'll want to know what his boy did today."

The vampire of Fir Lane sank its teeth deep into Harry's shoulder. Harry shuddered, but today was able to keep from screaming out loud. After a few tentative sucks, the creature released him, backing into the corner of the cave and hissing.

Harry rolled his shoulder. "What do you see?" he asked.

"Death," replied the vampire.

"A bit more specific, please."

Harry had discovered the vampire and his abilities quite some time ago. Controlling the vampire is difficult—but these days he can do more than most people realize. Can do magic without wands, without words. Can invade other people's minds with a thought.

Although he tries not to.

The creature pawed at its mouth, hissing. "Kareds, struck down by a blonde boy."

"Yes, yes."

"A death eater, struck down by Kareds."

"I know all this. I need to know if it was Malfoy who killed Kareds."

It was, Harry knew. Neville had been there, had seen him. Neville, who had such a memory for little details. Neville, all alone and firing curses into the ether. Luna had found him first, had told Harry a hair-raising story of dragging Neville away from his fallen friend.

But Harry needed a dose of truth right now, truth that was already in his blood and could be obtained from a vampire, for a fee.

The vampire shrugged, pale skin moving like parchment over old bones. "Not Malfoy."

Harry let out a long sigh. "Who?"

"Not human, either," hissed the vampire. "But anything more than that, you can't have from me without more blood."

Those few sips he'd given already were probably half a pint. Harry knew from experience that any more than that could be fatal. Vampires fed fast and hard, eager to get the blood out. "Never mind that, what else can you tell me?"

The vampire considered, cocking his head off to one side. "You're hiding out from your friends and the girl—saw something you didn't like in the mirror, perhaps?"

A little too much Dumbledore, and perhaps not enough Snape? Why had Harry ever thought it was all right to let kids fight these battles, to let Neville get into this life? He should have kicked and screamed, but instead all he could think of was how convenient it would be to have an Auror friend.

Never mind the danger.

"Anything else?"

The vampire grinned. "You're alone and afraid."

Harry wasn't alone, except when he scared himself and he drove his friends away. And the only fear he had was that he wouldn't be worthy. So many people had sacrificed for him—he owed it to all of them to try and protect them from the darkness along the edges of society, the darkness that produced monsters like Voldemort.

And what if he wasn't as good at this as Dumbledore? What if he wasn't as good as Snape? He was what they had, and he had to make himself good enough.

He left the vampire wallowing in its own illusions, and went to find out somebody who would know what not-human thing could look like a Malfoy to Neville.

Hermione examined the Time-Turner critically. "Ronald Weasley, you've broken it," she declared.

He rubbed his nose defensively. "It was an accident."

She giggled, completely ruining the effect. "All right, let's try it one more time… but if it still doesn't work, then we're just going to have to do this old fashioned way."

He sighed, wrapping both hands around the Time-Turner. "I am NOT riding a dragon. Go ahead; hit me."

She whipped out her wand, grinning manically. "This is fun," she declared.

He groaned. He had hoped for a few bright seconds that a trip with her would be a post-school adventure, a romantic trip complete with kissing and—well, and. He had forgotten that to her the perfect trip was a perfect mixture of snogging and school; and subsequently, this trip was half science experiment and half—well, and half.

Harry woke up from a deep sleep immediately, reaching for his wand. When he heard the bands of iron on the closet break loose and open he dropped it, groaning. Only three people knew his password, besides himself. Two of them were off on a grand adventure.

One had been summarily banished from his home.

"Ginny, what are you doing here?" he asked, grabbing for a robe and sliding out of the bed.

She exited the closet sheepishly. She looked lovelier than ever, red hair spilling down her back like lava. She was wearing a thick wool coat and what appeared to be jeans, although he couldn't tell without his glasses. He grabbed them off the nightstand and stuck them on as quick as he could.

She shrugged. "It's almost noon; I thought you'd be up by now."

He yawned, trying to cover up his bone-deep weariness. He'd got back after dawn, after a night of searching, and he'd lost blood to the vampire. He was exhausted still. "Late night."

"I heard what Neville saw… I thought you might need my help," she said, just a bit defensively.

He sighed. "I told you, I can handle Draco."

"That's not what I mean. I mean, … god, Harry! You are a stubborn git sometimes, aren't you?"

He shrugged, wishing he was better dressed, better armored, for this fight. "I suppose. If you'd like to go out for breakfast, or lunch, we could, er, talk about it."

By which he meant he would have an opportunity to take control of the situation back, of course. Her eyes narrowed. "Don't try that trick with me," she warned. "You go take a shower, and get dressed, and I'll make you some breakfast right here and now."

Shades of Molly, he supposed. They said women were doomed to eventually become their mother, and men doomed to become their father. What did that say about him? Doomed to become a bully he'd never met? Dumbledore, faking early-onset senility while manipulating everyone in sight? Heaven forbid, the Dursleys?

He smiled at her, a bit wanly. "Okay," he said.

It didn't make their fight go away, nor her desire to protect him from his desire to protect the world. But at least for right now it meant they weren't fighting, and lightened the mood.

Even if they never had gotten around to the question of what he'd been out all night doing.

Neville wondered about the fellow Luna was seeing. Sure, they were in the same field, and they got on professionally, but he couldn't help worrying for Luna. With the way she wandered through life in a daze, he always considered himself her protector. Her shield.

And if the fellow was in any way at all leading her on, or being presumptuous, or --dear GOD!-- laughing at her… well, Neville had been on the receiving end of some of the worst spells ever thrown around. He could certainly toss them right back at this guy.

It wasn't that Luna wasn't perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She was a tough, resourceful person, and one of his best friends. It was just that she seemed to forget she ought to be looking out for herself—seemed to forget that she was a person too.

Luna handed him a parchment. "There, what do you think of that?"

He examined the spells written out on it carefully. "Sounds about right," he said, still somewhat dubious.

She nodded firmly. "It'll let us know what exactly is going on around here, I'm sure of it. Nobody steals faces—besides the doppelganger dredge plants, but they can't walk around or cast killing spells."

"And the Polyjuice Potion, and a million other spells," said Neville, trying not to let her browbeat him into this. "Casting a Trueface spell will only work if it really has a true face—if it's a doppelganger. A shapeshifter. If it was really Malfoy, or some kind of golem, or else somebody who happened to look like him, it won't help at all."

She shrugged. "And we'll know it wasn't using somebody else's face, at least."

Neville could admit he was wrong. He couldn't really bring himself to admit Harry was wrong, though. He didn't want to do this and see Malfoy's face again, see that arrogant sneer. Didn't want to prove Harry wrong.

"Let's do it," he said, sighing.

Harry took his glasses off, mumbling his true sight spell, repairing his eyes instantly. It would only last half an hour, at best, but it helped him disguise his identity. He mumbled another spell to grow his bangs out and cover the scar. He stripped off his overcoat, checking his arms. The spell-tattoos were good for six or eight hours, and with the sleeves on most people didn't check the forehead too closely.

They were imitation Dark Marks, a dangerous thing to wear these days. Dangerous and scary. They tended to get people's attention, and at the same time kept anybody from recognizing him.

All the same he cast a small glamour on his face, one that just widened his jaw a bit, lengthened his nose. Nothing so great that anybody would notice if it slipped a little bit in the jostle.

Wear a face too drastically different from your own and it would become pretty obvious, pretty fast. A flash of your own face as some other magic touched it, a quick jump, and people would see it. A small change, and they probably wouldn't notice.

He hadn't told anybody he was doing this. If they had known, they would have tried to stop him. But sometimes, in order to get things done, he had to do things he knew they wouldn't like. Had to do things that weren't entirely explainable, or good at all.

That was Dumbledore talking again, crushing all those little idealistic thoughts he had. He hated that.

He walked into the club, letting the pounding bass beat guide his feet. Letting himself fall into the rhythm of the song. It had taken him a long time to learn how to fit into place like this, to look like he belonged.

He could see several people here who didn't. One of them he knew on sight as a Ministry man; the others, he wasn't sure of. He avoided them all, looking for some of the true believers, still waiting for Voldemort to rise again.

People like Lucius Malfoy, self-serving schemers, were no threat any more. They had attached themselves to Voldemort at his highest, but ran away at the first sign he was beaten. It was these true believers, those like Bellatrix Lestrange, who remained dangerous.

Harry knew he couldn't really fit in with that crew. Instead he just tried to look like somebody lost and searching, an outcast who had latched on. The sort those people could use. He could never get them to see him as one of their own, but he could very easily get them to see him as a tool to use.

While using them just the way Dumbledore would.

He hated thinking about that. Hated thinking that Dumbledore was a bad person; hated thinking that he was. He knew, knew, that Dumbledore had tried very hard to do the right thing, protect the right people.

And he knew it had ended a disaster.

These days, Harry didn't think too much about his ultimate goals. There were none. No deadline on this project; no kill-or-be-killed (or maybe both) at the end. Instead there was a lifetime of protecting those who were weak, including the Ministry.

He'd had a short run as the Dumbledore, the high-profile much-loved wizard. These days it was time to figure out how to be the man everybody hated but who kept them all safe. It was time to play to his strengths.

Perhaps he should have been sorted into Slytherin after all.

Draco started hearing the rumors, first. Longbottom had seen him kill a man, they said. An Auror.

He was sweating, just sitting there on the edge of his bed, waiting for Potter to break down the door and rush in, ready to kill him. Draco carefully did not carry his wand these days; he wore a sleeveless shirt so nobody could accuse him of going for a wand that was up his sleeve.

He was very much afraid that he would die anyway.

People were not feeling very charitable for him. He knew Potter had stuck up for him at least once, and he knew he was on the knife's edge. He knew that if he failed to do even one of his proscribed sessions of right-doing and community service it might mean the end.

And he knew, beyond all else, that he owed Potter his life.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially after all that he'd done to Potter. All the hurts he'd received in return.

There came a knock at his door, and he knew it was Potter. Bone-deep, he knew it. He wondered how his mother would take it. Would she cry, scream? Would they even bother to tell her? He'd distanced himself from her as soon as he could, trying to protect her from the fallout. People hated her a lot less.

People hated him a lot more.

He edged to the door, opening it slowly, both hands forward, in sight.

It was Potter, of course. Potter, with his hair a bit too long, adjusting his glasses on his nose. Potter, with sleeve-tats. Potter, looking far too dangerous.

Potter, with no wand drawn.

Draco tensed up. "I didn't kill the Auror," he blurted out, trying to survive.

"I know," said Potter. "Invite me in; I don't want to stand here too long like this. Somebody'll recognize me."

Hair too long, the wrong shirt, dangerous tats… it took Draco a minute, but then he got it. A disguise. One anybody who didn't know Potter could never see through.

It was smarter than he had ever thought Potter was.

He stepped back, letting the taller man through. Potter edged in the door, waving one hand and coming up with a cloak that he tossed on the back of the nearest chair. "It was a glamour; Neville was able to see through it with a simple truth spell. Word on the street is that you were considered the next in line for the whole Dark Lord thing and there's some former Death Eaters very unhappy with you for not taking up that mantle."

Draco was sweating. If Potter knew it wasn't him, why come here? Was this to be another torment, or was the punchline that it would be better for the wizarding community to think he had done it, and been punished? "And?" he prompted shortly, scowling at Potter.

"It means the surviving Death Eaters are a lot better organized and numerous than we had hoped," said Potter, smirking as he glanced around the apartment. "It also means that they're looking for a leader still. And looking at you."

"I'm under Ministry surveillance. I'd have to be a fool to try it," said Draco. Was that it? Just threats about going with the rest of the fools? He started to relax a little.

"I know. The thing is, I want to put an end to these people." Potter turned, the smile vanishing from his face. "And I think you can help me with that, unless I'm very much mistaken."

They just stared at each other for a long minute, and Draco's face fell. "God. You want me to turn against all my old friends, do your dirty work?"

Harry shrugged. "You certainly don't have to, but you can do two things here. One, you can buy back your family's name. If you do this for me, I'll put the word out. Let everybody know you helped me. It might make you a target for the Death Eaters who are left, but it should get the Ministry—and everybody else—off your back."

"And two?" asked Draco harshly.

Potter smiled again. "I'm surprised you even have to ask, Malfoy. I'm not here to peddle redemption; I'm here to peddle revenge. These people just tried to get you killed. The only way to pay that back proper is to turn on them, isn't it? Besides, that first part? It only means anything if there aren't enough Death Eaters left to come find you and kill you any time they please. And there's only one way you have to ensure that."

"And if I say no?" asked Draco, already certain he would say no.

"Then I'll tell them everybody you were helping me all along. Then the Death Eaters might just come out to kill you, tipping their hand to me. If they do that, then I have a very good chance of getting them. Mission accomplished for me… only you'll be dead, probably, unless you think you can hold off all the faithful masses left out there."

Draco tried to keep from showing his anger on his face. "So you plan to force my hand, then?"

"Not really. My hand's the one being forced here. I have to find them somehow, and you're the only chink showing in their armor right now. If you go with option two I guarantee that I'll try to save your life. It'll just be a lot harder than it ought to be."

Draco knew it was no choice at all. Just the window dressing of one to make him feel better, or maybe to make Potter feel better. But Potter had him boxed, all the same. "Well, then. What do you want me to do?"

Potter nodded. "This is going to have to be a secret mission, of the worst sort. I don't think my lot will take too kindly to you coming along. So I'll have to drop off the grid, go stealth. You… you just wait here for me to come for you, but pack a bag. When I come for you, we'll be going. Right?"

Draco was more terrified than he'd ever been in his life. He knew how terrible the survivors were; knew what it had cost them to escape justice.

But on the other hand was Potter, who scared him even more. Potter, who could probably do worse than just kill Draco. And there was Draco's mom to consider, to worry about.

He hated Potter more than ever just then.

Harry could see Draco had gone for it, hook line and sinker. He had known he would. The reasoning was flawlessly Slytherin, and the two choices were coldly logical.

But he kept back the parts that Draco wouldn't understand, the parts that were terrifying and radical.

Either way this went, Draco would be forever branded a traitor, and unable to enmesh himself further in these things. Saving him from a fate that was worse… no, it was actually simply death, that fate.

And maybe, just maybe, Harry could force Malfoy to see the cold, hard truths that were there, could make him see what sort of people he was dealing with.

Maybe Harry could save this worthless man's soul, a project that Snape and Dumbledore had both worked on, an unfinished project they had died working on.

These reasons were all nonsense to Malfoy, who would never understand why Harry, who hated him, would want either of these things; to keep him alive, or to save him.

To Harry, this project was more than just Dumbledore and Snape's legacy. It was more than a debt paid. And it was more than just Malfoy's soul. It was a proof, to himself, that he was better than Voldemort or Dumbledore. That he could try to help somebody when it would not profit him; that he really could do the right thing.

His hands were shaking slightly. He put his robe on silently. "I'll be back soon," he promised, leaving Malfoy standing there with that terrible scowl on his face.