After the Fall
A Harry Potter Post-Series Fic
Summary: After the fall of Voldemort, comes the long winter of Harry's discontent, and a chance to do the right thing. 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. A little noir, a little fanon…
Chapter 2: Irredeemable
Mist and darkness fought each other to blank out Neville's vision, and he cursed under his breath, rubbing his eyes.
The night around him was almost a living thing, a treacherous woman waiting to try to kill him as it had killed his partner. The building he was watching had an attitude problem, and it was certainly going to kill him.
He hoped Harry knew what he was doing. During the war he'd hoped that, but back then he hadn't realized just how lost Harry was. Just how on the edge he was.
But it had worked out, and he trusted Harry. He did. Even if he had to keep telling himself that. Even if Harry had terrible ideas, like putting Draco Malfoy in charge of helping all the orphans left behind. Or worse ideas.
Like having Neville become an Auror and work as his inside man at the Ministry. Neville's work here on mopup detail was terribly dull, and sometimes traumatic. And now that he was an Auror it was more clear than ever that he'd really like to do something else. Something with children.
Perhaps teaching. Not for the teaching aspect of it, really, but for something else entirely. His entire time at Hogwarts he'd felt like none of the teachers had truly understood him—none of them had looked at him and seen a child. Only a job to do.
Hogwarts needed a teacher who would protect the students as Dumbledore had done. (and, according to Harry, Snape too, although Neville had trouble wrapping his head around this idea)
He could hear the dripping noise of a running faucet somewhere. He touched the coin in his pocket, the special one that he never was without. Sometimes he missed the DA days… certainly they had been simpler. And easier, in a way.
He tried to keep in touch with the others. Hannah, Luna, Harry… even Hermione and Ron, who were off doing whatever they did all the time.
He wondered if any of the others regretted their immediate choices. He wondered what they would rather be doing.
Not Luna, who was already doing exactly what she wanted. But Harry, especially. Harry seemed to carry the weight of the world. Moreso, now that he wasn't forced to carry that weight; now, as he'd chosen it, he seemed to immerse himself in.
Neville wasn't sure it was healthy for Harry; but he was sure the world was safer for it.
Harry arrived soon after, and Neville let out a long breath he'd been holding. "There you are," he muttered.
"Still watching the place?" asked Harry. "Seems to me that's a waste of manpower now. You know he's not here, and you can set a ward, let you know if anybody goes in."
Neville shook his head. "These Aurors, Harry, they're stuck in old rules. The things they do seldom make sense; it's more bureaucratic make-work than anything else."
Harry made a face, drawing his cloak tighter around himself. "God. Can you do anything about that?"
Neville shook his head. "What they really need is a revolution. They need somebody to break them out of those ways."
Harry made a face. "I told you I don't really have time for that right now, Neville." Nor inclination. Being put in the position of having to use his wand like that again—of perhaps having to kill again—terrified him. Not because he couldn't do it, but because it scared him how easily he could do it. Even without that piece of Voldemort in him there was darkness still within himself that he did not want to awaken.
"I know; a world to save, and all that," said Neville dismissively. "I hear Ron is thinking of trying to become an Auror if he can get some work experience to make up for missing his final year."
Harry shot a glare at Neville. "No fair using Ron against me," he said.
Neville shrugged, not sorry in the slightest. "I think you're the one that taught me that trick."
Harry wondered how close Neville had come to being sorted into Sytherin. He sat down beside Neville, glaring at the abandoned house where Neville's partner had died. "You're about ready to quit this job, then?"
"What clued you into that?" asked Neville bleakly.
"I can't be everywhere at once, but I need you here for at least a little while more, Neville," said Harry, sorrowfully. "I hear Hermione is going back to Hogwarts when the semester starts to get her NEWTs, anyway. So she won't be taking this spot. She even told me she doesn't want to be an Auror! Or work in Magical Law Enforcement at all!" Harry had plans to change her mind about that, of course.
"Can you blame her?"
Harry fumed just a little bit. "I just need to keep an eye on the enforcers for a while. The laws are all hopeless—I don't see any way to change them!—but I need people here, as Aurors."
"Nobody would be better at it than you, Harry."
"I need to keep digging undercover for a while."
"When your cover gets blown, what then? You're only one man, Harry. Not an army. Not a god. Just one wizard."
Harry sighed. "I know. But there's a lot of work to be done, and right now it's easier to do it behind the scenes."
"Turning the Aurors around would be a job and a half—I don't know of anybody else who can do it."
They sat in silence.
"What about Malfoy?" asked Neville finally.
"He's agreed to help. Still can't stand the sight of me, and he's scared to death I'll go after his family if he doesn't help."
"You can't trust him."
"I can trust him to do what's in his family's best interests," said Harry, an insight he was surprised hadn't come to Neville. Of course, Neville hadn't seen the Malfoy's at their lowest and highest points (which often came at exactly the same time, paradoxically--the lower they had sunk in fortunes, the better they had acted towards each other, at least), hadn't seen what they were willing to do for each other.
Neville sighed. "All right, Harry, but watch yourself."
Ron sat watching the fire, wondering what he would tell Hermione. She wanted him to come back to Hogwarts with her for the semester, but he very much didn't want to. And now George was offering him work.
This magical summer, full of light and life and a pronounced lack of dark wizards and dark magic, was coming to a close, and he didn't want to see it go. He especially didn't want to be too far separated from Hermione. He'd come close to losing her altogether; he didn't want to see her leave and not come back to him.
He was fully convinced that she could do so much better than him, that she could have anybody she wanted. And he knew he wasn't the world's best catch.
But he loved her madly.
"What's wrong?" she asked, sitting down beside him.
"That was George in the fire. He asked if I'd like a job at his shop when I get back to England," said Ron, cringing.
She was silent for a long time, and Ron wondered if he'd broken whatever spell had kept them so happy over the summer. That would be just like him, wouldn't it?
When she spoke, she sounded like she was very far away. "You don't really want to go back to Hogwarts, do you?"
"I don't understand how you can want to go back there! I'm sorry. I know it means a lot to you, but I—I feel like we must have gone to school in two very different places, and only thought we were in the same place."
She sighed, reaching out and taking his hand. "And Diagon Alley isn't that far from Hogwarts, is it? As close as you're likely to be, anyway."
He felt like his heart had been revived after being dead for several hours. "No, it isn't. I can get there by broom, by Apparating, by… by… well, if all else fails, I'll just bloody walk there!"
She smiled at him, and all was right in his world again.
Harry wondered what kind of weird alternate reality he was living in. Here he was, hiding out in his apartment like a recluse and trying to get in with Dark Wizards, using Draco Malfoy as his beard—and Ginny was going back to school as Head Girl, Captain of the Quidditch team, and most popular person on campus.
His eye was starting to twitch.
"Honestly, the scout said I've only got a one-in-ten chance of making it through tryouts," said Ginny, stretching some more. Harry would be happy to just sit and watch her stretch, but, sadly, she would kick his butt completely if he didn't stay focused. Very focused.
He stretched, glaring at his broomstick. "Weird."
"Weird? Why?" she asked, just a bit pricklishly.
"You're talking about professional tryouts and you're not even through school yet."
"Good was the word I used; not weird."
"Weird is the word I'm going to use if I feel like it," he said, still a bit off. Professional scouts? Going after a student in her final year? Was she really that good?
Well, she usually outflew him. She was better in any given position than anybody else he could think of—and he could only outplay her if he could distract her, which was his usual tactic. If he was going to honest, it was no surprise professional teams were trying to snatch her up early, trying to get ahold of her before she graduated.
It just seemed very, very early.
"Because it's me and not you?" she asked, her voice just a little bit chilly.
"Because it's early, even for somebody who did as well as you did last year," he said, trying not to remember that he'd missed everything last year and had only managed to read about all the matches she'd won for Gryffindor. "Because you're going back for your last year now, and they ought to be waiting till they'd seen you fly at least once this year. And you may be a mad Chaser, but you know as well as I do the teams rarely pick Chasers early."
She frowned at him, wrinkling her nose. "Are you trying to disparage my accomplishments, Mister Potter?"
"I'm telling you you're a hero now, in addition to being a mad Chaser; and you've got to be sure they're offering it to you for the right reasons. Because if they want a famous face to decorate their bench, they can get those a dime a dozen." And it did sting a little bit that nobody was scouting him, but he was a bit scary, he had to admit. A bit too much for bench-decoration. "If you want to have a career in Quidditch, you have to make sure they have a reason to pick you up when you graduate."
"Oh, I'm supposed to graduate now?" she asked tartly. "Even if you and Ron aren't going back? Besides, your command of recent history is slipping a bit. Holyhead has been scouting them younger and younger—they actually whisked Fletcher out of school before graduation. Caused a bit of a row. And, of course, then he underperformed—a bit much pressure for a schoolkid."
Harry bit his lower lip. It was bad enough she could outfly him, worse still she was better against the Bludgers than him. That she could always out-trivia him was too funny. "If playing falls through, you could always run commentary or write about it."
She shrugged. "I do love the sport," she agreed. "Now, shall we get the ritual thrashing out of the way? By the by, mum expects you for dinner tonight. And she's getting quite suspicious of me sneaking out—I may get grounded soon."
Harry grinned, just a bit. "We'll see about that thrashing, shall we?"
Harry loved the Burrow. Even after the war it was a place of safety and light.
He hated letting Draco into it.
"Now, rule one is that you'll be keeping your mouth shut in here," he told Draco. "They don't have any idea what I'm up to, and I don't want them finding out, okay?"
He hated bringing Draco here, but the timing was too close to work out anything else. And he wasn't letting Draco out of his sight, not after their close call a minute ago.
He carefully cast spells to cover up the tattoos on his arms, and pulled a longsleeved shirt on over that, before knocking.
Ginny opened the door. "Uh, what's with him?" she asked, pointing at Draco. "I distinctly remember not inviting him to dinner."
Harry shrugged. "Long story. We're also sort of running from some Dark Wizards."
"Potter screwed the pooch," said Draco quietly. "Got recognized. Despite a stellar disguise. Can we come in, please? Before they find us?"
Ginny sighed, stepping back and opening the door. "I'll set an extra place for dinner, then."
Harry stepped inside, motioning for Draco to follow him. "We're sorry."
Draco smirked, but wisely chose not to say anything, carefully closing the door behind him.
Harry nodded to Ginny. "I would have dumped him at the apartment first, but I didn't want to lead them to it. I knew we could get to the travel-point undiscovered… and from there to here… and they wouldn't dare come here."
The downside of the Burrow was that it was well known far and wide as one of the places where those who had ultimately defeated the Dark Lord had been hiding. People knew Arthur and Molly, and all their sons, and their daughter.
Worse still, they knew Harry stayed here sometimes.
Harry and Hermione had done their level best to make it a fortress before leaving, but it was still worrisome that so many people knew where it was, and who lived here. Worrisome that it was a tempting target to Dark Wizards with nothing left to lose.
Harry was beginning to rethink becoming an Auror. Somebody had to set that agency in order—make them really mop up the Dark Wizards. Somebody had to make it so nobody had to be nervous about who might know where they lived.
He wasn't sure he was up to it. He apparently wasn't up to playing puppet-master behind the scenes, or up to playing a deep plant within the enemy's ranks.
He wasn't sure just what he was going to do.
Molly burst into the room quickly. Her sixth sense appeared to be working again, the one that let her know when he was in a room with Ginny. At least, it worked while he was in the Burrow. "Harry… er, you've brought company? We'll just set another place, shall we, Ginny?"
Ginny sighed, rushing off to do that. Harry nodded to Molly. "Mrs. Weasley, sorry I didn't let you know in advance… we, er, we have some business, and we got caught up in it."
Thankfully, she didn't show too much dismay at being told he had business with Draco. Harry hoped that let Draco know that she didn't hate him. He hoped. He knew that normalizing Draco—getting him into places like this, getting him accepted by wizards, getting him out of the 'us versus them' mindset—was about half the battle. And he'd already fought that, arguing long and hard with those who had wanted to throw the Malfoy's into a new Azkaban.
The other half? That was up to Draco.
Arthur was, understandably, a little brusque. That was all right with Draco; as far as he was concerned, this was the seventh level of hell.
The place seemed empty. That is, for a place with five or six people. It felt like a place that usually had many more people than this in it.
Ginny, especially, was giving him glares of death. The adults were polite enough, but she was not.
And Potter… there was some kind of trap in Potter's eyes, in his careful way of talking civilly to Draco. A Slytherin knew that when somebody talked like that, they wanted something. And Draco still didn't know what Potter wanted.
That was dangerous, dangerous ground. It was like being back in one of those conversations with Snape, the Potions professor always easing the conversation in certain directions. Certain subtexts.
At the time he'd assumed Snape was trying to get him ready to be a Death Eater. It was only during the Second War that those thoughts, those questions, those subtexts, had served their purpose. Had made him question the thoughtless brutality. Had made him aware that the Dark Lord was the worst thing to ever happen to his family.
Snape, who was being held up now as a Champion, Dumbledore's Spy.
Draco was fairly sure that Snape wouldn't be proud of him, even though this must have been what Snape was trying for. This future where he was forced to rub shoulders with the Weasleys, where he had to work with Potter, who had blown their best chance at infiltration already.
Potter talked pleasantly about school, and NEWTs, and all sorts of things that Draco didn't care about. The food was good, so Draco just kept his mouth full, nodding and trying to smile like he was one of Potter's friends over for dinner.
It was after dinner that they got down to business.
"So, what have you children been up to?" asked Arthur as Molly waved a wand to clear the dishes. She shot a surprised glance at him, not liking his tone of voice, but when he looked at her there was steel in his gaze. He knew.
Harry met his gaze. "I was trying to find out who killed Kareds, and you know it. And I know it wasn't Malfoy, before you even say it. And I know it wasn't human."
Malfoy realized with a jolt that Potter had been avoiding these friends of his. The concerned looks they gave him, the defiant look on his face, the distance between him and girlfriend? None of them know about the little double life he was leading, trying to wipe out any surviving Dark Wizards.
It was too funny. He smirked, then had to laugh. Everybody froze, and turned to glare at him.
He wiped his eyes. "Sorry, just a momentary lapse. Do carry one with the after-dinner entertainment." He turned his best smirk on all of them.
So, Potter was playing shades of Dumbledore, the invisible hand protecting them all? And shades of Snape, trying to play spy?
It was hilarious. It was outrageous. Worst of all, it was a sign of some real gumption, if not maturity.
Arthur's nose twitched, but he turned back to Harry. "I'm afraid I must insist. This is a matter for the Aurors, not for you. I knew calling you for Neville was a mistake. The war's over, Harry. You need to stop running from your friends."
Harry's grimace had an edge to it that Malfoy thought everybody else was missing. "It's not over for whoever killed Kareds, which means it's not over for me. Sorry, Mr. Weasley."
Arthur sighed, looking down. "Harry, this isn't the dark days any more. You can turn this over the Ministry…"
"I can't," said Harry, frustrated. "I've talked to Neville; I know how things are in there. It needs to be torn apart and put back together again. It needs to be completely rebuilt!"
Arthur smiled. "It does."
"That's another crusade for another day. I have two jobs right now—I finish them, and I'll think about it. No promises! Now, I'm going to go find somebody who'll know how I can finish this. Don't do anything about this situation until you hear from me."
Malfoy didn't particularly like the look Potter was giving him now. "What?" he asked, testy.
"Did they recognize you?" asked Harry.
"What, your friends? Given they addressed me by name, I don't know, a dozen times… I'd say so."
"The Dark Wizards. During the meeting. You had your hood up. Do you think any of them realize who you were?"
Draco winced. "Maybe. Maybe not."
Harry sighed. "Right. New disguise, then back to the pubs, try to listen around. See who saw me, who saw you. Unless…"
"What?" asked Draco, already angry. Ready to snap Potter's head off at another misstep.
"I can find out tonight. I'll tell you tomorrow. I'll need a little something from you, though."
Going to the vampire twice in one week was riskier than Harry usually played. The creature was under his power right now, unable to fight him. If he gave it too much of his blood too quickly it might be able to change that.
"What do you want?" it hissed.
He tossed it the handkerchief with Malfoy's blood stained on it. "Take a taste of that, tell me what truth you can find in it."
It hissed, sniffing at the blood. "Dark, darker than yours."
"I know that."
"Do you want to know if you can trust it?"
"I already know that. Just tell if anybody else knows it?"
The creature hissed. "Nobody suspects. Everybody sees that hurtful lie. Why do you want to know? What could be wrong with you, seeing this knowledge?"
"I have things to do. Tell me how they saw through my disguise? Made so close to the real me even True Sight can't see it clearly. How?"
The vampire made a noise in the back of its throat, clicking at him. "Silly boy. Creatures in the darkness simply waited for you to be vulnerable. Saw all along the game you were playing. Only interfered when you brought another player and could have gone deeper."
Harry winced. "Ah, a mistake, for me to think I could hide who I am, then?"
"No. Mistake was thinking somebody who was very close wasn't nearby," replied the vampire. "Most of them still don't know. Hidden by a shroud. Can't match the punk with the hero. They'll connect the dots soon enough; but for now, you're safe enough."
Harry sighed. "So none of them knew it was Malfoy?"
The vampire licked at the sheet of cloth one more time. "Not a soul."
"So we'll do it differently next time. Do it the hard way. Thanks."
The vampire looked up at him curiously. "Do you want to know what your girlfriend meant by her comments? What words she wanted say but didn't."
Harry bit down on his lower lip. "No."
"No. That's invading her privacy—forcing things out she doesn't want to give."
The vampire smiled. "Wise words. She'll tell you soon enough, anyway. And won't that make you happy?"
Harry sighed. "Don't riddle with me, or play with my heart. I'm going."
Ginny was waiting for him at the apartment, shifting nervously from foot to foot. "Where have been, Harry?" she demanded, eyeing his clothes.
He shrugged, putting his glasses back on. "Your dad knows what I'm up to, more or less. You heard him."
"Damn you, Harry! You're out doing the whole weight of the world thing again—shades of DA, perhaps?—and you're putting everybody else on the sidelines! What's the point of building an army if you aren't using it?"
"I am using it," said Harry, aware that his voice was far, far too cold. And she was just concerned for him; why be so mad at her for it?
But he couldn't help it. "I have Neville out there risking his life and his sanity—for what? He had to call Luna in the other day. Luna! She's not a fighter, and she shouldn't have to see dead bodies stacked up like cordwood! Not any more!"
"And you should? You're not an Auror. You're not the Chosen One, not any more. You're no more special than me, or Neville! So put up or shut up, Mister Potter! Either you go ahead and go all in, call in your friends, accept help, or just admit right here and now that it's not your job and that's why you aren't asking us to help! Or at the very least let me help!"
"No," he said, automatically, without even thinking. "Not you. Especially not you!"
"What, I'm your little woman, okay to play a little Quidditch with, snog on the sly, but heaven forbid I help? You have to run out and protect me? Sod that! I'm not one of your groupies, not one of the worthless girls that need protecting! Comes down to it, odds are I could take you in a duel just as easily as I could take you on the field!"
And her hand had dipped down, towards her pocket, towards her wand, and for a crazy second he thought she would prove it, would take out her wand and curse him. He threw both hands up in surrender. "I put you in too much danger to even think about, during the war. I—do you know how maddening that was? I can't do that again! I can't take it."
"Then say it how it is!" she yelled. "Say you don't want to do it! Say it's your fault! Don't you ever blame me!"
"I never did!" he replied, more than a bit horrified.
She was a little mollified by that. "It sure sounded like you did," she said, her voice lowering to a normal range. "And I don't want that. At all. God, Harry! We don't have that long before I go back to school, and you'll be off doing whatever! I don't want to turn this all into one big fight, but you seem hellbent to make it that way!"
He wanted to say something, to let her know he loved her. But what could he say? He shrugged, pushing his hands into his pockets. "I have to try to keep you safe; your mum would kill me otherwise. And I have to do this; but I'm not fighting alone. I promise. I'll keep Neville close, and Luna is only a quick Apparate away. You know that. And I have a direct line to your dad… you know all that."
She sighed, looking away from him. "I know why you do it, Harry. I do. Mum… losing Fred was hard on her, on Da, on me… on everybody. They don't want to go through that again. But I couldn't stand losing you that way, either! Do you think I don't have the same insane urge to stuff you in my trunk and never let you out, so you don't get hurt?"
He couldn't help the smile. "I don't think I'd fit."
"Maybe without your legs," she growled, but he only laughed at the threat, crossing the few steps between them and wrapping her in a hug.
"I promise to be safe," he whispered. "I'll put this through official channels as soon as I have even the faintest glimmer of a clue. I'll make your da do all the work, I swear!"
But he was lying again.