A True War Story is Never Moral

A/N: Title taken from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Be warned that this is fiction. There is a bit in here about religion and God, so if you're one to get offended by such things (they aren't ill-meant, btw) I suggest you don't read. Also, this is a one-shot, so it's finished.

She heard the stories – it was bar talk, the kind you swig your liquor to and then nod your head to when you were half gone. Meaning it wasn't the type of talk you would have in broad daylight of clear mind, if there ever was such a thing. Sometimes it came up and there would just be this real gritty silence, like salt roughly scraping at their lips, and then real bitter laughter. The ironic kind. Usually the laughter came from Ron. And Hermione, she just drank her beer – not as to say she didn't have anything to say, it was just that everybody already knew. It was kind of twisted that way. Everybody somehow just already knew.

Sometimes Harry got letters, or calls, to speak to little crowds about what happened, which is funny, because he turns each one of 'em down. She always heard about them at work because of some dissatisfied executive bitching about how Harry Potter suddenly turned mute. It wasn't that at all. It'd been just a few years, and the world kept on living, and so they did too. That didn't mean they fell asleep all calm-like every night, or that it'd been completely wiped clean from their memory. Every day she looked at her face and she remembered. War wasn't something easily explicable, she always thought, when she would get letters to speak, too. They only asked her after Harry had turned them down. And so she turned them down, too, and the whole wizarding world came to this thought that they were just being so high and mighty about everything. Their scars were medals, and it fed them right. And they could never tell them so otherwise.

The story was that Malfoy – you remember him – he stayed on the Dark side. Supposedly. Then, at the last minute, right from behind, he started killing his own friends, in a mad rampage. Just green fire in his eyes, and spells shooting from his wand, and she heard he was just the right monster for it. And then everybody was dead. Or, at least, nearly. Except Voldemort, though, because it's obvious the old bastard just doesn't die very easily, and somehow Draco Malfoy loses his leg. Just like that. That was before Potter came to his senses, of course, and saved everybody's asses – even the ones that shouldn't have ever been saved, the ones that just jumped into the wagon at the last minute. And the story goes, Potter, after killing Voldemort, just stands there, all bloody and sweaty, looking like a real-life hero. It truly was a scene. Malfoy was on the ground, screaming in agony, clutching at his thigh, and his leg is gone. Just – blasted off. Simply not there.

Potter stands there, just watching him, his pathetic little form writhing and shouting. His eyes are like stones – opaque, smooth. Inside there's a storm churning – it's always been there, she's always known this – and his face isn't wreaked with the destruction he's just seen, the destruction that almost seems to swallow him up like a mouthless pit of fire. His hand is absolutely steady and calm at his side; it doesn't twitch one bit. Doesn't quiver. It's still, almost disturbingly still, just like the rest of him is. Or like the way everything is right after a war, that eerie and muffled silent instance that comes with being surrounded by death and destruction, as if they had just gotten their ears blown right off. Sound comes back slowly, in oozes and trickles.

Malfoy is pleading – though not at Potter, maybe more to God, or maybe to nothing at all. Nobody will ever exactly know just to who or what. Maybe he was just screaming just to scream, on account of how he'd just lost his leg. Point was, Potter was trying to figure if he'd be better off living with only three limbs, or better off not living at all. But the truth was, Malfoy had just killed off his friends, which had done Potter some very good, so what was the right thing to do? And as blood-soaked as he was, he didn't even know if he could figure it out without fainting.

It was at that moment that she came – his best friend, the brains behind everything. And she runs to Potter and hugs him right 'til he nearly does faint, and stares at Malfoy on the floor. Her eyes are wide with awe but it quickly smoothes away into something else indistinguishable, less jagged. And the funniest thing is, they're there for minutes, and they're just expecting him to die from the pain. Then he turns delirious. He holds out his hand to her, right out to her, and he says her name. Her real name. Hermione. And she doesn't flinch, not a part of her moves, she feels like stone. She steals a glance at Potter – the only one that seems to be awake and conscious for this moment along with her, standing rigidly straight like a blade of grass on a still afternoon – and he says nothing. His lips stay tightly pursed, and his hands never move.

Death is too kind, he finally says. All the while, it seems as if his lips barely move at all. A three-limbed Malfoy. Wouldn't that just be a laugh?

As strong as everyone saw her as, she felt queasy when it came to the war, and the wounded. She wants to look away, but her eyes stay glued on him, his sweating face pinched in agony, his spazzing, incomplete limb. There is a sweet revenge that makes her fingers feel a little fuzzy at the tips, watching him. Squirming like a worm, on the dirt.

She remembers when he used to tell her how dirty she was.

Harry, she says. She doesn't want to sound sympathetic. Because she isn't. She doesn't know what she is, honestly, all she knows is that the stench of corpses is getting to her. It's been days, and she feels lightheaded – the entire time she'd been fighting through a thick fog, seeing only flashes of lights. Green there, white here, red in the distance, almost always accompanied by a bloodcurdling scream. The worst was when they didn't scream. That meant they hadn't seen it coming.

She can feel the dirt caked underneath her fingernails, so deep in that she almost doesn't think she'll be able to ever get it out, with the smoke seeping into her open wounds, the dried blood in her crevices. Her hair is filthy. She smells dead, absolutely reeks of the stench of death, and she would've thought so, too, if she hadn't felt her pulse thumping in her veins. Her body feels numb, if not too heavy to carry with only two feet that drag against the dirt, but she feels the blood coursing inside of her. This is what it must feel like. She realizes this. When you're certain you're nearly dead, the only way to be sure was to focus in real close to what is inside you. Her blood running. Her heart pumping. All it is is a muffled thump, like a fist against glass submerged in water, thump thump thump.

Just wait, he tells her. Wait, Hermione.

She wants to ask him what she should wait for. What she is waiting for. After all, Malfoy doesn't succumb into silence, he just screams and groans and squirms. As she stands there and does what he says – wait – even after all she's seen, she can't help but feel filthy. There's something wrong with this. And this was saying something, as these past few days all they had done was cross the borders of right and wrong. What they had thought was wrong soon turned into right. What had been right soon fell away in flanks and fragments, only to be found at the bottom of an abandoned lake, along with the severed thumbs and limbs and dead bodies. She was watching suffering. Right now, at this very moment, she was watching someone in the deepest pain they could possibly imagine.

She realized that Draco Malfoy did not fear death. He feared pain. She wondered whether this was what Harry realized, long before she had come along.

She didn't have the stomach for this.

Harry, she says again. I think I'm going to be sick.

She lurches, like someone had just turned her stomach inside out with a fist, but there's nothing there. She hasn't eaten for days. Not food, anyway. Just dirt, and smoke, and her own blood. But she feels her mouth line with a coat of sour saliva – bile – and her lips crack. Then she tastes the blood: runny, and metallic.

She still gets that taste in her mouth from time to time. She tries to wash it away with coffee. A lot of the time, with beer. And then she grabs a fistful of nuts from the bowl, pops them into her mouth, chews, and swigs down beer again. As she does exactly that, she catches a glimpse of the scar she has on her arm. It looks like a star. With different points in different directions. She likes to tell people she doesn't remember where she got it from – she had been too tired, had been on the verge of passing out, she'd just been hit in the back with another spell. It blacked out her memory.

She's lying, of course. When somebody tells you they don't remember where they got something, say a scar, they're lying. They always are.

It's a test. Either it always is or it always isn't, but she can never tell these days. All she knows for sure – a fact, as tangible and real as her living room couch or the potted cactus her mother sent her a week ago – is that she can tell whenever one of them wakes up to nightmares of what happened. There's a deadness in the eyes, with the black bruising underneath, like a shadow of something weighty and heavy and simply massive. Something unmeasured. Something that just couldn't be.

They'd tried to get back to their old lives. They got frustrated with the anchor they seemed to be carrying with them everywhere they went, so they tried jumping into denial. One night, Harry got drunk. He did this purposely – he drank just until the heaviness that came with the mornings and nights seemingly began to lift off, ever so slightly, like heels jumping off of his shoulders to fly. And then he kissed her. She remembered the sloppy way he did it: his cool hand pressing against the nape of her neck, his palm smooth and flat like an old, worn stone from a river, his fingers digging into her skin. It was like kissing a bottle of beer. His motions were liquid if not completely forceful, the way he didn't let her breathe, he just sucked the breath right out of her. He stunk of alcohol, and it stung the insides of her nose. It made her dizzy.

He'd forgotten she was there. He'd forgotten she had been there with him, standing right in the midst and the eye and even at the edge of the war. He'd forgotten that her innocence had been ruined, too, and that she was still bitter over the fact that she could never get it back, not ever.

She didn't say a word, because she understood. He was a little rough because of what he was trying to escape; he was a little clumsy because of all the alcohol in his system. She tried to close her eyes, tight, suppressing the visions of flashing lights: green, white, red. She tried to ignore the sudden itch she had underneath her fingernails. The dirt was still there. She never kidded herself. It would always be.

It hurts. Of course it does. Neither of them know what they're doing – not now, not then. They were still so young, so undeserving, so dumb. He's not doing this because he loves her. He's doing this because he needs release. He's doing this because he doesn't know what he's doing, he's so drunk, and he won't remember it in the morning – but it means something, in the way that now, everything meant absolutely nothing. Not since the war. He'd just like to feel. This was the first attempt. He found bravery in the amnesia of liquor, just like he used to find bravery in faith, and hope, and goodness, and justice.

He didn't believe in any of that anymore. There was only life and death, and occasionally, a little niche in the middle for anything else that happened to slip between the cracks. That was it.

She was a pretty nurse. Sometimes, late at night, he would think about her. Her soft brown hair, which was always pulled back, and her white cotton uniform – always flawlessly ironed, not a single wrinkle or stain in sight. She had long, slender fingers – he considered them sinful. She would tug on his bandages, which would be rough and scratchy and dry, and feel his pulse, which at times operated like a dim light in the distance, flickering and faint, yet continuous. Sometimes she would lean onto him when she was trying to fluff his pillow, and he would just breathe her in. She smelled just like softness, if that made any sense. He'd never smelt anything like it before; the only smells that had been permanently burned into his memory were these: vodka, whiskey, smoke, rotten corpses, and silk. For a time he felt as if the smells of the war still haunted him, awake or asleep. Sometimes, he would even smell blood. The pools and pools of it. And he could never figure it out – nor did he want to – so he kept it hidden as best he could, behind the storage of his memories and his secrets, underneath the weight of his mistakes.

Her name was Franchesca. Frannie, for short, which was the name the other nurses called her. Her legs were slender but shaped by muscle, and her wrists were tiny and almost breakable if he hadn't seen their quickness and felt their strength. She smelled like softness – if there ever was such a smell – and quiet rainy days.

He wouldn't talk to her. Sometimes she asked him questions – whether he was thirsty, if he wanted his pillow fluffed, if his chest still hurt – but he would only respond with silent gestures or one-worded answers. For two years, he never spoke more than two words to her, which was funny, because most of his nights – especially on rainy nights – he would think about her. The way her hands would feel on his body, the way her skin would taste compared to how it smelled.

One night that all changed.

She left a book on his bedside table. Accidentally or purposefully, he would never actually know, but he remembered just seeing it there and being curious and bewildered. It was a leather-bound book with faded gold printing. He grabbed it and opened it to see what it was about. He was guessing maybe a book of the classics. A book about philosophy. Maybe even a book about gardening.

The next day she would come in, with her impeccable white uniform and her soft-soled white shoes and neatly pinned brown hair, and he was waiting for her. She stopped when she saw him, because he was gesturing to the book she'd left on his bedside.

You left your book, he tells her.

Her eyes flicker, but her face is calm and smooth. Oh, she says. I knew I'd forgotten something when I left.

And then she comes around, grabbing the book from the table, pressing it against the side of her thigh. Thanks. She doesn't sound like she means it.

How can you still believe in religion, he asks her in a serious tone, after everything that's happened?

She doesn't flinch. She's not shocked by his question, or even flustered or unnerved – almost as if she'd seen it coming.

I don't, she answers, believe in religion.

"That book you're holding there proves the contrary."

"I don't have to believe in religion to read this," she says. He can't figure out how she sounds. A little tightly wound, but only subtly so, a forceful nonchalance. There's a look beneath the dullness of her eyes, a subdued thrill lurking under the sheen of the boredom of routine -- but he's not sure, maybe he just wants to see it -- that tells him, Go. Go on. Ask the question.

"It's misleading, at best. Carrying around a Bible as white as your uniform. What exactly do you get from those pretty little passages in there? Hope? Faith? Security? Delusions?"

She shakes her head, but she's smiling. She tells him he doesn't understand. And then he says, Which part? She answers with: All of it.

He stares at her. There was nothing remarkable about her answer – it was your usual religious person response to a challenge from a nonbeliever. It was smug, conceited, and seemingly superior. He held such conviction that if there ever was a God, he was a sadistic master puppeteer – but otherwise he was just an illusion created by idealists looking for a savior and a meaning they couldn't find in themselves. It was an excuse to create war, to crusade, to kill, to invade, to destroy people's identities. God was just a holy vessel steered by men with hidden agendas. God was false advertisement for a faulty product. God was a fickle shadow, menacing but harmless and certainly not tangible. Most of all, God was an invention, a tool, a weapon.

He says all of this to her. It doesn't occur to him that this is the most he's ever spoken to her in two entire years. It doesn't even occur to him that his weekly re-bandaging is getting delayed because of a point he was desperately trying to make. How can you believe, he asks, almost so earnestly that he's choked up by it, when everything around you is proof of the contrary?

He remembers he lost his leg. He turned good, and then he lost his leg. And two figures stood above him, unmoving, as he screamed and squirmed, grasping at the limb that used to be. He remembers a voice, a voice he always hears in his sleep, weak and almost even emotionally strangulated: I think I'm going to be sick.

She stays silent for a minute. Predictable. These religious types, they need to formulate, they need to dig through their heads for pre-meditated answers fed through the writings of so-called prophets and descendants of God. He watches her in scrutiny. The room stays absolutely silent, as if watching and listening with its bleak colorless walls. And he just waits.

What, she finally says, her voice quiet and still and white, do you have against God?

Draco smiles without knowing it. "Everything."

Suddenly, he has an uncanny urge to tell her about how he lost his leg. About how he had killed all of his friends. About how he had betrayed the side he had been born into. About how he couldn't even begin to talk about the nausea he'd felt as he felt the power surging through him and the blinding green lights flashing in front of him, and even almost inside him, that pulsating and unadulterated energy that made the hair on the back of his neck stand rigid straight. The energy of death, he called it. It was that powerful. It made men go insane. It made men betray.

Then she says something funny: "Everything, is it? Maybe you should be a little more specific." And then she has a little smile -- a quarter of a smile, a sliver of it, barely hanging off the side of her mouth. Maybe in a different angle he might have never noticed it, because if he tilted his face the slightest bit, it disappeared.

He didn't understand this about people. The way there were so many facets to them, like a diamond, but you could never see them all at once -- like a diamond. You turn your head one way, you see a sly carving on their face that only remotely resembles a smile, and you turn it the other way, or even just a little, you see something else. Or even, perhaps, nothing at all. Sometimes he found comfort in the fact that there was never a complete uncovering of somebody's soul -- this made him sleep easier at night -- but also brought him to question exactly the validity of someone if you could never hold them in your hand as a whole, or even think of them as a whole, with their guts hanging out and the bruises on their ego and the dullness of their spine and the unhealed holes in their heart with their chest ripped open. They were never fully exposed. Even if they were, even if it seemed like a lot, like a whale load, it was never the case.

Maybe, if it happened to him, he would have a little bit more trust in people. Maybe even in God. He could not hold God in the palm of his hand as a whole, he couldn't even think of God as a whole. It was perforated, like Swiss cheese, like an innocent used as target practice.

He wanted to tell her that he didn't know how to be specific, that he had lost the ability two years ago – that the word had lost its meaning because it had been completely swallowed up by an ambiguous, tumultuous time made of ancient grudges and barbed wire and black nights. But it didn't stand alone. Many words had spiraled out of his vocabulary; they had lost all of their weight and had been crushed from inside out, and their empty weightless shells had just drifted out. Out there. Out there. Words. They were just words. Faith. Love. Peace. Bad. Good.

The hard part was trying to tell whether she would understand. In the end, he decided she wouldn't be able to. It was just easier that way.

Think about it, she says, and she gets out the bandaging kit, falling into routine. It was strange, the way they had seemed to cross into something out of the ordinary from the past two years, a remarkable, different instance. Think about it some more, she says again, and just be specific. And then everything goes silent, and all of the whacked out pieces and fragments that had been blown up into the air the minute he spoke falls back into place. He says nothing back, and the silence stretches out between them so familiarly – except there is one exception, a dangling artery that connected her to him, and that smile on the edge of her lips that seemed to appear and disappear from angle to angle, if ever at will.

He must've let it sit there for days.

It took a nearly fatal almost-injury for him to take notice of it again.

What the fuck? she says, peering at the floor, moving her foot away. What the fuck?

He looks up from his Sudoku so nonchalantly, and she gives him an accusing glare, as if he had meant it to be there, as if it had been a conspiracy. She tells him there's a pile of shattered glass on the floor, and had he known this? He tells her Yes. She swears at him – why didn't he clean it up? And most curiously, how long had he let it sit there, waiting for a poor unfortunate soul to get the soles of their feet all cut up?

He has this calm look in his eyes. He tells her to look at it.

Well, she says, her hands on her hips, I'm looking at it, aren't I? How else did you think I noticed? Nearly got my foot all cut up, you fucking bastard.

Don't look at itlook at it. Closely. And still he says this so calmly. She thinks there's something wrong with him, that maybe he's been living by himself too long. But she does what he says, squinting, before sighing and throwing her hands up and calling him crazy. If you're that fucking lazy, she grumbles, I'll clean it up myself. And then she grabs a broom.

He stops her.

"Things break. That's just how things are."

She tells him she doesn't care. Someone is going to get hurt, so she's cleaning it up.

"That's the problem," he tells her, shaking his head. "Every time something's broken, people want to fix it. If they can't fix it, or if it isn't worth the fix, they want to sweep it up and throw it away – out of sight, out of mind. See, I," he says, licking his lips, gesturing to the pile of broken glass on the floor, "have made peace with broken things."

And that's exactly the way he put it. He's made peace with broken things, and he takes the broom from her, and puts it back where it originally was. He just leaves it there, a pile of shattered glass, and she looks at it as if it was a predator, waiting to jump out. She asks him if he's serious, and he just picks up where he left off on his Sudoku.

He's made peace with broken things, he says again, not looking up, and so should she.

They went out for beers. Often. They found comfort in the dimness of the place, where you walked into and would often forget whether it was daylight or night outside, and the tired but cheery faces of the bartenders with the steady hands for pouring alcohol, and the shining bottles of liquor perfectly lined up against the mirror. And in the mirror they would see themselves, their own faces, and sometimes they recognized themselves – and sometimes they didn't. It all seemed to depend on what kind of day they'd had, on whether they'd woken up from nightmares and hadn't been able to go back to sleep, and even the time of night.

This is nice, one of them would say. Then they'd remark on how they always managed to congregate, no matter what was happening. And then they'd pop nuts into their mouths as they drank beer, talking about something that happened at the office or at the market. They rarely talked about the news. On occasion they would remark about the Ministry, which always got Ron riled up, especially if he was drunk. Those bitches, he'd say. Those fucking bastards. Don't you remember how they left us out there to die? They left us out there to die.

Each of them felt a certain disconnectedness from their surroundings. Their environment. Sometimes they felt as if they were going through their days in a plastic bubble, untouched and not being able to touch. People and noises and conversation and the music of daily life would go on above their heads, just this slight and low humming, and they would simply be unfazed and unaffected. She was able to drink her coffee black. She was able to talk dirty and speak in a way she had never imagined she would. Worst of all, she could block out the world so easily, sometimes even without her knowing.

Sometimes, Harry says, staring at their reflection in the mirror, with the bottles all lined up neatly. Sometimes I can't figure out what's so different. Us or them. It's one of the other.

He meant to say that nothing felt the same. Not even the texture of his skin, or the softness that he used to be able to feel when he touched certain things. His skin was tougher. Less sensitive. His eyes were darker, absent of the naive sparkle it'd had in previous pictures; sometimes it even looked hollow. When he saw innocence he could not help but think of how, someday, it will all vanish. It will be stolen. It will disappear.

And nothing would be the same.

Ron is the one that replies. Can't it be both?

Harry shakes his head. Not this time, he answers. It has to be one or the other.

Hermione nods and drinks her beer, a nice languid drink. It's funny, she finds it funny, because that's exactly how it is. One or the other. War, beauty, life. It was always one or the other. It couldn't ever be both. It was either broken or whole, pure or filthy, good or bad. One or the other. She wondered if there could ever be a middle, a neutral. If you could possibly live on as secular to either and both.

Well, fuck me, Harry says, putting down his drink. His voice is smooth, but low. Isn't it funny? It's after the war, and we still don't have any answers. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? We go in with a cause in mind, with solution as our goal, and we come out with nothing but questions. You get out, and everything's a glaring question mark – even the damn sunlight. Even the damn sunlight, you know? Fuck.

The two figures, these two black and fuzzy shadows, always visited him in his dreams. It was always the same scene, and he was forced to relive it every night – his betrayal, his moment of weakness, his act of crossing the boundaries. The skies churned red and black, with the stink of rotting corpses everywhere, with flashing lights bathing the soil. It lit up the apocalyptic sky like fireworks, except there were no sounds of awe or exclamation. Instead there were screams in the distance.

The worst was when there was absolute silence, because that meant that they hadn't seen it coming.

He remembered how he'd clutched the ground, as if wanting to sink into it or be swallowed by it, his fingernails scraping against the dirt. He'd wanted something to hang onto besides himself, because he felt his soul – if he ever possessed such a thing – reeling inside him, as if wanting to rocket out of his body, squealing with pain and confusion.

He thought it was funny how he felt pain in a place that was no longer there. His leg.

He didn't ask for help because he knew he wouldn't get it. He didn't ask for help because he knew what the two figures were thinking, why they simply just stood there, watching. He was suffering, and it pleased them. He was suffering, and for once, life was fair. It was the purest act of retribution long coming, and they were simply there, soaking it in, like licking your lips after a delicious meal – except not really. It wasn't that they found pleasure in it. It was just that it was fair; it was justice. It had a magnetic pull on human kind, seeking out justice, seeking out to witness justice. Maybe to scavenge what little hope they had left. Or maybe just because there was nothing else to do.

"Why did you do it?"

He remembers those five words flittering in his dreams, cutting through fabrics of silk and shining silver like thunder across a boiling, tumultuous sky.

It's a woman, standing at the edge of his bed, gripping the steel bars with her small, dainty hands. Hands capable of evil. Hands capable of healing. Hands capable of things beyond her knowledge and imagination. His eyes are so heavy they can only be held up at half-mast, like torn sails on a boat, but he stares at the blurry image of her hands on the bars.

He doesn't say anything and she continues on, her voice a harsh whisper. Accusing.

"What was it? Were you looking for redemption?" She spits the last word like poison. And he cringes, inwardly. It is poison.

"No," he manages to choke out. His throat is dry and gravelly. He hasn't had anything to drink for hours. He sits there in the heavy, tormenting darkness. "I just wanted to live."

There it was. He was no broken savior, not even a hero. Just desperate scum.

She calls him a selfish bastard. Then she disappears.

It had nothing to do with wrong or right, bad or good, or even justice. He just decided that his cause wasn't worth dying for, after all. Life was precious. He was only sorry he hadn't realized this before. Maybe it could have saved him a leg.

They all heard the stories – it was bar talk, the kind you swig your liquor to and then nod your head to when you were half gone. Meaning it wasn't the type of talk you would have in broad daylight of clear mind, if there ever was such a thing. Sometimes it came up and there would just be this real gritty silence, with their mouths puckered against the lip of their beers, and then real bitter laughter. The ironic kind. Boisterous. Loud. Not happy, but not sad, either – just in between there somewhere, in a crevice. Usually the laughter came from Ron. And Hermione, she just drank her beer – not as to say she didn't have anything to say, it was just that everybody already knew. It was kind of twisted that way. Everybody somehow just already knew.

Sometimes Harry got letters, or calls, to speak to little crowds about what happened, which is funny, because he turns each one of 'em down. She always heard about them at work because of some dissatisfied executive bitching about how Harry Potter suddenly turned mute. It wasn't that at all. It'd been just a few years, and the world kept on living, and so they did too. It was impossible to stop. Once you were alive, you were alive, until you weren't anymore. It was as simple as that.

It was a Thursday night that they had all agreed to meet at the bar. Hermione ordered a beer and so did Harry. They chatted away about what was happening at their offices. Ron was a little late – but this wasn't new, Ron was always late, so they didn't think much of it.

Ten minutes later they look up to see him limping towards them. Harry makes a snarky remark about his lame, crooked stride. He sits down beside Hermione and quickly orders a beer. Around them, they hear the surrounding hum of mixed conversation, all blurred together in a language they could not make out and did not ever care to. To them, they're surrounded by people they saved, by people who no longer cared unless something forced them to remember the tragic fate they could have faced, and by people who mostly preferred to forget. It was human. To forget. But it was also human to latch on to something, forcefully, in an effort not to do just that--forget.

To Harry, forgetting was a sin. To others, it was a necessity for survival. And to others, it was simply a luxury.

"It's my foot," he tells them, without them having to ask. The bartender passes him a beer. He sighs, shaking his head, and swipes his thumb against the front, wiping the moisture away. "I stepped on some fucking glass this morning."