A/N: I'd like to take a moment to thank you all for following this story to the end. Every review submitted made me smile.
The house was quiet.
It had been relatively quiet for a quite long time now, actually.
There was something amiss – a spark. Something that made the house really alive and flourishing.
Draco was aware of it with painful clarity. The house was still beautiful as ever, clean and well taken care of, and the grounds were verdant with dainty butterflies fluttering above the first flowers of the spring. But still.
The soul of the house was withered, unnourished.
Wanting to get away from the silence, Draco wandered outside to stand by the massive oak that had its sturdy branches spread widely, reaching towards the sky. A hesitant ray of sunshine broke through the rustling leaves, making the dark wood of the trunk almost glow. Draco brushed his hand against the rough surface.
Harry's favourite tree.
The oak had been but a mere sapling in the beginning, a tiny and a pitiful thing, but Harry's magic had made it grow and grow until it was the large tree with boughs so thick Draco couldn't circle them with his arms it was today.
It hadn't, of course, grown for almost a year now.
Draco hadn't caught any visible signs of the tree dying or suffering, but he had to admit the oak was looking a little rumpled these days. Rumpled and alone.
A subdued squeak stole his attention and he looked up, quickly spotting the small dragon perched on one the branch.
Well, not completely alone.
"Hey, Claw," he said softly. "Here again, I see."
The dragon had taken a habit of spending time near the tree, sitting on the branches and clinging to the trunk as if it had been glued to stick there. It probably felt the presence of Harry's magic that still lingered on and was drawn to it like a bee that missed honey.
Claw chittered quietly, gazing down on him as it nestled on the branch, completely surrounded by leaves. "You sure you won't come down?" Draco asked, his head tilted back to see the dragon. "You could sleep in the house if you want."
There was a gentle twitter again and Claw shook its tiny head, lowering its muzzle to rest it on the wood. Draco sighed. "Whatever you want."
He leaned his head against the trunk, feeling the cool glow of the bronze plaque under his cheek. Without looking at it, he knew what it had engraved on it.
Harry. The man who saved the world. A lot. *
Draco cracked his eyes open to get a glimpse of Blaise approaching him. "Hey. I just wanted some fresh air."
"Yeah, I thought so." Blaise stopped in front of him and cocked his head, his dark eyes curious and solemn. "How are you feeling?"
Draco shrugged, pushing away from the tree. The magic tingled on his skin as if it was saying good-bye and Draco felt a shudder going down his spine. "I'm good. Is the lunch Twinkly was preparing ready?"
Blaise watched him for a moment, his hands stuffed in his pockets. Then he gestured back towards the house. "Yes, the lunch is ready. Let's get inside before Twinkly throws a hissy fit and shrieks that we don't appreciate her cooking."
Allowing himself to give a short chuckle, Draco smiled wryly. "I was starting to get a bit hungry."
As they walked across the yard side by side, Blaise bumping his shoulder against Draco's in a friendly way, Draco was once again glad that Blaise had moved in with him. After Harry's death, the house had been so empty Draco had even considered selling the house – but when Blaise had suggested he take one of the guest rooms, Draco had readily agreed.
He really needed the company Blaise provided, the solacing comfort and the upbeat atmosphere he brought along. Besides, selling the house would have been devastating in the long run; all the memories Draco had, all the sweet and heartbreaking memories of the house, they would have been lost forever.
It still hurt to walk the echoing corridors and to sleep in the large bed, all alone. It still hurt to watch the blooming flowers in the small pots on the veranda, knowing Harry would never be there anymore to tenderly take care of them. But it would hurt more if he abandoned the house – it would be dishonouring Harry's memory.
He loved this place. He really did. Draco ran his hand along the smooth wooden railing on the veranda. The first home he could really call his own.
"So what's on the menu today?" he asked, taking a cautious sniff as they stepped inside the house. "Beef, I presume?"
"Boeuf Bourguignonne", Blaise confirmed, then lowered his voice a notch. "She's been experimenting again."
It was funny, how Twinkly seemed to try to overdo her already delicious dishes nowadays, making steak au poivres and carbonnade flamandes left and right. Draco guessed it was simply her way of compensating with the loss of one of her masters.
We all have our own way of coping with it.
"Ron, have you seen my folder somewhere?"
"Which one? The red or the green one? Or the grey with black stripes? Or perhaps you mean the blue folder that has two smaller folders inside it?"
Slowly, Hermione turned from where she was rummaging through her larger than average bag, her eyes narrowed. "Are you being a smart-arse, Ron?"
Ron raised his hands in an universal sign of "who, me?". "Of course not. Just asking, that's all."
She snorted, her hands on her hips as she stared down on him. "If you have something to say, Ron, please say it and stop beating around the bush."
"Hermione... " Ron took a gulp of air, his face set in hesitant determination. "Hermione, darling. Don't you think... don't you think you're working a bit too much these days?"
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I just... " He sighed. "You're spending the weekends at the orphanage and during the week, you barely have the time to eat with all the work you're doing in the Ministry. Ever since Nott was put to Azkaban, you've been practically sleeping at the Ministry. Yes, I know Kingsley expects a lot from you since since he put you in charge of modernizing the wizarding laws, but you can't change all the bad laws in one go. You don't have to rush, Hermione. Kingsley understands that these things take time, he wouldn't be a Minister if he didn't."
Hermione's lips were pursed in distaste. "I don't -"
"Though I think I know why you spend hardly any time home now." Ron watched her with a shrewd look in his eyes. "You keep burying yourself to work because then you don't have any time to think about Harry, don't you?"
At the mention of Harry's name, she gave a twitch and lowered her gaze. She was silent for a moment, but Ron waited patiently. "I just miss him so much," she finally whispered, her voice trembling. "Every time I think of him, it hurts, Ron, it really does. It hurts because I'll never see him walk through that door with a smile on his lips, asking how my day was -" She choked on her words and Ron reached out and gently wrapped his arm over her shivering shoulders.
"I know it hurts," he murmured, enveloping her in a hug. "It hurts me, too. Harry was my best friend and he was like a brother to me." And a better brother than someone, he thought darkly. I hope Bill really enjoys his house arrest and the fact that he's forbidden to use magic for ten years. "But you have to move on, Hermione. It's been almost a year."
"How do you do it?" she whispered thickly. "How do you move on?"
There was pure desperation in her voice and Ron squeezed her tighter, resting his chin on her wild bundle of hair. "You accept that he's dead," he said quietly. "You accept that you're never going to see him again, but that he's not completely gone. He'll never be gone, for as long as we remember him and value the time we had with him. He'll always be with you, with me, with everyone lucky enough for having known him – the memory of him is never gone."
She let out a sob, clinging to him so hard Ron felt his robes tearing. "You can't force him out of your thoughts, Hermione," he spoke gently, rubbing soothing circles on her back. "Do you think Harry would have wanted that? He would have wanted that we remember him and learn to let go, he wouldn't want this. He'd want you to live, Hermione."
Hermione heaved a great breath. "Why couldn't he stay, Ron?" she asked with a broken voice. "Why couldn't he stay?"
Ron closed his eyes. "It was his time, Hermione. He never was ours to keep forever."
"It's very good. The artist has some talent."
Remus glanced at Severus, smiling slightly, before looking back at the painting of Harry that hung on the wall, right next to his parents. "Yes, I think so, too."
Harry gave them a small wave from the canvas, his eyes bright and his black hair so tangled Remus doubted not even Draco could set it straight. They had opted for a magical painting where people could move, but not speak. Remus didn't think he could live with hearing Harry's voice but knowing it wasn't really him.
"Should we begin our session now?"
Remus nodded. "Yes. I have to wake up early tomorrow morning, Daniel will be assisting me in interviewing the last of the misfits. Soon we'll know the best way to reintroduce them to the society."
"Or the other way around," Severus said softly as they walked to the sitting room. "You can show them the new society. The society that has a place for them."
Remus hummed his agreement, sinking down on one of the armchairs. He gazed at the photograph of a young Harry on the table for a few seconds. "Harry was a very brave man. He faced death several times, never wavering. He never complained, never wanted to give up."
"He was as stubborn as Gryffindors go," Severus acknowledged and leaned back on the couch. "Foolhardy and reckless, yes, but with a pure heart and sound intentions. I remember his fierce defiance and will to do the right thing that marked him as one of the bravest and most altruistic men I've ever known."
"He always was a such hero, wasn't he," Remus softly murmured, smiling to himself. "A knight in shining armour."
And as they went on talking and remembering, the automatically moving quill swished back and forth on the long parchment set on the table. A whole stack of parchments were already full, all with the title of "Harry Potter As We Knew Him: The Biograph of a True Hero".
It had been exactly a year now.
A year without Harry.
Draco had been angry at first, so angry that Harry had chosen to give his life.
Then he had felt the horrible tug of guilt, because Harry had done if just for him.
The overwhelming grief had swiftly followed, smothering him like a suffocating blanket until his friends and his mother made him realize there were other things to live for, too.
And then the bittersweet sense of accepting had arrived.
Gone, but never forgotten. That's what they say, anyway.
Draco watched the small candle that floated on top of a water lily, gentle waves helping it to make its way gradually away from the shore. The soft, orange light was flickering as the blackness of the lake surrounded it, but still it kept stubbornly on. Draco whispered an incantation and threads of gold formed a shimmering shield around the candle, protecting it from the splashes of water as it drifted further away.
Soon, the candle was but a speck of gold and orange in the dark horizon and Draco sat down on the warmed patch of grass, slowly folding his feet underneath him. It was quiet and dark, just the soft chant of crickets crooning in the air. Blaise had asked whether he wanted some company, but there were some moments that Draco wanted to experience by himself.
Moments when I need to be alone.
Under the luminous sky of stars, Draco craned his neck to look up. One of the largest stars, bright like the sun itself, winked down on him.
* This is taken from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. With slight modifications, the same text was on her tomb stone when she died.