Better Version of Me
"I don't want a home, I'd ruin that. Home is where my habits have a habitat." –Fiona Apple
O O O
"This is the fourth day in a row he hasn't shown up for work. I know he told us not to contact him, but something serious is going on. He needs help."
"He wants his space, Hermione. He's a bloke, after all, and you know how he said he's been stressed out from all the public attention."
"Even this much space is unhealthy for the greatest of loners, with or without paparazzi and fans. We've barely seen him outside the Ministry or its cafeteria in seven months. It's only when we force our way into his life that he comes out. And we only saw him on his own free will before then because it was Christmas at your mother's house, and he's too polite not to show up."
"Well, what do you expect we do? Knock down his door?"
O O O
A sharp hammering of fists on a door woke him up. He groggily tried to open his eyes, finding the light unbearable.
Harry groaned as the sun ate its way through his window and onto his face. He rolled over on the bed, pulling a pillow over his face to muffle the light.
A crunching sound beneath his stomach and a sharp sting on the same part made him jump up out of bed, blindly trying to see what he had just laid on.
It was glass. From a bottle he had no doubt ended up falling asleep with. That had become habit, but Harry had never broken the remains of his drinking festivities. He sighed, knowing he'd have to get rid of the sheets. They were stained with the bottle's remnants.
Harry glared out his bedroom door into the hallway where the front door was. He had told them to stay away.
Maybe they would go away if he ignored them. With that in mind, he pulled off his bed sheet, careful to parachute the sharp glass within it. He carried it away to his kitchen's trashcan across the hall, ignoring the pounding.
He lived in a small, Muggle condo, and the expanse of the place wasn't very spread out.
"Harry, we know you're in there!" Harry heard Hermione call through the door.
"Yeah, mate, we can see the light coming from under the door, and we can hear you!" added Ron.
Harry rolled his eyes, annoyed. There was a reason he told Ron and Hermione specifically to not drop by. He didn't particularly want company, and he knew they would go out of their way to give it unless he gave them explicit instructions otherwise.
And those instructions only worked to his benefit for four days. Four days of blissful emptiness, in which he could drink to his heart's content, go to the nearby café, skive off work, and pretend that he never saw death.
"We're going to Alohamora the door if you don't respond," said Hermione.
"Go away," Harry called, knowing it was useless to do something other.
"Harry, what have you been doing?" she asked. "We haven't seen you in days. Will you please let us in so we can talk?"
Harry shifted around through his pantry until he found a headache-relieving potion. He was still squinting at the light all around him, his hangover not as bad as the one yesterday, but it still was definitely no picnic.
"No. Go away," he repeated. He popped open the cork and sighed as he downed the amber liquid of the vial. It soothed his pounding head and rolling stomach. Also, it did wonders for his throat. He was up in the middle of the night throwing up, and he hadn't had the chance to grab more than a few glugs of sink water and sips of the bottle of Fire Whiskey before crawling his way back to bed, determined to pass out.
He grabbed a biscuit from a basket sitting on his counter. The potion may help settle his stomach from the nausea, but he was still starving.
"Please, Harry," pleaded Hermione. "We're really worried about you."
"Don't be." Harry took a large bite of the biscuit.
"Don't be like that." There was a long silence, then, "What about Teddy?"
Harry frowned and set down his biscuit. He didn't answer because he hadn't seen his fifteen-year-old Godson since Christmas.
"He needs a father figure in his life, Harry. You're all he has. He stays with his grandmother, but she's old, Harry. He needs someone younger to provide for him and keep up with him. Locking yourself up like this and ignoring your family isn't like you! You—"
The door opened, and Hermione stopped talking. She looked angry, then shocked, presumably at Harry's atrocious appearance. Behind her, Ron stood, raising an eyebrow as he took in Harry's form. Harry didn't know what he looked like, but he felt shitty enough, so he assumed he looked similar.
"I just woke up," Harry grunted, as if excused, and turned around to return to his kitchen and biscuit. He didn't look behind him to see if they were following: he knew they were.
"You're a mess," Hermione accused.
"Yeah, you look like crap," Ron agreed. They both sat down at the table, across from Harry.
Harry glared at them over his now mostly-eaten biscuit. "Thank you, mum and dad. I wasn't expecting company."
Hermione conjured a mirror. She held it up to his face.
He saw her point as he gazed at the mirror. He hadn't shaved in a week, so his shadow was quite hefty and not so much a shadow as a growth. His eyes were bloodshot: his hair, greasy and a war zone. His clothes were wrinkled, and there was a large brown spot on his white undershirt where he had rolled into the Fire Whiskey on his bed.
He shrugged, pushing away the mirror. He had already known he looked like crap.
He grabbed another biscuit and then got up to get a drink of water. He knew better than to pour his usual morning hour drink with Ron and Hermione in plain view, and he also knew he was rather dehydrated from last night's heavy drinking.
He didn't offer them anything. They were the ones who invited themselves over, and he wouldn't give them an excuse to stay long.
"Why haven't you been at work?" asked Ron. He worked in the same department as Harry, albeit he had gotten several more promotions than him. Ron was more of Harry's boss than coworker now. Harry really didn't have any motivation or interest in the department, The Department of Magical Games and Sports, despite his Gryffindor Quidditch background. He wasn't interested in it as he sort of lost enthusiasm in most things after defeating Voldemort. He only got the job in the first place because Ron wanted him to work with him, and he needed something to do to fill up the empty days. Hermione had been promoted to the Head of the Department of Magical Creatures the year before, fighting for their rights and assisting their legal troubles.
Harry shrugged noncommittally. He seemed to do that a lot, but it was much easier than actually answering.
Why hadn't he been at work? Because I don't care, Harry would answer. The boss won't fire me even though I am probably the most irresponsible, laziest worker there. There's no point. He doesn't want to fire Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, so I can do whatever the Hell I want. Why try when I can't get ahead anymore in life than my predestined fame? This is the end point, and I can reach no other recognition or happiness.
But to say that to Ron and Hermione would be admitting defeat. It would be admitting to his ultimately unhappy, lost life, and then they would try to make him change. And change was bad. Change brought lack of order and stress and fear.
Hermione folded her hands in her lap, taking on a professional tone. "Well, if you insist on behaving like a resplendent child, at least answer me this: have you seen Teddy since Christmas?"
Harry took a sip of water then deliberately set the glass down. Water sloshed over the sides and onto the table. "No."
"What is this? Twenty questions?"
Hermione glared at him. "I'm just worried. I saw Teddy last week when I dropped by for a visit to give Andromeda Teddy's monthly potion. He misses you. I can tell. He asked about you. Wanted to know if you had gotten any more tickets for a Puddlemere United Quidditch game."
Teddy got irritable once a month around the full moon, and Hermione, being the head of her Department, was able to get him a potion that quelled his mood swings he inherited from his werewolf father. Harry, a benefit of his own Department, was able to get free tickets to various Quidditch games, not that he couldn't afford the tickets himself, but one seemed to have more fun at free Quidditch games.
Over the years, Harry had taken Teddy to multiple games, at least a few every year. Teddy used to stay weekends with Harry; from the time Harry had owned his own place until Teddy went off to Hogwarts.
Recently, though, Harry hadn't invited Teddy over to stay. The summer before, he only stayed over three times in comparison to the weekly visits before. It was already mid-July, and Harry hadn't talked to Teddy since Christmas. Not even a letter.
He tried to push the guilt away, but he couldn't. And he was only reminded of the guilt because of Hermione. His lack of eye contact with either of his best friends was evidence enough of his inner conscience making him feel lousier than he already did.
"You should invite him over soon," said Ron. He looked about the kitchen hesitantly, eyes lingering over the pile of dirty dishes in the sink and the nearly stock-full open cupboard of endless booze. "But, er, maybe clean up the place a bit before hand." He sniffed. "And take a shower. I hate to say it, but you smell like a troll."
"Thanks," Harry sneered. "Now I'll be sure the go along and do nice like you want me to just like a good little servant."
"Harry!" Hermione scolded. "We're your friends, and you obviously need help. We only want what's best for you."
"Really. Now, you're going to shower, and we'll clean up this kitchen. Okay?" Hermione seemed wary. She could sense Harry's foul mood. She was walking on coals.
"Fine." And Harry turned, grateful for any reprieve from the judging eyes of his best friends. He knew what they must think of him, seeing his place thrown around haphazardly. It was one of the reasons he hadn't had them over in recent months, on top of the fact that he just felt like being alone. He wasn't proud of his lifestyle, but when no one had to see it, what did it matter that his place was a mess?
Harry hopped in the shower, grateful to wash away the strong stench of alcohol, sweat, and body odor, although he would never admit it aloud.
He threw on a random assortment of clothes and begrudgingly returned to the kitchen.
It was sparkling, although its empty sterile feel was even more noticeable now that there weren't dishes and grime to cover it up.
Harry had never owned many things, only ever acquiring what he's needed. As a result, much of his condo looked nearly unlived in, despite its nice wood flooring and design and the fact that Harry had lived there for ten years. He didn't own any artwork, except a few photographs of friends. It wasn't that he couldn't afford or want it: he just didn't see the point. He wouldn't look at a fancy vase or painting and appreciate it if it sat on a side table or hung on a wall. It would just be a reminder of his loneliness and isolation. It's hard to appreciate art alone. A second opinion would be needed for true art criticism.
Ironically, the most unlived in place of the house, Teddy's impromptu bedroom, looked the most lived in because Harry had once made an effort to make something look nice for another, which is more than he had motivation for when it was just himself. Teddy's room had artwork, and Harry always kept the door closed except when Teddy came to visit.
Hermione and Ron were standing in the midst of the now gleaming kitchen, wands held smugly in their hands.
"Let's finish this discussion in the living room," suggested Hermione.
They went to the living room, which had a sofa, two chairs, and a coffee table. There was a picture of a seven-year-old Teddy on the mantelpiece as he flew on his first broom, along with one of Ron and Hermione together at their wedding, and one of his parents from the album Hagrid had given him so many years back: these were the only art pieces he didn't need a second opinion on.
They sat down, Harry one of the chairs, so there would be no opportunity for anyone to touch Harry's hands with pity or sympathy, as Hermione often liked to do.
Hermione reached into her bag that she carried with her at all times and pulled out some parchment, an ink well, and a quill. She laid the ménage of objects on the coffee table.
"First thing's first: you need to write to your Godson," she said.
Harry sighed, knowing she was right. She was always right.
With a heavy heart, he pulled the items towards me. He dabbed the tip of the quill in the ink and then hovered it above the parchment. What was he to say? He hadn't ever gone so long without writing to his Godson. An apology seemed logical, but Harry didn't want to acknowledge the drift if Teddy hadn't noticed it.
Teddy, he wrote. No, that wasn't right. He looked up at Hermione anxiously. "Do you have more parchment?"
Hermione raised an incredulous eyebrow at Harry, observing the one word written on the page, but she got out another sheet.
"Thanks," he muttered.
Dearest Teddy, Harry corrected.
How was your fourth year? Hopefully you're not getting into trouble with the Marauder's Map like your father did at school. He would be so proud.
If your schedule isn't too busy,
Anyways, I was wondering if you'd like to come over next Friday for the weekend. Perhaps I can pull us some professional Quidditch tickets to go to on Saturday: I hear the Appleby Arrows are playing Puddlemere United in London's stadium.
I've really missed you this past year, and I look forward to seeing you.
Looking at the finished product, Harry couldn't help but cringe a bit. It sounded a bit formal and strained, but that was what their relationship had been for the past few years, especially the past few months, and Harry couldn't change that.
Harry looked back up at his friends. Hermione was watching him with scrutiny, and Ron looked like he had fallen asleep.
"I'm done," said Harry unnecessarily.
"Let me see," Hermione said, holding out her hand. Rolling his eyes in annoyance, Harry handed over the letter for Hermione to inspect.
"Next, are you going to hold my hand as I cross the street for some coffee?" asked Harry.
Hermione didn't glance up at Harry as she muttered, "You'd be surprised."
Huffing, Harry fell back against the chair's back.
Finally, Hermione looked up. "You need to write this on a clean sheet," she said.
"You crossed out a line. It looks sloppy." Her face cringed as though the "sloppy" letter were a dead rabbit.
So Harry rewrote the letter on a clean sheet. Once more, she looked over the letter, approving. Harry gestured with his hand. "You're going to have to send it for me. I don't have an owl, remember?"
Hermione frowned, and Ron, who was apparently no longer asleep, said, "What happened to Nona?"
"Nona was an evil bird. She stole my underwear from my open drawer and would drop it outside my window. I sold her back to the pet store. She also bit a lot." Nona, admittedly wasn't too bad, but Hedwig was the only owl Harry thought he could ever own. He had a connection with her, and he felt guilty when he had bought Nona: it felt too much like he was trying to replace Hedwig. So he got rid of her.
Grimly, Hermione smiled and stood. Ron followed suit, well trained as he was, and she took the letter and folded it and put it gingerly in her bag.
"I'll send it right off."
"And you'll come to work Monday?" Ron asked. It was Friday, and Harry never went to work Fridays.
Harry nodded. "I'll come to work."
Then Ron and Hermione left, and Harry couldn't say he wasn't relieved.
"I need a drink," Harry muttered.
He went to his cupboard and poured himself a glass.
A/N: I write my fanfictions from memory of the books and movies. I don't care to look up specifics like the name of Departments in the Ministry, so I know they're probably a bit off and/or made up.
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