A Midnight Weary
Disclaimer: All of this is based upon the lovely J.K. Rowling's work.
Warnings: AU, Language, OC, Implied threesome, Ignores the final two books but incorporates elements
AN: Something of an AU of my other fic Always Alice.
It starts small.
A knowing but wordless exchange. Eyes that narrow as they look out at their schoolmates. Ears that hear how the laughter's forced. Noses that can still smell the stench of blood and burning no matter how hard Filch scrubs the walls. Tongues that taste the metallic bitterness lingering in the air. Hands that feel the ghostly touch of all who were stolen away.
It's after the war, after the fighting, but it still feels like they lost. They're not saviors or heroes no matter how much the papers say they are. They're just six lost souls in a world full of fear.
Evil didn't end with Voldemort. It's alive and well in wizarding Britain. It walks the streets and breathes free air. It watches the children as they cling to their mothers. It laughs at all the sacrifices they made and mocks their heartbreak.
The worst part though is that nobody seems to notice or care but them.
It's Ron's idea. That would surprise some people but none of their group. He's the best at strategy. He knows when to sacrifice his knights, when to guard his king, when to let the queen reign free. But most of all, he knows when to make a tactical retreat. When to bow out and admit this isn't his fight.
Hermione gets them organized. She's the one to work out who needs to be doing what and a rough idea of when. She keeps them on task when they forget and is always prepared with a ready-made excuse.
Luna comes up with the code for their papers and letters. It's a variation of the one they used for the war, but too many people know it now. They need this done in absolute secrecy. One slip and they'll be caught. One misstep and the game – their freedom, their lives – are up.
Neville takes all the hard jobs. The ones that need to be handled discreetly as possible and away from prying eyes. He's still the best at fading into the background. The most adept at slipping off. The most practiced at lying without saying a thing and keeping a smile on his face.
Ginny is their guard, the one who keeps tabs on who might be watching while looking like she isn't. Her vigilance is so thorough it's almost frightening, but she learned a lot from the Order and even more from their mistakes.
Harry is equal parts money man and distraction. The first part is a given, and truth be told, so is the second. He's the most famous person in magical Europe. Eyes and attention follow him wherever he goes, and for once, Harry uses that to his advantage.
They have less than a year to prepare for the rest of their lives. They have to be ready.
"There's a new Dark Lord on the rise," Hermione comments as she folds away her paper one cool October morning.
The Daily Prophet hasn't come out and said it. Probably won't for a few years. But it's obvious to anyone with eyes and a lick of common sense that someone's already filled the vacuum left by Voldemort.
"Yeah," Harry agrees next to her. "I know. I can see the signs." His eyes glance through the nearly empty Great Hall and the students steadfastly pretending to be happy. "Even if nobody else does."
Hermione lets out a soft sigh. Her face is paler than usual for this time of year. Normally, she'd just be losing the tan she acquired during the summer months. But there was no exotic vacation with her parents this year. There was no trip to France or Greece or even Italy. There was nothing but sitting in the back garden of Grimmauld Place with Harry and fighting not to jump at every strange noise.
Still, that doesn't mean he can't see the letter poking out of her pocket. The names of her parents are written on the front in her hand, but it was returned obviously unopened. Just like the last one. Just like all the ones before.
There's more to being an orphan than having dead parents, and it's a far worse fate than Hermione will ever deserve.
"What are we going to do?" she asks softly then and purposefully doesn't look at the gradually filling room.
Harry just puts down his fork and straightens his shoulders. Since really, there's only one answer to give.
"What we should've done the first time." His gaze flickers to the other students. "And if they're smart, they'll do the same."
Halloween's a horrible time for all of them.
The decorations are a complete contrast to the mood of the castle. To the looks cast towards their end of the Gryffindor table. Some are filled with awe. Others with envy. All with something bordering on fear.
Their past exploits are plastered across the newspapers. Harry surviving the Killing curse a second time. Luna leading the goblins into battle. Ginny taking out a dozen Death Eaters by herself. Hermione during the Battle of Diagon. Ron's fight with Greyback. Neville as he stands tall in the remains of Azkaban.
The Quibbler is noticeable by its absence.
Neville's nearly as famous as Harry these days. The man who slew both Nagini and Bellatrix Lestrange while hurling insults at the Dark Lord. He's sole heir to his family except for a few cousins of no real importance save their last name, and while not disgustingly rich, he has enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. Offers are made often and with increasing regularity.
The envelope he turns over in his hands is of much better quality than the ones he's received in recent months though. The parchment is a rich blue, and his name is written in neatly shaped letters. It takes Harry a minute, but he comes to realize the gold ink isn't actually ink at all.
Neville opens it was a casual air and barely even scans through before his eyes start to narrow ever so slightly. Harry shifts next to him until their knees press together fully, and an elbow brushes across his arm in response.
"What is it?" Luna asks from her place in Neville's lap, head resting on his thigh.
But she probably knows the answer already. Just as Harry himself does. Neville, however, gives a firm shake of his head and stuffs the letter back inside.
"Nothing important," he replies and tosses the offer – envelope, gold writing, and all – into the fireplace.
The snow lightly falls on Hogsmeade. The village would almost look picturesque save for the burned out remnants that linger just out of sight of the main street. No one speaks, but they cast looks between the gaps in the buildings, and the village is almost deathly quiet around them.
Harry can see the shadows fall across each face he passes. He knows that they look at this beautiful and broken place to remember the last time they were here. That they recall the Death Eaters and Dementors and horrors without name.
The screams of children ring in his own ears as he walks down the street, and behind his eyes, Harry still sees the flash of green light and Dennis Creevey as he crumbles. The spray of blood as Lavender takes a curse for her best friend. Padma's glassy eyes as she stares out at nothing.
In the background, there's a roar of drunken, adult laughter from the Three Broomsticks. Each and every single student flinches.
Luna's father dies right before Christmas; his heart finally gives out. His mind and soul, however, are long gone.
She isn't the only orphan of their group. Harry's story is known to their entire world, and Sirius is beyond his reach. Neville's parents died when Saint Mungo's burned, and his Gran took both Lestrange brothers with her. Hermione's parents don't acknowledge her existence these days, and the Weasleys live in a happy little land of denial.
McGonagall only allows Harry and Neville to accompany her. A part of Harry wonders if this is because she suspects what they're plotting and doesn't want to give them such an opportunity. But the majority of him knows it's because she's trying to keep this as quiet as possible for Luna's sake. The Daily Prophet still runs stories about her dad, about how he resisted the Death Eaters for months and told them nothing until the bitter end.
His Order of Merlin, First Class is heavy in her hands as she watches the undertaker prepare his pyre. She turns it over and over in her fingers and works at the strap, and it's still clutched in her grasp as she lights the fire.
She doesn't cry when she throws it into the flames and watches as it burns. Her eyes are dry throughout the small service and when they collect his ashes afterward. She still doesn't cry as she spreads them over the rose bushes her mother loved and then makes one last trip through the house before closing and locking the door with finality. Her chin is lifted and her steps are sure as she walks by the for sale sign with Harry and Neville flanking her. She doesn't even shake as they return to Hogwarts or when the two pull her down a little used corridor, but she stands and stares at the wall as Harry transfigures a bed while Neville wards the door.
They pull off her shoes and fold her robes, but she doesn't look up until Neville lifts her onto the middle of the bed, and the two of them climb up after her. They curl around her from both sides, and Luna takes a deep breath as arms wrap around her waist, and her face presses into a bony shoulder.
Only then does she allow herself to break.
Arnold Peasegood dies on a miserable winter day in the middle of January. At least, the Aurors assume it's Peasegood; it remains difficult to tell with so many pieces missing. Peasegood was a bland, banal man with bland, banal goals and an equally bland, banal life. His death's notable only for its sheer nastiness and the fact that he is – was – the current Minister of Magic.
No one knows who did the deed, and in the end, nobody really cares. It's swept under the rug as a wand malfunction and the only mentions in the paper are for his memorial a week later.
The Interim Minister appointed by the Wizengamot is another faceless politician meant to rubber stamp their policies and pose for photo ops. Harry can't even remember her name, and it doesn't truly matter either way.
She's just as useless, just as expendable. She says and does nothing more the bare minimum.
Just like everyone else.
Ron's the only one who never voices second thoughts; Harry honestly doesn't think he has them. Ron's forthright and honest with his opinions. He doesn't lie or sugar-coat the truth; he wants out. He wants to leave, even if it means leaving people behind.
"They're my parents. Mine and Ginny's. But they don't understand," he says from across the chessboard as the snow continues to fall outside. "They won't understand. All mum can talk about is when Bill and Fleur'll finally give her grandkids. And dad just changes the subject or talks shop with Percy. Charlie has his dragons."
'And the twins are dead,' Harry adds mentally and grimaces as Ron captures his bishop.
It's a sad reality. A bitter reality. Molly survives by pretending it didn't happen, and Arthur says nothing for her sake. But Ron isn't his parents; he's suffocating from all the make-believe. Ginny's soul is swollen from the silence, but her magic is a fierce and rough thing these days.
"They don't understand," Ron repeats, eyes fixed on the game like his life depends on it. "I can't… I can't stay. Not here. Not with them. I need to get out. I'm gonna lose it if I don't."
Harry can only nod, and Ron's silent for a very long moment. He moves his queen, lets Harry capture his rook, and puts his friend in check. Then, he sighs and looks out the window. His face is blank, but his eyes are too blue.
"I think I already have."
It's spring. The grave at the edge of the school grounds is unmarked and nearly unnoticeable. The only obvious sign is the ring of white lilies, but the ground has already had a year to hide evidence of what lays beneath.
Harry almost thinks that Snape would prefer it this way. He wouldn't want idiots and fools going to desecrate his body, and he certainly wouldn't want the hypocrites pretending to miss him. He was a greasy bastard, a hook-nosed git, and a true hero. Dying in a muddy field as the rain poured down, surrounded by flowers. But he was defiant of Voldemort until the end. Defiant of everyone who'd ever spat on the poor little half-blood prince but still working to save them all.
And despite it all, despite all their efforts, they would've lost without him. Without his bravery and cunning. Without his help and suffering.
But he rests in an unmarked grave. Hidden to be kept safe. Unmourned by those he protected. Forgotten by everyone but five students he barely tolerated and the son of a man he hated.
Harry's expected to find and marry a nice witch, pureblooded preferably, but half-blood will do if he really must. Muggleborn – Mudblood – isn't the least bit acceptable. She needs to be pretty, approachable, dainty, pleasant. Strong enough to be a martyr's wife but willing to bend to his whims. Stalwart but soft. A thousand other droll and impossible things.
And they're supposed to have a boat-load of equally valiant children who'll serve the wizarding world for generations to come. Little Harry Potters to be sacrificial lambs to the slaughter with a few daughters to breed into other lines.
All happiness and bright smiles. Perfect for photos and always willing to give autographs.
That's what is expected. Reality is a far different story.
Luna's a witch at least. A pureblood. Nice in her own way. But she's too smart. Too unusual. Too… Luna.
Neville isn't even female.
But they both make him laugh. They both let him cry. They've never taken anything more than what he's willing to offer. They don't push. They don't demand.
And Luna's laugh is the most beautiful sound he's ever heard. Neville tastes like chamomile and fresh apples.
It's the anniversary of the final battle.
Harry spends the night before trapped in nightmares and the morning of throwing up what little dinner he managed. Neville sits with him in the bathroom stall the entire time, and the circles under his eyes show that he opted for insomnia instead. Hermione's curled up with Luna on Ron's bed, both exhausted from crying. Ginny clutches her brother's arm as they crowd the window seat, but he shakes so hard that it's hard to tell who's the one really holding on.
McGonagall appears after morning classes when they don't show up, but she says nothing at the sight of them huddled together in the boys' dorm and just sends up lunch and dinner with the house-elves. Both meals remain untouched.
And time ticks down the minutes until it's the appointed hour. No one says anything. They scarcely even breathe as the clocks all chime.
Throughout wizarding Britain, people cheer. But in Gryffindor Tower, the silence is deafening.
"I don't want to marry someone magical," Ginny confides one afternoon.
It's just the two of them, sitting out by lake on an unusually hot spring day. The breeze off the water is cool and pleasant, but no one dares swim in there these days. There's no telling what lurks beneath the water even now.
"I want a Squib or a Muggle," Ginny continues in that same soft tone. The one she uses at her most dangerous. "Most wizards are weak-willed idiots. Men who can't do anything without a wand. They're useless. Completely worthless."
Her red hair is tied back from her face, and Harry thinks she somehow looks young and beautiful but impossibly old. Like a girl on the cusp of womanhood. But also a war-hardened veteran who led men into battle and slit Dolohov's throat with his own blade. Innocent and wickedly sweet but merciless to those who have no mercy themselves.
Like a teenager. Like a soldier. Like a killer.
She starts but falters until Harry gives her hand a wordless squeeze. Ginny sucks in a shaky breath, and her fingers tighten until he loses feeling.
"I want someone strong. Someone smart. But most of all…"
Her eyes aren't distant. She sees and notices everything around them, but in the end, she's still a warrior trapped in a girl's body. And that spark of hope, of longing for a better world and better life still remains.
"Most of all, I want someone who understands."
She finds him years later; his name is Jack. He knows wars and violence and what it means to sleep with his eyes open and a knife in his hand. What it means to lose everything and still keep fighting.
He worships the ground she walks on, and his hands never touch her in anger or fear. Ginny's eyes can and do find him anywhere in the room, and she says his name like it's the most important word in the world.
Their kids are beautiful.
The end is in sight. The end of Harry's schooling. The end of his reprieve.
He's supposedly the savior of this story, and storm clouds loom on the horizon. The paper is full of mysterious disappearances and new restrictions passed by the Ministry and even the sheep of magical Britain are starting to lift their heads and see the horror lurking in wolf's clothing.
Only this time, there'll be no shepherd come to save them. There'll be no heroes. Just villains. Just victims unwilling to fight for themselves.
Harry's done his duty. He fought his good fight. He sacrificed and bled, and how dare they demand he do it again? He can't. He won't. It's not his world anymore. It's not his problem.
Destiny has once more come knocking, but this time, neither Harry Potter nor his friends bother to answer.
Then, it's June.
They don't make their escape in the dead of night. They leave midafternoon on a Friday when classes are finished but before dinner. For the last month, none of them have gone to the Great Hall for meals on weekends, and everyone is too busy cramming for exams that nobody even notices they're gone until Monday.
By then, it's too late.
They already stand on the shores of a new land, a new home. Ron and Hermione hold hands as the ocean washes at their feet, and Ginny's soaking up the sunlight on her beach towel. Next to her, Harry and Neville dig the moat for their sandcastle as Luna builds the tall towers.
The future is as bright as the sun in the cloudless sky. Full of promise and good friendship for decades to come. It may not be perfect or even completely wonderful, but they're free. There are no wars on their horizon. There's no more hate or treachery. There are no expectations or demands. There's no suffering.
And that's the best sort of happy ending imaginable.