"Harry James Potter get your foul arse out of bed this minute." Hermione Granger stepped across a pile of dirty clothes, half empty take out containers, and completely empty firewhiskey bottles to thrust open the curtains. Sunlight streamed into the room. In the middle of the bed a worm shaped figure burrowed into a tight ball. Along one side of the wall was an elaborate sound system playing classical piano music. Soames Grandfrey, of course. Harry's favorite. Possibly the only music he listened too.
No answer. The sound system continued to tinkle.
"Harry, get up."
Still no answer.
Hermione yanked the covers down. Harry was curled in the middle of the bed in his boxers and a t-shirt covered in stains. He smelled. In fact the entire room smelled of fire whisky, rotten cheese, and unwashed wizard. Very unwashed. The only clean spot in the room was the sound system and the alphabetized stack of CDs next to it. All Soames Grandfrey CDs.
"Harry?" Hermione walked across the room and switched off the music. That got a reaction. "Harry what's wrong?"
"G'way. Stop fussing."
Hermione took a deep breath. "Harry, Ron and I leave for a month to go to Scotland, we come back and hear that no one has seen or heard from you for a month? Of course we're going to be worried."
"Got a headache."
"Harry, I'm asking you nicely."
Hermione lifted her wand. "Aqueous." A jet of cold water hit Harry in the face.
Harry sat up. "Bloody hell, Hermione," he sputtered.
Hermione put down her wand. "Ahh, lateral movement. Much better."
"You take away my music. You try to drown me. Attempted murder will do that." Harry fell back against the pillows.
"Harry, you can't keep doing this."
Hermione gestured helpless at the room, then at Harry. "Have you left your room in the past week? When was the last time you did something else besides sit in your room and listen to music?"
"Harry, this has got to stop. You're only twenty. Your life is passing by."
"And just what is my life supposed to be, now that Voldemort's dead?" Harry snapped.
Hermione was silent.
"Exactly," Harry said. That was the trouble. Harry could have anything he wanted. Harry could do anything he wanted. And for awhile he did. He had gone backpacking with Ron and Hermione, stood on the peaks of mountains savoring the knowledge that the world was at peace and no one was coming for them.
Then they'd come back because Hermione's research position had started and Ron wanted to go for Auror training, and Harry was on his own.
He kept traveling but after a while that got lonely, and well, a little boring. Once you've seen twenty beautiful mountains the twenty first doesn't have as much of an impact. Then he thought he might as well buckle down and get a job like everyone else even though that didn't feel quite right. He'd attended the first few days of Auror training, but after seven years of ducking and dodging Voldemort anything the Aurors threw at him felt stupid, and make-believe. Harry was tired of fighting death, and the thought of spending the rest of his life tracking down minor dark lords or wizards gone bad made his stomach curdle.
The Aurors had pulled a few strings to get him a desk job, but that was even worse. Harry lasted precisely a month until his boss hinted that even though he was the Boy Who Lived, and the wizarding world was eternally in his debt, it would be much appreciated if he at least tried to make an effort.
Harry handed in his resignation the next day.
Then the Ministry offered him a job. Harry discovered that no matter what desk you sit at, no matter how the scenery and the people and the tasks change, something fundamental does not: you are still sitting at a desk.
It was about then that the odd looks and the rumors began. Now that Voldemort was dead, people were beginning to forget the terror of the war days. They were beginning to ask questions like, what exactly did it take to defeat the most powerful wizard of all time? What kind of power did that wizard have? And, if that was the case, what would happen if this wizard went bad?
Harry's sub-par performance at his various jobs didn't help the matters any.
Harry was still voted most eligible bachelor by Witch Weekly and his piles of fan-mail didn't stop, but now some people crossed the other side of the street when they saw him, or mothers pulled their children close when he walked by.
People loved the Boy Who Lived, but people did not exactly like him, and like, Harry discovered, was a lot more important than love when it came to the nitty gritty details of daily life.
Around that time he discovered Soames Grandfrey's music. No one knew much about Soames Grandfrey. One day he hadn't existed, and the next day his music was playing everywhere. It had the rare distinction of being loved by both the critics and witches and wizards everywhere, even though no one knew who Soames Grandfrey was. There were no photos and he refused to give interviews. In some ways it didn't matter, his music spoke for him.
It touches you where it hurts, one witch had said inarticulately, and that was really the gist of it, what the critics were struggling to describe. Soames Godfrey's music somehow managed to stir up all the things you thought you'd forgotten, all the thoughts you'd never quite articulated but kept tamped down in your heart half ashamed, and his music contained a blessing and a benediction: you can let go now.
Harry listened and he forgot that he was pants at a desk job, he forgot that people were giving him strange looks, and mostly he forgot the strange panic that kicked up in his chest whenever he thought about the days that stretched before him, long and empty.
And then he realized he could just sit at home and listen to Soames Grandfrey all day. And that's what he was did.
Until Hermione had returned from her research trip and taken it into her head that his current lifestyle wasn't healthy.
"So you're bored," Hermione said, in the eerie way she had of looking at Harry and summarizing his thoughts even though he hadn't said anything. Sometimes Harry wondered if Hermione was an Occlumens.
Hermione sighed. "Stop looking at me like you think I'm an Occlumens. It's obvious isn't it? Voldemort isn't popping up every year to scare the living day lights out of you and keep you on your toes, and that's been your purpose in life ever since you were eleven. Now that he's gone The Boy Who Lived has nothing to live for."
Sometimes Harry hated the way Hermione was so smart.
"Out," he said and cranked up the volume on his sound system.
The thing about Hermione is she didn't give up. She showed up the next day with Ron in tow.
"Sorry mate," he said as Hermione fluttered about Harry's room muttering cleaning spells. "Personally, I understand how sometimes you just need to take a break and if anyone deserves it, it's you…but you know what she's like."
Hermione bopped Ron on the head. "Oy, help me here."
Ron rolled his eyes but he started casting cleaning spells as well.
Once Harry would have made hen-pecked noises, or actually Harry never would have had his friends cleaning up for him, but somehow he didn't care. He just wanted them to go away.
Unfortunately they weren't going anywhere. Once Hermione had cleaned up and forced Harry into the shower, and Ron to make scrambled eggs for all of them, she perched on the edge of Harry's bed as they ate.
"You need a job."
"Um, Hermione, not your brightest idea," Ron muttered.
"No, not like your other jobs," Hermione said. "Something like baking cupcakes or gardening."
"Yeah. The problem with the other jobs were too removed from the real world. Harry's simple, and he needs something hands-on that will give him a purpose."
"Simple?" Harry felt vaguely offended.
"Straightforward, I mean."
Harry suddenly wondered what Draco Malfoy would say if he could hear Hermione. Defeating Voldemort to baking cupcakes. He shrugged away the thought. Malfoy. One of the few benefits of his current life, it was Malfoy-less.
"Hermione, no offense, I'm not going to bake cupcakes. Thank you for cleaning up, but I'm tired now and I'm going to sleep." Harry walked to the door and stood next to it.
"Harry you just got up—"
Ron looked at Harry's face, then he stood up and steered Hermione by the shoulders. "'Mione, we'd better go. Mate, good to see you, we'll drop by sometime later."
Harry nodded briefly. As soon as they left he sank down onto the bed and hit the play button on the sound system. The sound of Soames Grandfrey's rough low voice filled the room, filtering away Harry's troubles.
Hermione, however, persisted in her belief that baking cupcakes would solve all of Harry's problems. Not that Harry had problems. She popped over every day proffering various job offers. It would be funny if it weren't so depressing. So far she'd come up with construction worker, grocer's assistant, nursery school teacher.
Harry thought about what the parents would say if they knew The Boy Who Lived was watching over their precious children and shuddered.
On the bright side, Hermione always made sure to bring a container of Ron's cooking with her and that was probably the main reason why Harry let her in. Ron's cooking was a lot better than take-out.
Today, she was chirpier than usual. "You'll love this one," she said after Harry had dressed and eaten. "Soames Grandfrey needs an assistant. He went blind in a freak accident a few months ago. His management has kept it hush-hush but Lavender works with them, and she told me that he's in a really bad state. They're not sure he'll be able to produce his next CD."
"He's a wizard," Harry said. "He doesn't need my help."
"Well the thing is, magic seems to make his condition worse. He was using spells to get by for a while, then his hearing started to go."
Something in Harry's chest lurched. "Go on," he said.
Hermione kept talking quickly as if she was afraid Harry would vanish if she stopped. "Even though he's stopped with the magic, his sight hasn't come back. He needs help with the every day things, a bit of cooking, help with the groceries and getting around, but more than that, I think he just needs someone to talk to. Someone he knows he can trust. Preferably someone who isn't going to be dazzled by fame and who knows exactly what it's like to be a constant source of attention." She looked straight at Harry.
Harry looked at the ground. "Alright," he said before he could stop himself.
Harry cursed himself as he walked up the steps of Soames's villa in Southern France. He's a complete idiot for letting Hermione wear him down. He didn't want to in Southern France even if there was a pale blue sea sparkling behind him, and he didn't want to be in Soames Grandfrey's house even if was built out of stone, covered in windows framed by green shutters wrapped in ivy. Charming, and Harry was unmoved. He wanted to be back at home listening to Soames's music. Except there would be no music if he didn't do something. Or someone, he amended. No reason to think that he had to do something.
Soames's manager, Selena Darling knocked on the door. She was a no-nonsense middle aged woman with a streak of grey in her black hair. She rather reminded Harry of McGonagall. She hadn't batted an eyelash when Harry had arrived at the interview and hadn't asked any questions like, what on earth is Harry Potter doing here?
There was no answer. She unlocked the door and they walked into the foyer. It was empty. She sighed. "We'll have to go find him. I'm sorry. He's a little…difficult these days."
The house was a disaster. Once it must have been beautiful, tastefully decorated and well-furnished but it looked like wild pigs had had the run of the place. The picture frames on the walls were crooked, some of them had cracked glass. Broken flower vases lay on the floor and next to them lay dead flowers and smeared blood as if someone had cut themselves and walked on regardless of the pain. In the kitchen dirty dishes were heaped in the sink and a few more lay smashed on the floor. Crumbs and half eaten bits of food were scattered across the floor, while every counter top was covered in sticky stains. In the bedroom clothes were heaped on the floor and wrinkled as if they'd been stepped on. Most of them were stained. Dust was everywhere.
The only clean spot was a large bright room with a black grand piano in the middle. There, it was clear that someone had tried to make an effort and had failed. The piano was dust free but it's surface was smeary as if it had been inexpertly wiped. Music sheets were clumsily stacked into piles, there were pieces of paper with music that started off neatly but towards the end the notes became wobbly and no sprawled across the page instead of laying neatly on the lines. The ink was blotted, there were holes in the paper like the writer had gotten frustrated and jabbed it, and then towards the end the ink the paper was wrinkly and blank like the writer had just given up and cried.
Harry's chest twisted and he gulped a little. He firmly redirected his thoughts to how much he wished Hermione could see this place—there was no way she could complain about him in comparison.
"He must be in the garden," Selena said. She led Harry through double glass doors. They stepped onto a stone patio. In front of them lay the sea, and around them flowers ran riot in the garden. It hadn't been weeded in a while and a few of the weeds were beginning to choke off the blooms. There were places where some of the flowers were crushed and bare patches of grass lay on the grass as if someone had fallen into the ground and then ripped up everything they could lay their hands on.
Then they heard screaming. Harry was something of a scream connoisseur, he'd heard people scream as the died, people screaming as they killed, and people screaming when they found out their loved had died, but he'd never heard screaming like this, the low animal wail of someone who was so helpless they could do nothing else but scream.
"So he is in the garden," Selena said as if the screaming was nothing new.
She led Harry around the corner of the house. "Ah, Soames."
Draco Malfoy was standing in the middle of the garden, half naked, face tilted to the sun as he screamed.