Title: White as Snow
Word Count: 8,460 (this chapter)
Fandom/Pairing: Harry Potter Fandom, Harry/Draco
Summary: After so much death has touched his life, Harry has withdrawn from his own friends in an attempt to protect himself. Of course, nothing ever works out as we plan.
Rating: NC-17 (overall)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and her filthy rich agents. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: So, just over a year ago now, I started to write my first Harry/Draco fic. I never actually posted any of it, but I've shared many others in the time I've spent writing White as Snow. I never wanted this to be a rushed sort of story, or one that I felt needed to cater to everyone's different expectations as it posted, so, for the most part, I kept it to myself while working on it. I do have my two lovely betas, bookjunkie1975 and otta_ff, who read through this for me (ages ago), for which I am eternally grateful. Many thanks to my lovely friend, glitteratiglue, for double-checking that my Brit stuff wasn't too glaringly American.
Also, endless hearts to my One and Only, vampireisthenewblack. She knows why. She alwaysknows why.

This is not a oneshot. It's a chapter fic which I intend to update regularly. I have no super-crazy HP canon Nazi to check my shit, so if you feel that you qualify, and would like to take on that task, please drop me a line.

I hope you enjoy this little journey. As always, comments are greatly appreciated.

~1~

The snow beneath Harry's feet crunches as his footfalls break through the crusty top layer. He pulls tight the lapels of his coat as the chill of the winter night passes through him, sending with it a shudder in its wake. His breath twists and curls before him. In the distance, bright, colourful lights twinkle in and out of focus as Harry skirts the edge of town. Beside the church, the stained glass windows cast jewel tones onto the glittering snow as the lights shine through brightly from within.

This night is very much like his first visit to Godric's Hollow, and every Christmas Eve he's spent here since: ice cold, quiet but for the faint sounds of hymns being sung at the church nearby and whispering wind ghosting through the naked branches above his head. The main differences Harry notices are that Hermione is not with him, and that there is no longer anything to fear or hide from.

Save for himself.

The war is over now, has been for some years. Harry likes to allow himself to believe that he's lost track of time since then, but in actuality, he's noted every painful day of the last six years with agonising clarity.

He understands what he had lived and, ultimately, died for, but sometimes Harry has a hard time believing that he had ever truly returned from the empty echo of King's Cross Station on that fateful night. Duty, obligation, and compassion brought him back to finish the war and ensure the safety of the wizarding world. And though he had defeated Voldemort, freeing all from the evil that threatened their existence and the dread that lurked deep within their minds and hearts, Harry knew he would never himself be the same; a hollow shell of what could have been.

So many lives lost in the war. So many loved ones taken from this world and brought beyond the veil before their lives had even begun. Tonks and Lupin, leaving behind a new baby who will never know firsthand the amazing things his parents had done; Fred, the other half of a whole that will never again be so; Dobby, an elf who, despite his freedom, gave his life to save others, and countless more.

And what's the point of it all? he wonders.

With a flick of his wand, Harry transfigures a Christmas wreath out of barren fern branches he finds lying about on the way to his destination. He places it upon his father's grave before moving to his mother's. For her, Harry brings a bouquet of fresh cut holly, hellebores, and white and red poinsettias, the stems bound together by a thin gold ribbon that Harry had tied himself. With her dying breath, Lily Potter had conjured all the love and magic in her entire being in an attempt to protect her son. Because of this, Harry chooses not to use magic when he pays his respects to her. It's a small gesture, he knows. Meaningless to some, but it has always been important to Harry. Just as he had refused to use magic to dig Dobby's grave, so had he chosen to care for his mother's grave by way of physical effort—even the smallest amount. And when spring comes around again, Harry will return to care for the plot just as he always does.

Stepping back from the graves, Harry casts Tergeo, vanishing the powdered snow and weather-caked dirt from the white marble, and admires the now-polished stone that marks the final resting place of his parents.

Beneath the names and dates marking the lives of Lily and James Potter are the words The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Harry almost smiles as he recalls a moment of ignorance six years ago when he had mistaken that last line for the thought of a Death Eater. It was Hermione who had explained to him that it simply meant life beyond death. Harry knows it to be true now; there really is more to existence than just life on earth. And one day, he will be reunited with those he's lost.

Harry allows his thoughts to wander in the quiet solitude of the cemetery. As is often the case of any time alone for him, he thinks of Hogwarts, the only place he's ever loved enough to call home. Harry wonders how it is that, despite the horrible events that took place during his years there, he still wishes more than anything else that he could just go back. If he had only had more time, or more knowledge, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Perhaps Harry could have stopped Voldemort from killing so many people and, in doing so, killing a part of Harry as well. Perhaps he wouldn't have lost the ability to care for others, ghosting through life afraid to allow himself to get close to anyone for fear of losing them as everyone he knew lost someone close to them. Harry has decidedly lost enough in his short lifetime and is quite content holding on to what little he has left.

The Ministry pays him levy for the duties he'd fulfilled before he was even able to decide for himself whether or not he wanted to. With that regular revenue, and the inheritance from both his parents and godfather, Harry has no need to work. His friends had tried to convince him that it would be a good idea after the war to carry on with life as it should be, but Harry hadn't much interest in life then, and that opinion hasn't changed much over the years. Ever the hero, the only thing that assures Harry will not take his own life is the fact that the people who care about him have already lost enough.

After the chaos of the war had settled, Harry withdrew into himself. What began as simply avoiding the prying eyes of reporters and gossipmongers soon became self-isolation. Physically, he was still there, available. He continued to visit the shops of Diagon Alley and occasionally meet with his friends for drinks or lunch. But emotionally, he was drained, no longer existent at all. He lived in a state of perpetual emptiness.

Thinking back on it now, Harry knows that that's how one would be after prolonged exposure to the Dementors of Azkaban. It pains him to think that that is what Sirius had gone through in his time there; empty and alone without the will to even care. The very thought is somewhat frightening and has Harry gripping his wand tightly in preparation of casting a Patronus if needed.

But of course it won't be. Harry's demons come from within his very own soul, determined to destroy him. Or perhaps they are merely protecting him. In any case, he has lost the ability to love. Of course there are those he cares about: Hermione, Ron, and all of the Weasleys, but even that is a weak version of emotion, having drawn away from even them over the years, maintaining just enough contact to assure them that he is still alive.

Harry's life is mundane. Despite his lack of need for monetary gain, he found himself recently agreeing to be a private consultant for the Ministry. It was no secret that Harry had spent a large majority of his time in various wizarding libraries scattered across the world studying Elemental and Metaphysical magic. Harry is by no means arrogant, but due to the fact that he has endless time and resources at his disposal, he doubts anyone can match his knowledge in either field. Apparently, Kingsley had a similar opinion. He ran into Harry in Diagon Alley during Ministry off hours and approached him with his proposal. Growing weary of constant travel and ready for a bit of a change, Harry agreed, but with his own set of terms. First and foremost, they were only to utilize his knowledge when necessary. He also refused to teach anyone how to perform any of the kind of magic he uses on the grounds that, without the full plethora of knowledge, that kind of power was dangerous. Finally, Harry insisted that any compensation that Kingsley had planned on paying Harry would instead be donated to a charitable organization. Perhaps Harry accepted as an excuse to exercise his magic beyond daily necessity, or perhaps his subconscious had finally convinced him that he needed to surround himself with people to maintain what sanity he has left. He had also decided it was a good way to keep some small amount of communication open with Ron, as he is an Auror now.

Harry thinks it's a satisfactory idea, indeed. He may not go out with Ron and Hermione regularly anymore, but now that they have their own family, he doesn't think it matters quite as much. As long as Ron sees him at the Ministry once or twice a week, perhaps he will convey to Molly and the rest of them that Harry is still alive and doing well. As well as can be expected, at least.

He idly wonders how different his life would be now if he'd gone back to Ginny after the war. Would it be he in Seamus' place right now? Happily married for four years with twin two-year-old daughters?

He feels like breaking down, falling to his knees and giving in to the grief and anguish that has haunted him for so long. But at the same time, he feels wrung dry, as though his tears have all been shed and the only thing that remains is a shadow of loss and sorrow.

From the corner of his eye, Harry detects a small amount of movement. Wand at the ready, he turns slowly, squinting into the dim, silver light of the moon. There's a tall figure nearly a hundred metres away, weaving gracefully in between headstones. Harry twists back into the shadows, quickly ducking behind a tombstone as he continues to watch the wizard—and it's definitely a wizard as Harry can feel the magic emanating from him even at this distance—make his way through the graveyard.

Harry creeps closer for a better look. The man is dressed in pale shades, a long wool coat of white that falls down mid-thigh and a pair of well-tailored trousers. His hair is equally light in colour and in the silver glow of celestial light that reflects off the snow, the man looks almost ethereal.

As Harry nears, sliding silently between tombstones and crouching behind a statue, he manages to lose track of the man. He scans the shadows for signs of movement and when he sees nothing, he wonders if his vision was, in fact, playing tricks on him. In all the years he's spent this holiday eve in the quiet desolation of this cemetery, he's yet to see another living soul here. And perhaps that's no coincidence. This graveyard is known to be haunted, and the mere thought of that is enough to keep most people away after nightfall. Harry decides that the figure he'd seen only moments ago, although incandescent in the moonlight, could not have been a ghost. His magic had sent vibrations through the ground beneath Harry's feet. No ghost whose magic had died along with them would be able to emanate such power. In any case, it seems the other wizard is gone now.

He lets out a sigh of relief, knowing that the man could have been watching him in the hopes of finding an interesting story to report back to the papers, and thankful that he seems to be wrong.

If the public knew where Harry spends his Christmas Eves, the graveyard would surely turn into a shrine similar to that of the fence surrounding the ruins of his parents' house. He likes that no one knows, although he suspects Hermione does. She never talks about it, though, continuing year after year to extend an invitation to Harry to spend Christmas with the family. He declines, grateful that no one seems willing to push the issue.

Harry stands from his place in the dark, dusting the flecks of snow from his trousers. Looking up at the sky, he notes that the stars have all gone dim as though a thin blanket has been draped over Godric's Hollow. Fresh snow begins to fall, dancing on the breeze as it makes its way to the ground.

Harry takes a moment to admire the snowflakes; beautiful and unique, yet indiscernible to the average observer. They blanket the landscape in their glistening beauty, making everything look fresh and clean, like gesso priming the canvas of the world in preparation for spring. Harry envies the snow its ability to serve its purpose and simply melt away when it's finished.

Harry rounds the side of the statue, making his way back to the icy path that winds around the graveyard. He's taken only a few steps when he realises he's walked right into the path of the pale, ghostly figure he now recognises to be none other than Draco Malfoy.

He hasn't seen the blond in over five years. They had made something akin to peace with one another after Malfoy's trial, but here tonight, Harry feels no need for civility. Without the thought of possible consequences, he raises his wand.

The man appears to be surprised; his grey eyes widen but show no signs of fear or indignation.

"Get the fuck out of here," Harry hisses between clenched teeth. He's exercising every ounce of self-control he can summon to keep from hexing Malfoy.

The other man doesn't even reach for his wand, but casts his cold stare upon Harry. His eyes look vacant and somehow more familiar than they should and Harry suppresses a shiver that threatens to rise up from within.

Malfoy makes no attempt to reply, and that only serves to anger Harry more.

"Get out of here!" he shouts. "What right do you have to be here?" Harry's wand is still raised, his hand steady. He hasn't a clue why Draco Malfoy would be in the cemetery at Godric's Hollow on Christmas Eve, but he imagines it has a lot to do with the fact that Harry himself is. Malfoy's hands are raised before him, palms out to show that he doesn't mean to fight. But Harry would rather not acknowledge the gesture, keeping his wand aimed at Malfoy's throat.

"Apparently not nearly as much right as the great Harry Potter," Malfoy says. He takes a step backward before turning on his heel and walking away.

Harry watches, frozen in stunned silence as Malfoy's retreating form disappears into the doors of the distant church. His first thought is to leave, to go home to the quiet confines of his flat and breathe in the familiar, musky air that fills the place, but he quickly finds that old habits die hard and morbid curiosity gets the better of him.

What is Draco Malfoy doing in Godric's Hollow on Christmas Eve? And if he is there simply to spy on Harry, why had he gone into the church rather than Disapparating after he'd been caught?

oOo

Harry waits near the steps at the front of the church and casts an umbrella charm when the snowfall becomes too heavy. He could go in, but he's sensible enough to realise that his anger and hostility need to be reined in before he confronts Malfoy again, especially if they're surrounded by people. His mind is buzzing with curiosity and barely-restrained anger and he hopes that by the time Malfoy comes out, the aforementioned curiosity will take the lead and Harry won't find himself drawing his wand in rage again. He'd like to try and be civil, to simply discuss the fact that he is here on very private and personal business and doesn't wish for it to be made public. He can't very well offer Malfoy money in exchange for his silence since he probably has less need for it than Harry does himself. He also doubts that he can appeal to Malfoy's softer side, since he's fairly certain the man was born without one.

Nevertheless, Harry must at least try and reason with him to keep his secret safe. It's over an hour later when the hymns finally cease and people begin to shuffle out into the cold. The chill has sobered Harry's thoughts and given him a chance to calm down a bit. The passersby smile at him, offering greetings of "Good evening" and "Happy Christmas." He forces a tight smile in return, thankful that none seem to recognize him, and ruffles his fringe over the scar on his forehead just for safe measure. Malfoy is among the last to exit the church, his gaze cast down at the buttons of his coat as he secures each one into its companion hole.

Harry waits until the man is at the bottom of the stairs before he draws attention to himself with a conspicuous clearing of his throat. He remembers the old Muggle adage about catching more flies with honey so, swallowing his pride, he offers the scowling blond an apologetic half-smile.

"I see you haven't outgrown your disturbing stalking habits," Malfoy says as he secures a scarf around his neck. His steel-grey eyes are locked directly on Harry's, but it feels as if he's looking through him.

Harry searches his gaze, trying to decipher where the man's thoughts might be so that he may have a better grasp of his intentions. Malfoy's eyes give nothing away, utter indifference.
Harry resists the urge to revert to a petulant child and snap back that he had been there first. Instead, he says: "Look, Malfoy. I don't know what the hell you're doing in Godric's Hollow tonight, but if you're looking for something–"

"–I was looking for something," Malfoy interrupts in a harsh tone before pushing his way by.

All of the carefully planned words that Harry had constructed within the last hour seem to have fled him and he finds himself fumbling for anything to say to get the man to hear him.

"Why did you come here, Malfoy?" he asks with an air of determination.

Malfoy laughs sardonically as he continues down the icy lane. Harry is anxious to keep up with him, but doesn't fancy slipping on the slick pavement. He scrambles nonetheless, alternating his focus from his feet to the man in front of him. He's exceedingly grateful that the blond now has his back to him so that he isn't witnessing this ungraceful flailing.

"It might do you good to remember that not everything concerns you, Potter. Perhaps you need a hobby."

Harry bites back yet another snide retort that coats his tongue. It's no secret that he and Malfoy had been less than friendly with one another during their years at Hogwarts, but after the war, after the Death Eater trials, something had shifted between them; the smallest cog in the machine of tolerance. Based on the things he had learned from Snape and Dumbledore, combined with what he himself had witnessed on the astronomy tower that fateful night, Harry knew that Malfoy had been acting out of obligation to his father and for the safety of his family rather than actual murderous intent.

There had been some amount of forgiveness and an even smaller amount of compassion, but a certain understanding had developed between them during those few months. And while Harry had no intentions of throwing him a victory party, he couldn't deny the relief he felt when Malfoy had only been sentenced to a year of magical restriction and community service. Harry had grown up knowing what it was to dream dark dreams, to feel hatred so deeply it seemed ingrained into his very being, to hear the screams of innocent people being tortured in his half-haze of sleep. He had seen more in his first seventeen years than anyone should have to in their entire lifetime. He'd had a direct link into the mind of evil, and Draco Malfoy was a blade of grass blowing in the breeze in comparison to Voldemort's violent tornado of serrated edges and poisonous wind. Malfoy's punishment was just.

"Malfoy," Harry says more sternly than he means to as he comes close to losing his footing. "I want to talk to you, damn it! Now listen," he demands. "I don't want this…me, I mean, being here tonight…to become public knowledge." He realises it isn't the most articulate statement, but he's glad to finally have it out. Malfoy's pace slows, but he doesn't stop, nor does he turn. "Fuck," Harry growls as his foot slips forward on the sheet of ice that was once a narrow lane.

Malfoy's hand shoots out, catching Harry by the arm and helping him to regain his balance. He huffs in irritation, casually waving his wand in the general direction of Harry's feet, casting a traction charm. Harry could kick himself for not having thought of that first.

"Quite distinguished vernacular you've developed, Potter. I'm impressed." Malfoy is still walking, and now Harry has no trouble keeping pace with him. "Anyway, you needn't worry about me talking to people. I wasn't here for you, and I certainly don't plan on mentioning it to anyone."

"Then why were you here?" Harry asks not for the first time.

"My business is my own, Potter." Malfoy stops abruptly turning to face Harry now. "And, like you, I wish to keep it that way." His icy gaze is chilling, and Harry doesn't miss the threat in his tone. He wants to assure Malfoy that he won't be mentioning it to anyone either, but the man Disapparates before he has the chance to say as much.

oOo

Harry's flat is cold when he arrives back home and he can't be arsed to turn on the heat as he staggers wearily down the hall to his bedroom. It's late, or early, rather, depending on which way you look at it. After Malfoy had left Godric's Hollow, Harry returned to the cemetery in search of something that would indicate why Malfoy had been there. He had known it really wasn't his business, but a pure blood Slytherin had little need to be in the birthplace of Godric Gryffindor, he thought. Upon searching the graveyard, Harry found nothing that could attribute to Malfoy's odd visit. And when a silvery, ghostly figure of a bloody woman crying a haunting moan appeared before him sending a chill straight to his bones, Harry had decided it was time to take his leave.

Reaching into his coat pocket, Harry pulls out the small, furry creature that he's come to almost rely on recently. Nola is actually a sugar glider that he had picked up when last he was in New Guinea; a small, grey marsupial that seems to prefer Harry's pocket to her own elaborately furnished habitat which takes up an entire bedroom of Harry's flat. He sets her on the perch atop his chest of drawers and she twists upside-down, watching him curiously with large, black eyes.

"Turn away, you," Harry says.

Dropping his clothing to the floor, he slips on his warmest flannel pyjama bottoms and slides under the thick blankets of his bed. Sleep takes him quickly.

After a few short and unrestful hours, Harry is awakened by a tapping at his window. Tossing the blankets over his head, he buries his face into his pillow, determined to ignore the unwelcome visitor—ignore the day altogether if he can at all help it. The incessant rapping continues and Harry finds his sleep-weary mind reciting the words of a poem Hermione had once read to him.

"Nevermore," he mumbles as he throws the bedclothes back and rises to greet the annoyance that awaits him.

The hinges creak as Harry pushes the window open and a gust of icy air accompanies the familiar grey owl as it hops inside, a piece of parchment tied to his leg with thin strings of festive red and green. Harry sighs, knowing that this is no different from the preceding years, and unties the note. The owl ruffles his feathers, hopping from one foot to the next before flying across the room to perch upon Harry's bedpost. Harry reaches to close the window he had left opened with the hopes that the owl would not be awaiting a response, but as he begins to pull, a loud shriek sounds and another owl comes swooping in, burdened with a thick brown package. He's reminded of the first letter he'd received from Hogwarts when he was just eleven, owls lining the rooftops of Privet Drive, and before he closes the window, he glances outside to make sure there are no more waiting.

When Harry turns to face his unwanted visitors, he notices that owl number two is actually owls number two and three, as it seems a very angry Pigwidgeon is desperately gripping the package that's easily five times his size with a fierce determination, a shrill sound emanating from him as if he's scolding the larger owl.

Harry watches in amusement for a moment before turning his attention to the small piece of parchment in his hand. As he unrolls it, flecks of silver glitter shake free, forming a shimmering cloud around the note. He knows it's from Hermione, as it is her owl who delivered it, but the glitter makes it apparent that she's sent the owl from the Burrow. Molly Weasley is never one to let go of traditions.

Dear Harry,

Arthur tells us you've recently accepted a position at the ministry. I'm glad to hear that you'll be getting out and about more often, and I hope that means we will see you for Christmas dinner this afternoon at the Burrow. We're all here already, and everyone is anxious to see you.

Do come, Harry. We miss you and it isn't healthy to lock yourself away. In any case, Happy Christmas.

Love,

Hermione

Harry groans in frustration as he crosses the room and shoos the fluffy snitch known as Pigwidgeon away from the package that the tiny owl seems to be guarding with his life. He unties the string carefully, not trusting Molly to leave out such festivities as exploding garland pops and enchanted carolling bells. The contents are safe, it seems. Harry unfolds his annual Christmas sweater and tosses it down upon the chair.

Moving over to his desk, he rifles around in the drawer until he finds a piece of scrap parchment and a quill. His inkpot is almost frozen and he has to cast a warming charm to thaw its contents. He almost feels ashamed of himself for declining her invitation yet again, but he consoles himself with the fact that it is no different than last year, or the one before that, and so on for six years now. He ties the note to Hermione's owl and scrawls out a response to Molly as well. He's grateful for the present, and that the family continues to think of him, and he lets her know as much in his reply note. He also hopes that she and Arthur enjoy the greenhouse he'd had sent over. It was enchanted to accommodate whatever they chose to plant in it, and also to keep out garden gnomes.

She had sent him a howler on Boxing Day two years ago for having sent a thestral carrousel for them to keep in their backyard for when the grandchildren came for a visit. It wasn't even necessarily the fact that it was dark and morbid that bothered Molly most—though that certainly was a contributing factor to her anger—it was the fact that Harry had, in her opinion, spent far too much money on such gifts year after year. He was more than happy to have it picked up and redesigned so that it wouldn't scare the children. The hippogriff model was much more child-friendly.

Molly has gotten used to Harry's gifts recently, and Harry thinks it helps to alleviate his own guilt for rarely visiting, though he usually chooses not to think about it at all.

Tying the note to owl number two, much to the dismay of a huffy Pigwidgeon, Harry opens the window to the biting cold once more and sends the parliament on its way. He had planned last night to return to Godric's Hollow in the light of day and continue his search, but now he can't quite remember why he'd wanted to in the first place. It's no concern of his what brought Draco Malfoy there, and as long as he holds to his word—which, if Harry is being honest with himself, he doesn't know why he would—then it really has nothing at all to do with Harry.

"Let it go, Harry," he mumbles to himself, pulling a shirt on as he exits the room. It's still cold inside, but not nearly as cold as it could be judging by the chill that still lingers on his skin from the brief time he had the window open.

When Harry reaches the living room, he turns the heat on by way of the device adhered to the wall. It hadn't been hard to find a flat in Muggle London without a fireplace. The last thing Harry wantsis a slew of people dropping by uninvited through the Floo network. Owl-harassment isquite enough. But he does find it difficult sometimes to refrain from transfiguring the temperamental, ancient radiator into a fireplace, especially during the chilly winter months.

Nola scampers into the kitchen after Harry, having come out of whatever nook she saw fit to hide herself in during the owl visit, and curls herself up into the teacup Harry sets on the counter. Harry's mind races as he puts his kettle on the stove. He still can't quite dispel the eerie feeling that washed through him when he looked into Malfoy's cold grey eyes last night. Harry decides that after he's had some breakfast, he'll go out to Diagon Alley and see if there's any place open to pick up The Daily Prophet. If Malfoy had been there to draw attention to Harry, surely it will be in the paper. Perhaps not until tomorrow, though, seeing as it's a holiday. Maybe the paper will run old columns about Christmases long ago and the spirit of giving and all that rubbish about families and togetherness. And of course there are always articles about cooking Christmas dinner and various recipes for roast parsnips and stuffing with gravy and bread sauce.

Harry's resolve is in question as his stomach rumbles thinking of Molly's cooking. Before he lets his appetite do the decision making and owls the Weasleys with a prompt retraction of his previous response, he pulls a pan out of his cupboard and cooks up his own breakfast as he dices fresh fruit for Nola.

oOo

Both the wizarding and Muggle worlds seem to return to normal around the third of January and Harry is both shocked and grateful that Malfoy seems to have kept his word. There hasn't been a single unusual mention of Harry in any of the newspapers. Harry still hasn't returned to Godric's Hollow, though it isn't lack of curiosity that's kept him away. A terrible storm had come in the morning after Christmas and Harry found himself occupied with reorganising his bookshelves while he ignored the fact that the heavy snow had covered all of London in an unexpectedly profound layer.

He places his cup of tea in its mismatched saucer on the floor beside him and adjusts his glasses as he stares thoughtfully at the last bookcase in his flat. Harry has a vast collection of literature; from fiction to text books to his own journals he's kept over the years to chronicle his thoughts and memories. It was an idea Hermione had seen fit to impose when Harry had refused to see a psychologist.

This particular bookcase is filled with the latter and as Harry organizes the journals in sequential order, he realises that some are practically empty with only three or four pages filled in with random mutterings or drawings. Harry is reluctant to even touch the memory books whose spines are labelled from 1998 to 1999 and instead tucks the other years neatly in front of them. He thinks perhaps one day he'll feel differently and he'll be able to read through those entries, but he isn't in any hurry as his own memories are potent enough and he thinks he could do without the extra reminders.

oOo

On the first Thursday of the New Year, Harry awakens before the sun has risen. He wishes this has something to do with the fact that, for the first time in ages, he actually has somewhere to be, but in all actuality, he's rarely ever able to sleep beyond sunrise anymore. And so he finds his day beginning in much the same way as is typical for him. Harry slips out of from under his covers into the chilly air of his bedroom and pads into the adjoining bathroom to shower and shave before breakfast. He casts a warming charm on his waiting bathrobe before stepping under the spray of water.

When he's finished, Harry dresses slowly as he really is in no particular hurry. Today is the day that his unsanctioned employment begins at the Ministry and while he'd like to think that he is perfectly composed, his inner voice is telling him otherwise. Harry tries his best to steel himself in preparation of spending his day surrounded by old friends and acquaintances. It isn't as though he's never around people anymore. Quite the opposite, actually. He seems to find himself surrounded by Muggles more often than wizards, though, and Harry suspects this will be a trial of his self-imposed restrictions.

He leans against the counter, sipping his coffee and watching the colours of the sunrise as they paint the sky outside his kitchen window. A layer of pink fades into orange on the horizon and Harry can feel the energy of the world around him as it all comes to life for another day. His own flat sometimes seems foreign to him as he spends so much time away, but over the last few months he's done his best to stay put and it's finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable. Often Harry wonders if he'll ever return to Grimmauld Place. Sirius had despised the house when he was alive, viewing it more as a prison than a home. Harry would just as soon get rid of it altogether were it not for all the memories that haunt the halls. Sirius, Tonks, Lupin, Dumbledore, even Severus Snape had all graced that house with their presence, leaving an echo of themselves in the very essence of the place that Harry cannot bring himself to part with.

He feels them all there, in one capacity or another, and during the times that Harry is finding it exceptionally difficult to accept the solitary lifestyle he's chosen for himself, he makes his way to Grimmauld Place from whichever corner of the world he might be in. Walking up and down the halls, room to room, he drags his fingers over the walls as he conjures up memories of the voices he so longs to hear.

No, Harry cannot part with the home his godfather willed to him, painful as it sometimes is for him to even think about. He's had plans for quite some time now to renovate the place, change things around to make it different enough to bear being there, yet he's always afraid of losing the shadow of their presence that lingers there just out of his reach.

Finishing his coffee, he rinses the cup and gathers his things to leave. Harry doesn't want to be early, he doesn't even particularly want to be on time, but he thinks he's run out of reasons to delay any further—until a new idea occurs to him.

Harry decides to walk most of the way to the Ministry in the interest of getting some much needed exercise. It feels as though he's been in hibernation all season, lethargic and unmotivated. It isn't typical of him. He generally values any physical activity that will help keep him in shape, and while he certainly doesn't look bad after weeks lacking any strenuous workout, he'd rather not completely break the habit.

He slips his coat and scarf on, holding his pocket open for an anxious Nola to climb inside before putting on his gloves as well. Harry chooses not to cast an actual warming charm and draws instead off the earth itself to heat him. It probably isn't the best idea as the ground is rather cold and Harry finds himself reaching deep to locate the warmth that he knows is there somewhere. He is certain he'll be tired when he arrives for having used Elemental magic, but Harry likens a wizard's typical warming charm to cooking with a Muggle microwave. While it is admittedly easy, convenient, and, for the most part, efficient, it lacks the capability of the thorough job an actual oven can do, heating his body entirely rather than just his clothing or exposed skin.

Harry is only marginally tired upon arriving at his destination, a feeling that is quickly dispelled by the distraction of witches and wizards bustling about in their morning rush to get to wherever it is they need to be. Harry is promptly greeted by the Minister himself. Kingsley is standing by the fountain with a woman half his size beside him. He smiles warmly as Harry approaches, steeling himself for a possible onslaught of questioning and mindless small talk.

"I was starting to think you'd had second thoughts," the Minister says as he shakes Harry's hand.

"I'm sorry. I hope you haven't been waiting here long," replies Harry, feeling a bit guilty at the thought that the Minister has delayed starting his day while waiting for him.

"Not at all," Kingsley replies. "Andien here saw you approaching the checkpoint and alerted me of your arrival." The small witch at Kingsley's side smiles brightly and extends her own hand which Harry takes briefly. "I was actually just on my way downstairs for a moment. I have to make an appearance," Kingsley continues. "But Andien will show you to your office and you can get settled in."

Harry thanks him and follows the witch through the hall to the sign that reads SECURITY. After what feels like an hour, Harry accepts his wand back from the stern-faced registrar and passes into the Atrium. Glancing over her shoulder periodically to assure Harry hasn't fallen behind, Andien leads him to the far end of the Atrium and into another hall. When the golden grille of the lift closest to them slides open, Andien and Harry shuffle inside with several other waiting gentlemen.

Andien doesn't speak as they make their way down to level two, and Harry is grateful for this. He doesn't care for small talk with anyone, let alone strangers.

"Here we are, Mr Potter," she says as a voice announces the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. "Your office is just down the hall here and to the left."

Harry thinks it rather odd that he, a part time employee who sets his own terms, should be granted his own office. He has an aching suspicion that this whole consultant position had been created as a way of coaxing him back out into society. He wonders if it is actually Kingsley's doing, or if Hermione is somehow responsible. She's spent the last few years teaching both magical and Muggle literature at Hogwarts and is well on her way to becoming head of Gryffindor house, but with the greater part of the Weasley family now employed by the Ministry, he imagines she still has some sort of influence.

Andien, a few paces ahead of Harry, opens a door toward the end of the hall and gestures for him to enter. The woman smiles warmly as Harry nods his thanks and steps inside.

"The minister will be right with you, Mr Potter, to discuss your tasks. This will be your office and you're to do as you please with it. Make yourself comfortable."

Harry glances around the room, taking in the tall bookcases and oversized desk in rich mahogany. Two plush chairs sit beside the fireplace along the far wall and Harry can already see himself sitting there, warming his hands with the heat of a crackling fire. "Can I get you some coffee, Mr Potter? Or perhaps a cup of tea?"

"I'm fine, thank you," he assures the dark haired witch. She nods, stepping out and quietly closing the door behind her. In all truth, Harry probably could have done with a good, hot cup of coffee, but he doesn't fancy the idea of anyone doing things for him.

Nola scampers out of his pocket, drifting to the floor with her strange non-wings before scurrying off to explore the new area.

"Don't get lost," Harry warns her.

He removes his coat and gloves, draping them over the nearest chair, but doesn't move any further into the room as he continues to evaluate his surroundings. Two large windows on the wall behind the desk have been enchanted to reflect a sunny, warm day. Not bothering with his wand for such a small task, Harry reaches his hand out and pulls down the unwanted spell. He doesn't much care for window enchantments. They make him feel trapped and completely unaware of the world around him. It's dark and solemn in the underground world beyond the windows, a direct contradiction to the golden sunlight that shone through just moments before, but Harry is relieved to see it for exactly what it is without the mask of magic.

Scanning the bookcases, Harry notices many of the same titles he's got at home and wonders if that was done deliberately or if they'd had someone else in this position before him who happened to share his interests. There's a small decorative pot on the desk with several quills varying in size and colour. An odd looking plant sits at the opposite corner of the desk, purple veins running through small, mint green coloured leaves that appear to be fuzzy. Harry studies the plant curiously having never seen another quite like it. He takes a few steps closer, but as he approaches, the plant shifts positions in its pot, gathering along the edge farthest from Harry.

"It's a Fresh Air Fern."

Harry turns, startled by the sudden intrusion of words cutting through the silence, but not at all surprised that Kingsley was able to sneak up on him. Harry is skilled when it comes to sensing magic, able to feel the power of the wizard who possesses it even if they don't happen to be utilizing it to its full potential at the time. Even the simplest of spells carry a deep imprint of magical signature. But if one is not using their magic at all, Harry's own Metaphysical powers have nothing to reach out to. It seemed Kingsley had not used any magic at all to creep up on Harry, even opening the door without a single sound. A true testament of what had made him the perfect Auror years ago.

"It comes from a Brazilian rainforest. Its purpose is to give an area the illusion of space when needed. We–I thought that it would be beneficial to you given the fact that you aren't quite used to confined quarters."

Kingsley's slip does not escape Harry's notice, but rather than wondering who "we" may be, he simply laughs at his old friend's odd comment.

"Kingsley," he says when finally his laughter subsides. "Do you honestly think that I've spent the last six years of my life as a prisoner of agoraphobia?" Kingsley doesn't answer and Harry is reluctant to offer anymore denial of the condition his friends clearly assume he suffers from. "I appreciate the gesture, Minister, but I assure you, I'm quite capable."

"Well," Kingsley says with a glint of mischief in his eyes, "it's interesting to look at, in any case. But if you're uncomfortable with it, I can have it removed."

Harry shakes his head in response. He had been hoping that Kingsley, of all people, would understand that Harry isn't someone who has to be tiptoed around delicately. He simply does not want the life of war and hurt and loss he once had and finds it easier to keep his distance. He did, after all, accept this faux position when the Minister for Magic had offered it to him; a feat which Harry considers to be a huge leap forward on his part.

"I agree," Harry responds finally. "It is quite nice to look at. I think I'll keep it, if it's just the same to you."

Kingsley smiles. "I apologise for my delay. It's as if Weasley can't manage his way through a single meeting without a pat on the back." Harry bristles at mention of the name before his mind has a chance to reason that Kingsley most likely meant Percy and not Ron. Harry knows he'll be seeing his old friend, though. And based on the fact that Harry has been placed in an office on the same floor as the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he's sure it won't be long before the reunion takes place. Kingsley slides into the chair by the fireplace, gesturing for Harry to join him. "Don't be shy," he says. "This is your office, after all."

Harry nods once, taking a seat in the chair across from the Minister. He stares pensively into the flames as the fire crackles in its grate and he finds himself relaxing more than he thought possible. After a moment, Kingsley breaks the silence.

"How have you been, Harry?" His question is that which anyone might ask without the expectation of a truthful answer, but Harry does not miss the concern in Kingsley's voice. "We hardly hear from you at all anymore."

"I'm here now, aren't I?" Harry asks, not intending to be rude but likely coming across that way nonetheless.

Kingsley laughs dryly. "That you are," he says. "And I can't tell you how much we appreciate it. As I mentioned when last we spoke, there isn't a lot that I expect from you here. As you can imagine, we've got thousands of cold cases in the file cabinets of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Things that can't or won't ever be solved, but once in a while our Aurors run across something they find unusual. Based on their own training and limited experience, they just aren't able to come up with the answers they know are right under their noses though. This is where you're abilities will be most useful to us, Harry."

He should have suspected Kingsley wanted him to help the Aurors. After he'd decided not to become one himself all those years ago, his friend had been quite disappointed. Harry didn't see any harm in helping, so long as he wasn't a full time employee of the Ministry.

"I understand you won't be spending a lot of time here, Harry. But I want you to feel comfortable. If there's anything you need, just let Andien know and we'll see that it's taken care of. There's a set of Ministry issued robes in the top drawer of your desk. I know you aren't an actual Ministry employee, but at the very least, when walking the halls here, please do wear them."

Harry nods, having no problem with wearing the robes while he's in the Ministry and he finds it somewhat funny that Kingsley seems to have expected some argument. "Also, in case you're opposed to walking through the Atrium on the days you'll be here, you can connect your home to the Floo Network and isolate it to this office only."

Harry considers telling Kingsley that he hasn't actually got a fireplace, but decides that the clever wizard is likely fishing for any information he can get and instead opts to simply nod and thank the Minister. Kingsley takes his leave, informing Harry that someone will be back shortly with some files for him to go through, but that there's certainly no rush to dive in.

The day passes slowly and Harry finds that he honestly doesn't mind sitting in a warm, fire lit office at the Ministry of Magic, and that it's not much different than sitting at home organising shelves except that here, the hurried footsteps and muffled voices that carry through his office door offer some semblance of normalcy and comfort in his otherwise strange existence. He shuffles through stacks of old files that Kingsley's assistant had brought in, looking for anything unusual in the cold cases that may have been overlooked. Harry has no real idea what it is he's looking for and imagines it isn't much different than detention with Snape sorting through hundreds of Hogwarts files. If something stands out to him, he trusts he'll notice.

As he nurses his fifth paper cut of the day Harry wonders, not for the first time, why none of the highly educated research wizards have yet to come up with a way of isolating the interfering magic away from such clever Muggle devices as computers to use at the Ministry. A spreadsheet would be so useful right now. While magical methods also have their uses, Harry thinks this is one situation where he'd rather use electronics. Unfortunately, the smallest amounts of electro-static-discharge affect such electronics, and magic would quite certainly destroy a computer as quickly as it was installed. As he opens the file cabinet and tucks the stack inside neatly with the intention of adding order tomorrow, a soft knock sounds on his office door.

"Come in," Harry calls over his shoulder, fully expecting it to be another delivery of some kind from Andien. The woman seemed to have a wide variety of reasons to come knocking on Harry's door throughout the day, from coffee to files to switching out the hearth rug. Harry has not yet reached his breaking point, but he fears that if this is the way she plans to carry on throughout his time here, he'll certainly have to put a stop to her frequent visits. But as Harry turns, he's greeted with another familiar, and not entirely unwelcome, face that he didn't quite expect to see so soon.