Tomorrow will be Kinder
The story began in the place where time does not exist. That is to say, then, that it never really began at all, or maybe it never ended? For with timelessness there can be no beginning or ending only a stream with no head or mouth, only existence. And in that existence there was a world filled with silence, because without time can there be sound?
After the battle, when the dust settled back into the rubble of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, what was there left but existence? In that one moment, where nobody could be completely happy or sad, relieved or devastated it happened.
The bodies lie strewn about the Great Hall. Harry thought of the memories of that place. He tried to remember the sweet, tangy taste of treacle tart and the pinch of Hedwig, dear Hedwig, landing on his shoulder during breakfast. He did not succeed of course. The Great Hall was now this, a vision twisted and in his dreams where there would only be Remus clutching Tonks' hand lovingly even in death and Colin limp, battered, but inherently youthful, frozen at the cusp of manhood upon the floor.
Then there were the Weasleys all beside themselves staring at the body of Fred. Bile rose in his throat and Harry turned away. Somehow he did not feel that sense of belonging that always welled up in his heart when looking at the redheaded family. Somehow, looking at them now, watching Ron clutch his brother's unresponsive shoulders in tears and Molly finally losing her battle with gravity to sink to the ground, Harry could only feel he was looking upon something forbidden, something grotesque, and something utterly beautiful. This was love, Harry knew. The Weasleys, bereft of one child, showcased their grief to the world unashamedly and Harry, who had no family, no parents to truly be there to comfort him, could only walk away against the protests of his newly appointed Headmistress.
He didn't look back.
Death, as it turned out, was much like falling asleep. Or maybe, Harry mused later, the killing curse produced that feeling. Strangely that thought brought comfort to him when he remembered the lives lost to the spell. He hadn't had much time to think about that particular aspect of his sacrifice as he walked toward Voldemort however. The stone provided a balm to his aching soul because he knew without a doubt that in that moment the only ones who could truly help him were the ones he'd already lost. Sirius told him, of course, what death would be, but Harry reasoned in that short time that the veil and Voldemort were two radically different ways to kick the bucket.
Kings Cross station was blinding at first and the air oscillated with an unknown hum. Somehow Harry knew, like he knew in the Great Hall, that he stood outside something grander than himself. He suspected time, but maybe Dumbledore was right. Maybe he could have hopped a train on a one way ride to his parents.
Except that he couldn't; damn his hero complex. There were still tasks to be finished. Dumbledore knew that almost as deeply as Harry himself did. For all that he hated the title, Harry really was the Boy-Who-Lived and, quite frankly, it would ruin his reputation if he died now.
When he awoke the dirt of the Forbidden Forest was cold and Narcissa Malfoy's grip on his shoulder almost made him jump. Unseen by anyone except his childhood enemy's mother, Harry grimaced. Dying was like falling asleep, but rising from the dead was like a thousand Cruciatus curses to the face.
When it was over, when Voldemort was dead and no more than a pale corpse on the floor, the Wizarding world celebrated. Or maybe it went more like shock, then celebration. When the sound of his duel faded nothing else took its place and the crowd stood watching the two most influential wizards of the times. One was dead and Harry, well, Harry did not know what he was. The flow of his blood was just as steady, just as alive as any other survivor, but Harry thought that maybe something else, something vital within him died. As the screams of pleasure filled the ruined halls of Hogwarts Harry stood in the midst of the chaos and watched blankly as the dust swirled in the air.
Nobody stopped him when he walked away.
Nobody stopped him when he raised his wand.
Nobody stopped him when he apparated.
They let him go. They did not notice.
And for once in his life Harry could say he was happy to be alone.
His disappearance was all over the news outlets. Worried quotes, shameless speculations, and smiling visages of himself blinked up from the Daily Profit and The Quibbler, but by the time anyone noticed that Harry Potter was missing he'd already packed his meager possessions and left the country. Harry had to admit the states were not anything like he was accustomed to, but nobody on the streets knew who he was or that he'd just defeated the most dangerous dark wizard in a century. Anonymity was anonymity no matter if it came from the United States or Timbuktu.
For a few months Harry was afraid that someone might find him, come looking, and then take him away from the solitude he forced upon himself, but days piled upon each other and after a year Harry breathed easier. No one came.
He was thankful.
Americans are nosey. That is one piece of knowledge Harry learned quickly. His neighbors wanted to know everything about him. His coworkers, when he finally got around to applying for a job, were fascinated by his mysterious past. To the people around him Harry Potter was an enigma. That was fine with Harry. It was better than being publicly vilified and called crazy on a daily basis. Here Harry was not Public Enemy No. 1. Here Harry was just Harry. It was all he'd ever wanted.
He hadn't made any friends, not one in the seven years he'd been living here. He had many acquaintances, but nobody could quite reach that place in his heart that held his past, his emotions, his memories of family and friends that for the time being he shut out and locked away. He used up time by working and applying to college and then receiving his degree in record time. A part of him thought Hermione might be proud that he'd elected to go further in his studies, but that part was quickly squashed. He didn't want to think about his friends.
It was not time to feel yet. Was it atonement for all those that Harry could not save? Was it guilt now, after seven years for running away like a coward? Was it the same symptom he felt standing in the Great Hall or standing in front of Voldemort's corpse, the feeling that he would not belong even if he tried to? Harry did not know. He had spent some time in the past thinking and contemplating to himself, but he never came up with a definitive answer so he gave up. His motivations were unknown to himself and until he found the reason, he could not possibly face his friends.
There were things in life that had always been denied to Harry Potter. Consistent memories of his parents, his mother's loving smile, anonymity, and the time to simply relax without his aunt screaming over his thin shoulders or Voldemort wreaking havoc around the globe were all things absent from the Boy-Who Lived's life. Most of all however, the thing that Harry longed for more than anything was a sense of control.
It made tragic sense, then, when exactly a month after the sixth anniversary of Voldemort's death Harry caught a glimpse of the world he'd left behind.
He worked in a café, despite earning his degree in English Literature almost two years before. The building was tucked away in its simplicity and though the place he lived in wasn't a bustling metropolis, the town was big enough to be a tourist destination and his little café was small and quaint enough to draw in foreigners.
At first Harry didn't recognize he'd just served Draco Malfoy a Frappuccino, but as he walked away the syllables of his last name floated out behind him in a shocked voice.
He couldn't run away from it anymore.
He wondered why he ever thought he could run away from himself.
Malfoy was married to a woman named Astoria. She was Daphne Greengrass' younger sister, a girl Harry vaguely remembered from his own classes at Hogwarts. In two months Draco's first child and heir was due and Harry congratulated him even though he wanted to hear nothing more about the comings and goings of the wizarding world in his absence.
Ron and Hermione married with two children.
Weasley grandchildren from Bill and Fleur were already underfoot.
And nobody really mourned what was lost anymore. The search for Harry ended before it even began.
With a small snort Malfoy told Harry that the wizarding world felt a debt to the Boy Who Lived. He told Harry that even though the tattered remains of the Golden Trio and Dumbledore's army searched the longest, they too felt the need to give Harry his peace, to let Harry live life on his own terms. So they stopped searching, stopped sending letters through owls that always returned unopened, stopped jumping at "Potter sightings", stopped waiting to live because their friend wasn't there and wasn't coming back.
There was a mixture of a sneer and a smirk on the blonde's face as he looked Harry up and down noting the thinness of his frame and the tightness around still piercing green eyes. His grasp on his Frappuccino was light as he spoke.
"I don't think it ever crossed their minds that you could fuck up your new life even more so than the one you left behind." Malfoy rose from the table with a sigh and looked at Harry then. It was a look that Harry had never seen on his once rival full of hopes and regrets all pointed at him or maybe not quite him. Maybe Malfoy was looking beyond him towards the past, looking at how things began and how they could never be. Maybe Malfoy saw the remains of the Boy Who Lived in the man seated in front of him, but Harry would never bend to it. He was too brittle.
"You know Potter. . . " Malfoy hesitated, "you know no one ever wanted you to leave, not even me, but if this is what your life has become, if you wish to live here catering to your own self-deprecating whims, then really, everything you fought for is worth nothing isn't it? The people who died, I knew very few of them, but I knew enough about them to say they would be ashamed of a Harry Potter who would run away from himself."
Harry's head snapped to the blonde, green eyes wide in confusion and disbelief.
Malfoy left before he could even reply.
But what was there to say anyway?
Harry waited a bit longer, two months or so, but it became clear that Malfoy hadn't told anyone of his whereabouts. The urge to run still pushed at his mind, but for once in his life since the fulfillment of that thrice damned prophecy he forced himself to think over his life.
He was running. Harry had always known that.
He was frightened. He knew that as well.
He ran to escape, but didn't everyone? The question was what was Harry so afraid of? Why was he running and, more importantly, what was he running from?
Another two years would pass before he could answer that question.
When Harry made up his mind to return he didn't quite know where to start. It seemed brash to show up on the Weasley doorstep after nine years of essentially ignoring their existence. He didn't even know where Ron and Hermione lived. So Harry went with what he knew and began his wizarding life again how he started it at eleven years old: a trip to Diagon Alley.
It was like walking into the past, almost literally. Diagon Alley looked virtually the same as it had that day he stood in Hargid bulky shadow filled with awe and fear of an unknown world presented to him. That day Harry became a Wizard and on another day, years and years later, he began anew.
It was an inevitable that no one quite knew what to think of his return, but word spread like wildfire as he made the trek through the Alley to Gringotts bank, an establishment he'd last been in under false and deadly pretenses. Would the Goblins even allow him in after successfully casting the imperious curse on one of its employees and burglarizing one of the bank's heavily fortified vaults?
Harry looked different enough he supposed. His hair was longer, his face thinner. The years hadn't been necessarily bad to him, but he sometimes couldn't face the weariness he saw in the mirror every morning. Maybe nine years had wrought more change in the world he'd left behind than any changes he'd dragged with himself.
As he walked through the doors of the impressive bank Harry found himself hoping that the Wizarding world had flourished.
It was the first hope he'd had in a while.
Maybe this time there would be no dragons.
It turned out that Goblins were not in fact forgiving creatures. Harry had known that going in, but he'd also known how shrewd they could be and his meager business senses proved fruitful. After all, Harry Potter was the heir to not one, but two great houses that came with exceptionally large and impressive vaults. A little robbery, aided as the Golden Trio had been, was overlooked in the face of continued service.
As it was, Harry almost expected the crowd that had formed at the doors to the bank when he emerged. There was a moment of silence as the crowd faced him, drawing comparisons between who he was and who he'd become on the outside. That moment was all it took. When the explosion of sound from the crowd happened, and questions flew about the Alley Harry had already apparated away.
Grimmauld place was brighter than he left it and Kreacher more pleasant, but he supposed since the order still had access to the house and the house elf wasn't living under too many restrictions someone had kept his home in working order.
The portrait of Mrs. Black was gone at least.
Looking around him Harry sighed. Home sweet home.
Harry didn't know if it was talent or luck that he'd managed to avoid seeing one person he recognized at all in the three months he'd been back. It wasn't for lack of trying on his friends' parts, he knew. Several times he'd had to duck out of a room in Grimmauld place and apparate on the spot to avoid order members or an errant Weasley trying to get a glimpse of him. He wondered what they thought of appearing in his house only to see a scene of stopped time. Harry in the middle of a meal, a book opened face down upon the couch, bed covers strewn about haphazardly. He wondered why they kept coming.
If he was honest with himself Harry would say that he had no clue why he felt the compulsion to run still after he'd made the decision to return to his old life. He'd say he honestly wanted to see his friends again and wanted to keep their company. He wanted to take tea with Ron and Hermione and eat Mrs. Weasley's cooking. He wanted to see Ginny even though he knew those feelings were long in the past. He wanted to see what life had given those he'd left behind.
But Harry hadn't been honest with himself since whatever it was broke within him after killing Voldemort. He hadn't been honest within himself since meeting Dumbledore in death. Harry's last act of honesty was ironically the thing that drove him away.
At night he still remembered the silence that stretched through Hogwarts that night. In his dreams he remembered that moment right after he dealt the killing blow to the creature that began a senseless war.
That moment he stood outside the world. He looked out at the people around him and realized his only company was a corpse. And they looked in at him and cheered.
He didn't belong.
He never would.
So he ran from that realization.
He wished he could stop running.
And then came the day Harry woke to red.
It was a strange, because he thought he might still be dreaming, but there was a tangy taste upon his tongue and his head ached fresh from a nightmare. It took a few moments and clumsily fumbling for the glasses on his nightstand to realize it was red hair he was looking at and not the red in Voldemort's eyes.
A Weasley, but certainly not the Weasley he expected to see.
Brown eyes sparkled down at him as lanky arms pinned Harry down on the bed. It was an attempt, a very successful attempt, at subduing a man quick on his feet.
"So sleeping beauty awakes huh?"
Harry wondered how his life would change now.
"You are a very hard man to track down Harry. Did you know that?" George's voice rumbled lightly in Harry's ear. They were in the kitchen, but George had very succinctly cast apparition wards around the room lest Harry pull another disappearing act.
Harry grunted as he leaned against a cabinet. "Maybe you just weren't looking hard enough?" From the flash in George's eyes that was definitely the wrong thing to say.
"Bullshit Harry! We looked for years! We sent letters, scouts, anything we could think of. Hell, we even tried to get Kreacher to find you, but apparently you forbade him from telling us where you were!" George was walking towards Harry now. "Where the hell were you for nine years?" Harry cringed at the fury in his friend's eyes and looked away.
As George drew closer he absently wondered how to promote a house elf for an outstanding work performance.
He expected to be punched, honestly. George's expression left little doubt that he was about to gain a black eye, but nothing prepared him for the almost tender way George's fingers touched upon his chin. Harry turned to face the red head in surprise, but George's eyes gave nothing away.
"Why did you leave Harry?" His words were soft, but Harry heard them clearly.
That was the question he'd been asking himself wasn't it? Since the day Draco Malfoy appeared in a little café in the middle of nowhere and unwittingly opened a wound that had long since scarred over hadn't he asked himself why? Why was he such a coward? What compelled him to run?
Harry only barely knew the answer himself. He only felt the insatiable need to be, to exist in a world that didn't seem to have a place for him as anything other than the Boy Who Lived or the man who murdered, the person whose shoulders a solution to war that started well before his conception rested upon.
Had he stopped himself for that reason? Had he left the wizarding world because he couldn't bear the thought of not existing as Harry, just Harry? Had he stepped out of that future to prevent the loss he would have inevitably felt after the battle knowing that there were lives that could not be revived, that the one atrocious thing he'd done, murdered another living being, wasn't done fast enough to save the ones he cared about most?
George's fingers gently swept across his cheeks, collecting the tears the spilled over. He murmured comforts as Harry's body slid to the floor and held the thin man in his arms protectively.
"That night. . ." Harry gasped lightly for air, "that night, it broke me."
As he sat there on the floor of his late Godfather's kitchen in the arms of his childhood friend Harry cried for the first time in nine years. He cried for lost friends and time. He cried for the fear he felt. He cried for the existence of himself and of the choice he made to come back rather than hop a train to the afterlife. He cried for the possibilities.
And through his tears he heard George say, "Then we'll put you back together again okay?"
Truth be told the Weasley's were probably a little put out when George stepped into the burrow Harry Potter on his arm. After all the effort they put into finding him it was almost blasphemous that he would waltz right through the kitchen door. And of course all the Weasley's were there, save Fred, but they'd all come to peace with his passing long ago.
Molly Weasley dropped a plate on the floor upon seeing the boy she half raised. Nobody bothered to pick up the broken pieces. Hermione stopped in the middle of what seemed to be a very scathing lecture towards her husband. Ron stared dumbfounded at the one person he honestly thought he'd never see again. The Burrow was, for the first time since anyone could remember, absolutely silent.
Until of course, it wasn't.
Through all the questionings, the tears, the hugs, and the angry bellowing Harry kept his fingers clutched around George's arm. Everyone noticed, but nobody spoke of it.
Nobody needed to know that his grip was the only thing keeping Harry from running away again.
Even Harry didn't quite know when he moved in with George Weasley. It started with the red head's insistence on dragging him along everywhere he went and sort of grew from there. Soon Harry spent more time in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes than anywhere else, so it was pretty natural when he and George gravitated to spending lots of time in the flat above the store.
Harry expected that George just didn't want him to disappear again, but oddly enough, he and the red head spent little time talking about his time away. Harry actually settled nicely into a routine that didn't involve bottling himself up and then hitting the trail.
It was impossible not to laugh in a joke shop anyway.
And George really didn't mind when he noticed Harry's belongings strewn about his flat.
The first time Harry and George kissed it went a little bit too far.
For week they were awkward around each other before Ron, not quite understanding of the situation but tired of the two skirting around, told them gruffly to "Go get a fucking room already! You are driving me crazy!"
That night Harry moved out of Fred's old room and into George's. There was little fanfare.
It was probably because Harry and George didn't want to admit they'd technically gotten relationship "advice" from a man with the emotional range of a teaspoon.
When he walked into the forbidden forest Harry Potter honestly couldn't tell you why. Thirteen years go he'd been willing to give his life, to walk straight into death, if it gave his loved ones a chance to rid the world of Voldemort. He hadn't expected to live. He hadn't expected to run away either.
Sometimes in the night when he lay beside George, unable to sleep, he wonders what could have happened differently. He wonders and ponders what choices he could have made, what actions he could have taken to end up with a different life than what he'd lead. Now, years later Harry found himself standing on the same spot he stood all those years ago facing down the devil himself, wondering if death was truly, as Sirius said, like falling asleep.
He didn't know what compelled him to come here. Honestly, if George found out he'd have a conniption and the Weasley family would probably return to their "Potter watching" wondering if he was going to disappear before their eyes, but it had been years since he'd felt the need to run. It had been years since that morning in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place where he'd cried his tears and George had wrapped him in his arms and pulled him against a firm chest offering reassurances and hopes.
Had the Weasley family put him back together again?
Harry truly didn't know, but he hadn't felt alone in a long time. He hadn't felt the burden of being the Boy Who Lived. He hadn't felt the feeling of standing outside of something greater than himself.
He hadn't felt alone.
In the spot where he died, Harry smiled. He existed.
With a pop he apparated away.
-AN: This is a happy one right? Actually this one shot had been half done on my laptop for a loooooong time, so I decided to finish it. I hope you guys like it. I know I've been doing a lot of Angst recently, but hopefully this is a little brighter. It's also in a different style than I usually do, so if you have so comments on it don't hesitate to review! I love getting reader feedback.
Until next time!