After the war, reconciliation between enemies is necessary to create a better future, one that is only possible if one embraces the past. Begins during the final chapters of Deathly Hallows, ignores the epilogue. Will eventually be Harry/Draco.
Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and the lovely world they live in all belong to JK Rowling.
Thanks to rosskpr for beta reading, and giving good suggestions. She has been very patient-- she sent me back the notes on this chapter two months ago(!), but illness and other real life interruptions kept me from acting on those suggestions until now. Thanks to my readers for their patience, too, assuming you have not given up on this story and me.
Comments are always welcome. I find they inspire me to write further, knowing someone else cares about the story.
On to the Chapter:
Bargains and Pleas
Sunday, May 10, 1998
Draco knocked on the door to the hall. He had worked all day yesterday, making part of the castle safer for the other volunteers, and he deserved something in return. He knew exactly what he wanted. He wouldn’t get it if he asked for it, but he could work around that. He knew something he could ask for, if he did it in just the right way...
His mother had been called away to discuss the results of the first day of cleansing with McGonagall. Draco allowed himself a smirk. Narcissa Malfoy had made herself necessary.
With his mother out of their rooms, he could implement his plan without revealing Snape’s survival to her prematurely. Draco needed to understand first. Why had Voldemort ordered that thrice cursed snake to attack Snape? And before that, he needed to know if his godfather had indeed survived. Was he receiving care? Had he awakened?
He pounded again.
The door opened after his pounding got loud enough that his head was beginning to pound along with it. He was beginning to think the guard at the door had cast a silencing spell, when the door opened and an irritated Auror had a wand levelled at him. “What is it, Death Eater?”
“My father is in the hospital wing, and is very ill. I want to see him.”
“And I want to have my partner back. Neither of us is going to get what we want.”
Draco considered. “I’m sorry for your partner,” he started.
“No. You don’t get to be sorry. You...”
Draco waited through the guard’s tirade, wondering how many Aurors had lost people, especially Aurors who were still on the job. The ones who had collaborated, who had done their jobs regardless of who was in control, they were likely either imprisoned or on leave. He wondered how thorough the Ministry purge was going to be. What would a bitter old Auror want? What could Draco offer? It couldn’t be anything that would harm their chances, slim as they were, for freedom.
He couldn’t believe what he was about to do. How Gryffindor. “Look. I know I have nothing you want,” he conceded. “My father is ill, and none of us knows what will happen next, not to any of us. If there is anything you want, any reason you can think of to help me spend what little time we have left together, then tell me. He’s my father!”
He hated the tone of his voice, slightly breathless, slightly whiny, but it was necessary. This is what a do-gooder Auror would want to hear, so this is what he’d give to him. Draco arranged his expression so he looked younger, more hopeful than he was. He hoped he looked more the Hogwarts student, and less the Death Eater.
The Auror looked at him. This was the expression he’d used to cajole brooms from his father when he was just starting Hogwarts. He hoped it didn’t look too strange on his face now.
“I wasn’t able to check in on him yesterday. I was helping repair the castle, as a volunteer. The cuff from when I volunteered yesterday is still locked around my ankle.” He tilted one leg forward, so the bulge caused by the anklet was clearly visible. “You could set it to limit me to the Hospital Wing.” He wondered how long he’d have to keep this up. How did Potter manage to look so wholesome all the time? It was exhausting!
The guard moved to close the door. “That really is too bad.” He did not sound at all sympathetic. Maybe you needed to be a Gryffindor to make that earnest thing work. Time to blend in a bit of Slytherin cunning.
Draco made note of the small, Badger pin on the guard’s Auror robes. They had come into style while Draco had been a student. He remembered Pansy and Daphne steering a group of Slytherins into the jeweller in Hogsmeade, insisting, as a matter of house pride, that they all get the snake pin. The Auror would not have bought it during his own time at Hogwarts...
“Do you know what I've been doing?” Draco tried to think of the simplest words to use. “There is a very dangerous magical residue in the castle, left over from the battle. I know how to remove it.”
The guard looked bored. “So? You’ve been the cleaning crew? Seems about right.”
"There are people in the hospital wing, in danger of losing their magic, possibly their lives, because they were working in areas affected by this residue. You can't see it unless you've been trained. You could just wander in, use your magic, and get sick."
The bored expression disappeared.
"I am trained to see it, and to cleanse it. That is what I’ve been doing.”
“I’m sure that is all very noble of you, cleaning up your own mess—”
“It is a task that needs full concentration. Without that, I could miss something. Someone, an Auror, a teacher, a volunteer, a student, could wander into an affected area. It could happen to you, and you’d never know, until the sores started to erupt in your skin, until your own magic starts to work against you.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No!!” Draco affected horror at the idea. “But I’ve been so distracted, worrying about my father. I could make a mistake. The risks are too great. You see why it is so important that I see him?”
The guard stared at him. Draco kept his face as earnest as possible. He waited just until he saw the guard’s expression start to close and then added, “I’m especially concerned because we’ll be working near one of the house dormitories. Unless the residue is cleansed, it could remain there for months or longer, unnoticed, until something, a stray student spell for example, causes it flare up. I don’t understand how it got so virulent near Hufflepuff.”
The guard’s flinch was subtle, but Draco had been watching for it. He covered his satisfaction with a rapid blink. When another Auror chose that moment to pass by, the guard’s posture shifted slightly, and Draco knew he had won. “Fine.” The guard ground out. “Alexia, would you guide Mr Malfoy here to see his father in the Hospital wing?
The Auror gave Draco a cursory glance, and turned to the first one. “Do you have the controlling device?”
It changed hands, the guard provided a few instructions, and they were off.
Tending the Sick
The door to the hospital wing was guarded. A set of private rooms likewise had an Auror stationed at the door. The presence of his Auror guide got him past the guards, who nevertheless looked wary. Draco’s lips quirked. Even unconscious or delirious, even weakened as he was, his father commanded respect.
His smile faded as he saw his father. Lucius Malfoy looked... grey. His hair hung lank against his scalp, looking more like a white-haired Snape than a Malfoy. His skin looked parched and flushed. They had clearly not been taking proper care of him. Hadn’t they given him a bath or washed his hair?
Draco moved into the room, leaving the two Aurors behind as unimportant, vaguely aware that the Auror who had guided him had passed the controller to the guard, and after a brief murmured conversation, left the room. He touched his father’s forehead, but Lucius didn’t respond. Draco had never seen his father looking so ill, not even after the Dark L—Voldemort had held him under Cruciatus on and off for half an hour. He remembered Aunt Bella laughing. Bella found anyone’s pain, even her own, delightfully amusing.
“Why hasn’t he been tended?” Draco kept his voice soft but couldn’t keep the outrage he felt completely out of his tone. Truthfully, he didn’t want to. His father deserved better than this.
“He is a criminal.” The guard spoke as if to a ten year old, too young even for Hogwarts, enunciating each syllable of ‘criminal’ as if it were a separate word.
“He is ill. It looks as if he hasn’t been bathed since he got here. Why isn’t anyone looking after him?”
“He resisted. Didn’t want to be touched by a Muggleborn. Went mad, he did, waving his arms about. The volunteer from St Mungo’s ended up with scratches. He can stink in his own mess, as far as I’m concerned.”
Draco tried to imagine his poised father clawing at some Mudblood volunteer like a wild man. The man on the bed looked too weak to put up such a fight, and he wanted to discount the guard’s description, except he had seen his father’s strength. It shone behind his reserve, daunting opponents and allies alike, and emerged even when his father was weak, if confronted with something he found intolerable. His father was ill indeed, if he couldn’t restrain his instinctive responses. He knew better. He had taught Draco only to show disdain if it strengthened his position. Causing a scene in such a way brought no strength. Had Lucius Malfoy given up?
Draco stroked back the matted hair from his father’s forehead. His skin was too hot.
He couldn’t just leave his father like this, despite his need to see how Severus was faring. “I can keep him calm. Surely there is a volunteer who is—” suitable, he thought. He kept the word back, turning his face toward the Auror guarding the door, wearing an expression almost as earnest as a Hufflepuff. “Willing.” He threaded just the right amount of pleading into his voice, although he wanted to demand his father be treated well. It was too late for demands, he reminded himself.
“He had his chance,” the Auror spat. “He wasted it. The volunteers have enough to do without squandering their time on scum that don’t want it.” Draco looked at the Auror’s face, memorising the features, storing them away for later. He turned back to the bed. “Father. It’s Draco.”
“Draco?” His father’s voice was weak and hoarse. There was a pitcher of water and a glass on the table by the bed. Draco looked; the glass appeared clean. He poured some for his father. Draco noticed Lucius’ hands shaking when he tried to take the glass. “Here, let me help.” He pulled his father forward, and supported his back with one hand while steadying his arm with the other. He would not diminish his father in front of the guard by holding the glass for him, but he could keep him from spilling.
“Better?” Draco spoke softly. No need to give the guard a show.
“Thank you.” The words were uttered quietly, but confirmed to Draco that his father had been ill-tended.
“Would you like to bathe?”
“I will not be touched by—“
“I will assist you.”
His father closed his eyes, as if denying what was. The father he knew would not succumb to such denial. Draco did not acknowledge the relief he felt when he caught the almost imperceptible nod that followed.
Leaning forward, he pulled Lucius to more of a sitting position, then wrapped one arm behind him and began to leverage him out of bed.
“Oi! What do you think you are doing?”
Draco didn’t turn. “Tending to my father.”
“Stop that. You don’t have the authorization!”
“Who needs authorization to assist a family member?”
“He may not be in Azkaban now, but he will be!” The guard was almost shouting. “As soon as he gets tried. Azkaban inmates do not get pampered, they do not get daily perfumed baths, and they don’t get house elves catering to their needs. He might as well get used to—“
“No.” Draco repressed the image of his father shortly after the Azkaban break out. He could not see his father like that again. He knew he would have to become accustomed to it, but not yet.
“He is not in Azkaban now. He has not been tried yet. Right now, he is a patient here, and as such, he deserves care. If no one else will provide it, I will.”
So much for acting the Hufflepuff.
The door opened behind the guard, revealing Madame Pomfrey.
“What is this commotion? This is a sick ward, not a tavern.” She turned toward Draco, as if just noticing him. “Mr Malfoy, what are you doing here?”
“I was permitted to come see my father today, and saw the condition he was in. As the Auror here indicated unwillingness to call for someone to see to him, I found it necessary to see to his needs myself.”
“I am concerned with the health of several of your patients.” He layered just enough meaning on the sentence that the Mediwitch could not fail to know who he meant.
Madame Pomfrey turned to the guard. “You may wait outside.”
The guard glanced warily at Draco. “Are you sure, Madame?”
“I am at no risk from a wandless child wearing a limiter cuff!”
Draco bristled at the description but subsided as the guard, after a moment’s hesitation, turned and left, closing the door behind him. Madame Pomfrey rounded on Draco.
“Mister Malfoy.” She paused and took a deep breath as if to stave off exasperation.
Draco took a glance at his father, who seemed too tired to pay attention. Appearances could be deceiving, and his father certainly had practice. He eased Lucius back onto the bed and stepped closer to Madame Pomfrey, noting how her eyes turned wary, but she did not back up. “How is he?” Draco whispered urgently.
“Your father will be fine. He just needs rest while the illness works its way—“
“Yes, thanks, I’ll want to know about that. I will also want to discuss his care. But first, I need to know, how is your other patient?” He kept his voice low enough to be heard only by Madame Pomfrey.
“I have many patients, Mr Malfoy, as you well know.”
Draco levelled his gaze at her and waited.
She raised her wand from the folds of her robes and cast a privacy charm. “He has not awakened. This is to be expected, due to the severity of his wounds and the combination of potions you saw fit to give to him. He is, however, no worse.”
“Where is he?”
Her eyes flickered. If she had completed the glance, it would have landed on the north wall of the room. Draco noticed a door in the wall, and gave himself a smug mental nod.
“I appreciate that you are concerned for him, Mr Malfoy, but he is in my care. I will send word when he wakes, but in the meantime, you need to stay where you have been put. You take way too many liberties for one whose future is not certain.”
Draco wanted to contest her words, but they were regrettably true. He could say that it was he that had given Professor Snape into her care, but so had anyone else who brought someone in for healing. This did not sit well with him. He had saved Severus’ life! He ought to be accorded some recognition of the fact. At the very least, he should be able to see him, and to be informed of his status.
Holding back his frustration, he gave a curt nod. “I would appreciate anything you can tell me.” He paused. Now, with regard to my father--”
“He refused care. Most vehemently. I have ensured that he has the potions, the tinctures he needs, but I am too busy at the moment to find someone willing to deal with him. I have heard you are assisting with the purification of the tainted areas of the castle. You therefore know what we are dealing with. I am patients with far greater need—“
“Certainly. But I am asking no more than that he be given a chance to bathe, and have his hair combed and a potion for his skin! He looks dehydrated! Are there no assistants, no house elves?”
“The Hogwarts house elves have never been involved in the hospital wing, other than to clean the beds and bedding and bring the food. They are not trained for patient care.”
“It is specialized training, Mr Malfoy. The house elves are often too eager to please, and will do things that are contraindicated for patient health.”
“In that case, I can assist my father. I was about to do that very thing when the guard objected.”
Madame Pomfrey cast a critical eye over the young man. “I will allow it. Afterward, you will call the guard and permit him to take you back to your mother.
Madame Pomfrey released the privacy charm and bustled to a cabinet, removed a towel and a patient’s sleeping robe, as well as a small phial of hair cleaning potion. Draco was almost certain that Snape had provided it. He sniffed it, and was relieved to find it was not the one his godfather used. He followed her into the bathroom, and watched as she set the robe and towel on a small stand, then filled the tub with a charm similar to Aguamenti, but one which allowed the caster to control the temperature. The water would be purer than that from the tap.
He trailed a finger into the filling tub, and was glad to find the temperature appropriate. “If there is nothing else, Mr Malfoy, before I return to my other patients?”
“No, Madame. I appreciate your care.”
She turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. He heard a murmur of instructions given to the guard. He would have listened, but he had to be swift. He returned to the bed.
His father didn’t say anything or open his eyes, but Draco saw the twitch of one cheek. He was listening, then.
“Are you ready? You can’t be comfortable like that.”
Confusion gave way after a moment, and Lucius gave a brief nod.
Draco leaned forward and helped his father sit up and then lifted his legs to hang off the side of the bed. Putting his arms around the older man’s back, he told him, “I’m going to lift you now.” His father didn’t respond, so after a moment Draco pulled him to his feet.
Lucius didn’t weigh nearly what Draco thought he should. Lifting him should have been more difficult, with no wand to lighten him. He adjusted his grip around his father’s waist and helped guide him toward the bathroom, closing the door behind them. His father’s fingers were clumsy, but Draco allowed him the dignity of disrobing himself, before helping him into the warm water. He handed him the hospital soap, and glanced aside as his father lathered his skin. This was not the strong, driven man his father once was, and Draco felt he was intruding to see him like this. He wanted to think it was the illness, but Lucius had been less and less himself, ever since his time in Azkaban. Draco had blamed Potter for all of it, but it was more than just that. Voldemort’s curses, and the strain of trying to please the Dark Lord, had slowly worn away what there was of his strong, proud father, leaving behind a man diminished.
When Lucius was finished, he leaned back, soaking in the warmth of the water. He didn’t say anything, as if speaking would make real the fact that he needed his son’s assistance to bathe. Draco allowed him the illusion, watching as the elder Malfoy closed his eyes. When his father made no move to wash his hair, Draco reached for a pitcher by the side of the tub and filled it with warm water, then poured it over his father’s scalp, being careful that the water slid back through the hair instead of into the eyes. He poured a bit of the shampoo into his hands and worked into the long, pale hair. It had become lank and brittle, so unlike the soft, shiny, white-gold hair his father should have.
The proud hair was as much a part of what it was to be Malfoy as the commanding presence Lucius had shown throughout Draco’s life, until his time in Azkaban. The Malfoy strength came from within. It begat their wealth, their prestige, their political power. Malfoys had the will to carry through, to do what must be done. It was hard, seeing his father so, his tarnished hair a reflection of a broken spirit.
He washed it thoroughly, massaging the scalp to encourage blood flow, then rinsing the lather out of the hair, running his fingers through to hear the squeak verifying that the soap was gone. There weren’t proper hair care potions, but there was a smoothing and detangling cream and a metal comb, which Draco used to finish the job.
His father had not said a word during Draco’s ministrations. Draco almost wished he would, even if it would delay his next task. To have his father so unresponsive, so passive, was unnatural. When Draco was done, Lucius continued to recline in the bath, eyes closed, as if the world had ceased to matter.
“Father?” A slight twitch on his face showed the man had heard. “Come, let me help you back to bed.
An eyelid opened, then the other. Grey eyes gazed at him, with very little of the determination Draco was used to seeing. He was losing his father, and had been for the past two years. Draco didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t think he would ever be ready.
He assisted the older man out of the bathtub, handed him a towel. He turned his back, unsure whether he was protecting his father’s privacy, or his own illusions.
The bed had been remade with fresh linens. Madame Pomfrey apparently allowed the house elves access to the beds when the patients were not in them. He guided his father, now clean and in fresh hospital robes, back to the bed.
Lucius Malfoy gazed at his son, then closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Draco stared at him. He looked better than before, but Draco still felt a bit lost.
After a moment, he turned on his heel and approached the door that Madame Pomfrey had glanced at earlier. He hadn’t much time.
The Other Invalid
The door Madame Pomfrey had glanced at was unlocked. It opened to a short corridor, with a few doors on one side. It was deserted. Draco slid through the door and closed it gently behind him, listening for the soft click of the latch. He would have to hurry. It would not do for the guard to return to find him missing.
The doors along the corridor were closed, but when he quietly turned the first doorknob, he found it likewise unlocked. He breathed a sigh of relief. The room was empty, the bed made, ready for the next patient. Sunlight shone in through the window glass, casting a stream of light across the bed onto the floor. He closed the door.
The second room was empty as well. When he reached the third, the knob didn’t turn. Draco almost moaned in frustration, but when he went to rattle the door, it gave way, opening to a room that held a patient. Snape. Quietly entering the room and closing the door behind him, Draco wondered if the guards knew they were guarding more than one patient. The room was darker than the empty ones, the curtains drawn.
Snape looked so pale. Draco wanted his wand. He had several charms to improve the colour in a person’s cheeks, and he wanted to use it just now. There was a glass left over from some potion on the night table. Draco reached and sniffed it, but didn’t recognize it. It had the sharp smell a lot of healing potions had, as if the scent alone would drive away illness. He sat by the bed.
“I had to come and see how you were for myself. You never know if they’re going to tell you the truth, especially now.” He felt foolish, talking to someone who could not hear. Snape would reprimand him sharply for such idiocy.
There was a chair by the bed, a wooden one with a plain white cushion. Draco sat. “I’m not sure I can do what is needed.” Draco would never have said this to Snape if he had been awake. “Father has always been the one with the vision. I wish you were awake to tell me what a fool I am.”
There was no response.
“Severus!” The word was spoken softly, but contained all the longing Draco felt for someone to take charge, to tell him what to do so that it would all turn out all right.
He had never felt so alone in his life.
The door opened. Madame Pomfrey looked startled that he was here.
“Mr Malfoy, I thought you were here to see your father. I seem to remember your promise to return to your room after seeing to his needs.”
Draco smirked. “I didn’t say how soon.” His smirk faded. “Father isn’t himself. I was hoping Professor Snape –”
“He is the same as I told you. How did you even get in here? He is a prisoner! The door should have been locked.”
“It wasn’t,” was all he said on that. “I needed to talk to him.” Draco realized he sounded a bit pathetic, and truthfully was feeling a bit pathetic, but there was no cause for the Mediwitch to see that. “Both my father and Snape are prisoners. I do not need to be told this, I could not forget the outcome of the war in a week.” He pulled back the bitterness he felt, but could not quite hide a smug quirk to his lips when he added, “I thought you might have saved yourself some trouble and used one guard for them both... as you did! I had to follow up, to see how he was. You’re a healer, you understand, I’m sure.”
“I know you care about him, Mr Malfoy. That is not the matter at hand. You perhaps don’t realize that, despite your ability to persuade your way out of your assigned room, you are also, in fact, a prisoner. You have not had a trial. You have done unconscionable things, young man, and you do not get to gallivant around the castle until it has been determined, by a court, what should be done with you.”
“I understand everything you’ve said, Madame. I am neither a clueless Hufflepuff, nor an idiot Gryffindor. That man is my godfather. I rescued him, and I wanted to see how he fares.” Draco’s voice got louder with each sentence.
“You have seen. Now Mr Malfoy, I must insist—“
A low groan from the bed froze both the Mediwitch and the wizard in their place.
“What ... conceivable reason ... is there ... for you to ... find it necessary ... to argue in such ... stentorian tones ... by the bed of ... a patient?” A deep voice, halting and scratchy from underuse, came from the bed.
“Mr Malfoy!” Draco had not known it was possible to shout so softly before, but if anyone could, of course it would be Snape.
“I’m sorry, Professor Snape.” Draco said abashed. “I was so pleased to see you recovered enough to talk—”
“I presume—” Deep, breathy coughs interrupted what he had been about to say. Madame Pomfrey hurried to his bed and held a glass of water for him to drink, followed by a vial of something thick and sludgy. Severus eyed it cautiously. He tried to grasp the vial himself, but collapsed back onto the bed. With a grimace, he allowed Madame Pomfrey to hold it to his lips. He swallowed it with only a grunt as complaint.
He turned back to face Draco. “I presume I have you to blame for this?” Snape asked, his voice stronger, though still raspy. At first, Draco thought he was talking about the potion, and was about to object that Snape had most likely been the one to brew it, but then he realized.
“I thought you dead! But I remembered your potion, the one you mentioned in your first year class, and ...”
“I saw the vials you purloined, Mr Malfoy. Do you plan to take thievery lessons from Mr Potter?”
Draco saw Snape watching him carefully. “Yes, he lives. He lives up to his moniker.” Draco commented wryly. The look on Snape’s face was somehow both hopeful and fearful. “Is—“
“The Dark Lord is dead.”
Snape closed his eyes. Draco could not tell if it was in relief or sadness.
Madame Pomfrey had regained her sense of purpose, and shoved Draco out of the room. “I must see to my patient, Mr Malfoy. I will report to you what is appropriate for you to know.”
She continued shoving him until he was back outside his father’s room, facing an irate guard. She gave the guard explicit instructions to ensure Draco ended up back in the Malfoy family cell. Draco took a deep breath, straightened his back, and gave the guard an expectant glance. The Auror gestured for Draco to precede him through the door. Outside the hospital wing, he gave the controller and more instructions to one of the stationed Aurors, who guided him back to captivity.
Draco took heart that Madame Pomfrey did say she would report back.
Severus Snape examined his situation. Physically, he felt much better than expected. He was alive, and his soul was in his body. No Dementors guarded his room. He appeared to be under the care of Poppy Pomfrey, and Draco had access, albeit unauthorized, to his room. The victors were treating their prisoners much better than he had expected, if this small sample was indicative. He had certainly not expected to be on the receiving end of such benevolence.
He could not anticipate that it would continue.
Despite having bared his soul to him, Severus doubted Potter would spare a thought for him unless coerced. He could expect no grace from that quarter. The thought pained him, not because he expected better, but, after all he had done, just once, he would have liked for his contribution to be acknowledged. Judging from past experience, he would more likely be penalized for his efforts. He would have to assume he was on his own.
He recognised the room. It was one he had occupied on many occasions, upon returning from one of the Dark Lord’s summons. The corridor it was in had no direct exit to the castle, leading instead to one of the infrequently used private rooms, keeping him safe from prying student eyes. The windows had strong wards, which had served as protection, but now perhaps served to make his retreat a cell. The wards had been cast independently of the castle’s protections, but it was still possible they had fallen when Hogwarts had given way to the Dark Lord and his followers. It was something to investigate. More immediate was the need to investigate his physical condition.
He wiggled the toes on one foot. Pain rolled through his body like ocean waves. He was glad he had not started with a hand, or his head. He breathed through the pain, and when it subsided, he made a second attempt.
Perhaps it would be better to plan first.
He glanced around the room. His wand was not in sight, although he distinctly remembered it in his hands when he had regained consciousness the first time. Ah. That had likely been necessary, and was so no longer.
That would affect his choices.
The first question was whether he should try to leave. From what he had heard, before announcing his return to consciousness, Lucius lay in the room at the end of the corridor. Draco was in a cell, but seemed to find it possible to run about the castle. Didn’t these people take their prisoners seriously? He was not going to object if he stood to benefit by it, but no one would benefit if any of the Dark Lord’s followers escaped. Even Draco could be a risk; he was still young enough to be used, if someone dangled the right lure. Perhaps he could use his own escape as a warning that stronger measures were needed to secure the remaining prisoners.
Did he want to leave? Although he had made provisional plans for a variety of scenarios, the Order winning and him still being alive and somewhere other than Azkaban had not been a high enough probability to spend much time on.
Death had been the most likely outcome, regardless who won.
He reviewed his choices.
If he escaped, he would have to set himself up with another face and a new name. He knew as soon as Albus had made that last request of him that his own name and face would be too notorious for him to wear if he wished to live a peaceful life, certainly in Britain, possibly also on the continent. The Dark Lord had sealed shut what remained of that avenue when he had directed him to take on the Headmaster’s role.
Even under an alias, here or on the continent, using his skills would put him at risk. He was well known as a Potions Master, both as a teacher and as a brewer. Potions were an art, and any master of the art would recognize his signature style in his brews. That put his strongest skills out of reach.
He could teach defence. While Albus had certainly employed substandard defence instructors with insufficient background checks, he could not assume that any other school would employ such lax standards.
Going further afield would require the use of a Portkey, or Muggle transport. He repressed a shudder, not wanting to know the pain that would awaken. International Portkeys disagreed with him, and Muggle methods of travel were disgusting: trapped in some metal contraption for hours or days on end, together with a throng of Muggles. As for destinations: the options were numerous and all unpleasant.
If he did not interact with wizards, if he lived as a Muggle or a hermit, he could survive, even here in Britain. He remembered his drive to learn all he could of magic, to prove himself. Living as a Muggle would sacrifice all that he had learned, all that he had become. Living as a hermit was preferable. He had found a small cabin in a forest and set aside some meagre provisions. Perhaps he could still publish, under a pseudonym, and receive a fraction of the recognition he had once craved. He knew he would find it deplorable to live as an outcast from the society he had helped save, but it was an option.
His other choice was to stay. He would put himself at risk in an entirely different way. He had no wish to throw himself on the questionable mercy of any court run by the Ministry, especially with Albus gone. The victors would not be merciful toward a Death Eater, and he had no desire to spend time in Azkaban ever again. What would he gain?
He didn’t have enough information.
Among other things, if Potter was alive, could the Dark Lord truly be dead? Had the brat refused the path laid out for him, and condemned them all to relive this nightmare in another ten years? He had provided his own memories to the boy, had given him access to private moments no one else should have seen, all so Potter would know what was needed to end the war. Had he sacrificed his privacy for nothing?
If so, would it be better to stay to complete the task? Never again. He could not stop the shudder that went though him at the idea, suffering the inevitable pain the movement caused.
He had to know. He had to be sure.
If the Dark Lord yet survived, his choices dwindled, and none of them were good.
He closed his eyes, weary resignation sweeping through him. Before he could decide, he had to talk with Potter.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear, the air alive with spring breezes. Harry went outside, wandering the Hogwarts grounds, avoiding those spots that had been marked. It was strange, thought Harry. He, Hermione and Ron had been in each other’s pockets for almost a year. It was strangely pleasant to be...just alone.
Sure, it was great to be able to talk with others, those who had not been on the Horcrux hunt with them. Catching up with Neville and Ginny some more would have been great, if it didn’t hurt to think about them. It would be great to talk with Luna, despite what her father had done. Harry understood the desperation one felt, protecting a family member. He remembered how he had felt about Sirius. Luna was all Mr Lovegood had left, and Harry understood that he would do anything to protect her.
Despite all that, there was also the feeling that these other people could not understand what he had been through, as Hermione and Ron did. He almost wished they were there with him, but they were both busy. Torn too many ways, wanting the familiarity of his two closest friends, and wanting some actual solitude, after having almost no time to himself for almost a year, and also wanting to finally socialize without having to look over his shoulder in fear of attack, Harry wandered, mourning to see the broken castle walls and the fallen Quidditch towers, but enjoying the familiarity of the distant rooftops of Hogsmeade.
He did not look at the forbidden forest. He was not ready for that.
He made his way down to the lake. The breeze brought the smell of algae and a hint of fish, although the merfolk never let a dead one stay long enough to cause a stink. He remembered swimming down to get Ron, so afraid he would do something wrong, or that the Gillyweed would fail, or something. There had been nothing for it but to continue. That, if nothing else, was the story of his life.
The lake also reminded him of his first sight of the castle, the first time he had come home. He could almost hear the clatter of water against the boats. He remembered Ron with the smudge on his nose, Hermione rattling on about all she had read before even setting foot in a classroom, Neville and his missing frog, even Malfoy, pompous and smug and so sure of his own superiority. It had been a moment of possibility. He wished he could be that Harry again.
Voldemort was dead. Maybe he could.
Monday May 11, 1998
Harry was glad when Ron flooed over to Hogwarts on Monday. He was beginning to feel alone after the weekend, even though some of the volunteers had returned once it had been deemed safe. He had been with Ron and Hermione for most of the past year, just the three of them, and it felt strange not to see them every day.
He stuck with Ron through the introductory training, and they joined a sorting team. He felt a bit wild, with Ron at his side, and the grins Ron shot his way let Harry know that the feeling was shared.
No work had been done since McGonagall called a halt on Thursday, and there was a sense of cheer amidst the volunteers. They were not allowed to work in certain areas. Apparently, there was some danger that was being seen to, and until it was resolved, there were actual physical barriers around the areas.
“I wonder why they don’t use magic.” Ron commented.
“Would they? What would they do?”
“Usually they’d put a visible ward around dangerous spots. It usually glows purple.”
“Why would they use orange?”
“I just always saw danger signs in orange.”
“Muggles are odd.” Ron grinned. “Here’s our spot. What do we do again?”
Harry put his hands on his hips, and said, “Weren’t you listening? Honestly, Ron!”
Ron guffawed. “Merlin, Harry! You got her exactly. ‘Cept your voice is too low.”
“I am not doing falsetto. Some reporter would capture it, and there’d be a story that I’m really a girl!”
“Nope. I’ve lived in the same room with you, and everyone’s all seen you in swim trunks, back in fourth year. I know! They’ll say you’re turning into one. I can just see it!” Ron put his hands up in the air, stretching them out to indicate a headline. “Boy Who Lived now Girl Who Lived!”
Harry laughed. “Vanquishing You-Know-Who has given me the strength to admit who I really am!” Harry quoted. “I always felt I was living a lie.”
“The Girl who Vanquished You-Know-Who!”
Harry’s face twisted in a grimace. “That’s how you’d know it wasn’t me. If they quoted me saying You-Know-Who. Especially now, when there’s no taboo on it.” He suddenly sobered. “Ron—“
“If you dare apologize, Harry, I’m going to hex something. And then you really would be the Girl-Who-Lived… for awhile at least.”
Harry turned sideways to Ron’s wand, just in case.
“So, debris sorting. Whole blocks over there, bits of blocks over here, and dust and debris over there.”
“So long as it’s not bits of blokes.”
Harry smiled and turned away.
They levitated blocks and bits into the appropriate areas, saving the debris for last. It was perhaps the hardest to control, and Harry didn’t want to be breathing rock dust. Ron screwed his face up in concentration when he was lifting a particularly heavy block. Harry wanted to cast a helping levitation, but he was afraid of ruining Ron’s concentration, so waited. When Ron was done with that one, Harry suggested they try synchronizing their spells.
“Well, let’s test it on one of the smaller fragments. That way we won’t wreck anything important if we mess up.
Harry levitated a smallish, irregular fragment in Ron’s direction, waiting until it looked like Ron had added his own spell to it before releasing his. As soon as Ron got control of it, he directed it back in Harry’s direction.
“This is like wizarding catch!” Harry commented, amused.
“Catch. You know, where you throw a ball back and forth.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Didn’t you ever throw a Quaffle back and forth? I mean, before you could fly.”
“Well, when we were little, we had kids’ training brooms, and we had a play Quaffle.”
“Yeah, like that.”
“But that was Quidditch!”
Harry grinned. “My mistake.” He thought for a moment. Without cricket, there’d be no reason to toss a ball around, and without football, there’d be no reason to kick a ball around. It was all just Quidditch. Perhaps American wizards played catch. Of course, then it would be just Quodpot.
“Hey Ron! Catch!” Harry levitated the stone just to the right of Ron, letting it go when he could tell the arc of it would not hit Ron, but came close enough. Ron directed his wand at it, and with a Wingardium Leviosa, he managed to flip it back in Harry’s direction. Harry tried a banishing spell to redirect it back toward Ron, who tried something else to send it back.
Harry let it fall. “What was that one?
“Good one, Ron!”
“Let’s try this one. He levitated a slightly larger rock toward Ron, and the game was on. They tried playing bucket brigade, except instead of buckets and water, it was wands and stone. One of them would heft the rock part of the way, and then release the spell when the other caught it, all the way to the spot where the stone was supposed to go.
Soon they were using just a bit of a lift, just to get enough momentum that the stone would arc on its way, and then let go for the other to catch it.
Harry found a laugh bubbling up inside him that he hadn’t felt for a while. He felt that warmth that let him know that Ron was still his best friend, and there was something they each gave the other that made it all worthwhile.
The work was much more fun with Ron. They continued their game with the irregular pieces, and practiced working together, two spells woven together for the large square blocks. They almost lost one of the larger blocks when Ron’s spell went one way and Harry’s went another, but Ron quickly cast a repelling charm on the ground, and the stone bounced against a cushion of air a few inches off the floor.
That was lovely, except when Harry took a step toward it, he slipped on the repelling charm and fell, only to bounce a few inches from the ground himself.
Ron took one look at him and burst out laughing. Harry thought about being offended for half a second, then imagined what he looked like, flat on his back with his legs in the air, gently bouncing on nothing.
“Come here, you!”
Ron took a tentative step forward, felt the give of the air above the stone, and stepped up onto air, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Suddenly, he took a quick hop, and started jumping up and down.
Harry giggled. He clambered carefully to his feet, then started bouncing himself. It was like the time the school had a trampoline in fitness class. Harry never got a turn, because Dudley insisted on going first, and broke one of the springs. Uncle Vernon came to school and yelled about unsafe practices, and they didn’t have any more trampoline exercise in Harry’s year. Harry hoped that Dudley hadn’t ruined it for the other kids. It looked fun. Harry tried bouncing higher. Soon Harry and Ron were bouncing in counterpoint to each other: when Harry went up, Ron went down, and vice versa.
They kept recasting the repelling charm, making sure to avoid the part where the debris was, lest it too start bouncing around the room.
Harry couldn’t remember ever having so much fun.
“What’s this?” A gruff voice shouted.
Filch! Harry had been high in the air, and landed wrong, falling again onto his arse. Ron had bent his legs to soften his landing, so was still on his feet.
“I should have known you wouldn’t take the repair seriously! You can lure You-Know-Who here, but Harry Potter is too good to clean up after the mess he made. Inconsiderate, unthinking hooligans! It may not be the school year, but don’t think I won’t talk to Headmistress McGonagall about this behaviour!”
The old caretaker was practically frothing at the mouth, he was so angry. “You!” He pointed at Ron. “You are not welcome on the cleanup crew. One day here, and already causing trouble. Go find somewhere else to destroy.”
One of the only times time he had felt truly carefree since the battle, and Filch had to come and stop it. What’s more, if Filch forbade Ron from volunteering, they wouldn’t get to work together again as they had today. It had been – fun. Harry couldn’t quite describe how Ron helped Harry feel less aimless, less cut off.
Ron’s face started to get red, bursting with the same resentment he felt. “We weren’t hurting anything!”
Harry’s resentment faded a bit at Ron’s ready defence. Ron was... Ron.
He remembered how Filch had looked that first day after the battle, as if each scar to the castle was a raw wound, and tried to imagine how he’d feel… no, he knew how Filch felt. Hogwarts was his home too. It hurt every time he saw the furrows in the ground, and the holes in the walls. It was just that the people were more important. He had Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys. For just a moment, Harry was awed by how many people he still had in his life. Harry thought this was probably all Filch had. Somehow, that was a horrible thought.
“We apologise, Mr Filch. We didn’t mean to cause problems.”
Filch peered at him. “You’ve had it too easy. Sorting crew, bah. I think you need to get a real sense of what was done to Hogwarts." He made a note in his notebook. Harry started to get a little nervous. But Filch wouldn’t make Harry do anything too dangerous, would he? McGonagall wouldn’t let him.
Chapter 1 (If you've not read the story yet, start Here...)
Chapter 16 (if you missed the previous chapter, click here)
Chapter 18 Part 1 (Onward!)