Title: What We Know
Summary: The end of the War doesn't mean that everything is suddenly better. Sometimes you create your perfect world with the people you don't expect.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Epilogue compliant? Completely and totally EWE
Word Count: 2,946
Author's Notes: Sincere thanks to D. for the beta. I went for a slow development of their relationship, with the themes of guilt and Harry and Draco working together.
Fifty, sixty, one hundred years from now when the histories of the Second War are written, the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts will be portrayed as a swift return to justice and enlightenment. Harry Potter struck down the Dark Lord, the victors gathered for an impromptu celebration in the Great Hall, and by the time the first early morning sunbeams began to stream in through the windows the world was once again a beautiful place, all neat and tidy and finished off with a perfect bow on top. The good were rewarded, the evil were punished, and the people lifted their voices in celebration. That's how it will be remembered.
Both Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy know this. Both of them also know that it's bullshit.
* * *
In the days immediately after the Final Battle, Harry went to live at 12 Grimmauld Place by himself. This wasn't seen as unusual - all of the survivors had chosen to take some time for themselves; the Weasleys choosing to mourn privately for a time and Hermione on an extended holiday with her parents after restoring their memories. Harry wasn't all that interested in helping to rebuild the world, or at least not right that moment - he'd done his part, struck what was arguably the most important blow, and everyone understood that he'd earned the right to do nothing for a while if that's what he felt like doing. So he spent his days walking through Muggle London visiting record stores and ducking into coffee shops while dressed in ratty jeans and button down shirts, paying with pounds and shillings instead of knuts and galleons, and generally not bothering to read the Daily Prophet that Kreacher left next to his mug of tea each morning. So much for the hero leading the way to a Glorious New Beginning.
In the meantime, the moral foundation of the New Order was being established at a rapid pace. This mostly meant that large quantities of galleons were changing hands - it was a sad fact that no matter how upstanding people tried to be, money always talked. There were token trials, of course, to satisfy the public that justice was being served, but the reality was that anyone who could claim to have only been sympathetic to the Dark Lord's cause and who was willing to pledge large amounts of funding to charitable organizations (in addition to bestowing extravagant gifts on the right people, naturally) was allowed to go free. They understood that it would be prudent to stay out of the public eye, but that was a small price to pay. There were, after all, worse fates than a life spent in genteel retirement hosting cocktails parties and debating whether elf-made champagne or goblin-brewed whiskey was smoother on the palate.
The Malfoys had been too close to the inner circle to get off quite so easily, but Lucius and Narcissa were able to buy their way down to a sentence of permanent exile, while Draco, due to his youth, was allowed to remain in England on the stipulation that a considerable amount of his fortune be given toward the rebuilding effort. Draco had accepted this without protest, and after seeing his parents off he promptly shut up Malfoy Manor, purchased a well-appointed brownstone in central London, and set out to discover just how far he could stretch his galleons once they were converted into Muggle money. Pretty far, as it turned out.
Brave New World based on justice, righteousness, and fairness with their gallant young hero leading the way? Not so much. Because within the laws and boundaries that define the Wizarding World, just like those of the Muggle world, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
* * *
When Harry and Draco meet for the first time since the War's end it's something of an anticlimax. After years of mutual antagonism at Hogwarts, anyone who knew them from those days would have expected them to pull their wands out and start throwing hexes at each other without so much as a "Hello, how have you been holding up?" The truth is that when they meet in a quiet coffeeshop in the neighborhood of the British Museum, which Harry likes because purchasing a single cup of black coffee is enough to guarantee an entire undisturbed afternoon of reading Muggle bestsellers and Draco likes because the newly opened Starbucks was so very gauche, there are no declarations of eternal hatred or shouted cries for revenge. Instead Draco sets his expertly frothed latte with a shot of hazelnut down on the table that Harry's claimed for himself and sinks into the armchair with a civil nod at his companion.
"Potter. There are are no other free seats, I'm afraid. All right if I join you?"
Harry flips a page of his book. "As long as you don't disturb my quality time with John Grisham, you're more than welcome."
Draco sips at his latte, and Harry continues to read. Anyone looking at them would never guess that just a few short years ago they had been pointing wands at each other ready to cast as many curses as they could. As it is, they look like two old acquaintances who are just enjoying an unexpected meeting in companionable silence.
Draco leaves first, setting his cup down with a soft 'clink' and rising gracefully to his feet. He nods politely to Harry.
Harry turns a page of his book. "Malfoy."
In the Wizarding World this sort of meeting would not be possible. Cross through into Diagon Alley and there are people locked in endless arguments over whether anyone who had even the most remote connection to one of the old Slytherin families should be allowed out onto the streets without some kind of tracer, while behind the scenes galleons change hands and seats on the Wizengamot are bought. There's no room for genuine reconciliation and rebuilding - it's all vendettas and gold blending into each other to create a new world built on a corrupt foundation.
Nothing is really going to change. They both know that.
* * *
"We didn't know," says Draco two weeks later. Harry is working his way through a well-thumbed copy of The Neverending Story for what has to be the twelfth time, but he stops reading and looks up when he hears Draco's voice.
Draco is staring determinedly out the window, his face carefully blank. "When we were growing up. We didn't really know what serving the Dark Lord meant. We were told that it meant power, wealth, the ability to do whatever we wanted without having to pander to Muggles' lesser abilities. We didn't know it meant killing. We didn't know it meant living in fear."
"I know," says Harry quietly. He has never forgotten the way Draco looked at the top of the Astronomy Tower the night Dumbledore died, or how desperate and alone he seemed all during Sixth Year.
Draco looks at him then, with grey eyes that are very tired and very old. "I think you do." He smiles, just a little. "I live in Muggle London, Harry. If I wanted to, I could go back to the Wizarding World, suck up at the Ministry, and in a few generations the Malfoys would be a powerful family again. I still have enough of the family fortune left to buy friends in the right places. But you know," he takes a sip of his mocha and raises his eyebrow a little in appreciation, "I don't care about that anymore. I just want to start over."
Harry can understand that. It would be nice to have a clean slate, the chance to define a life without carrying all of the expectations that have been built into him since he was a baby. He has no idea where that would even be possible. Certainly not in the Wizarding World.
"I suppose we just have to do the best we can with what we have here," says Harry finally. "It's not...it's not so bad, really."
Draco smirks, and for a second he looks like the Slytherin Prince he used to be. "The coffee is admittedly quite good."
That counts for something.
* * *
Harry's first Christmas since the defeat of Voldemort should be a joyous occasion full of hope and enthusiasm and an irrepressible sense of possibility. And in some ways it is. Harry has never seen a Muggle Christmas in London before, and the feeling of cheer that sweeps through the city with the arrival of December is irresistible. He wanders the streets crowded with shoppers and stares at the festive displays in store windows, stops to sample the Christmas pastries whose scents waft tantalizingly out of the bakeries whenever patrons hurry through their doors, and everywhere he goes he hears the sound of carols. It might not inspire the same sense of wonder as the real fairy lights and enchanted snowfalls of magical celebrations, but it is charming nonetheless. Harry feels warm and happy and content, and helps Kreacher string garlands all throughout 12 Grimmauld Place.
He receives an owl from the Weasleys inviting him to the Burrow, but Harry doesn't really want to go. He doesn't want to go back to the magical world and the role of conquering hero that's been defined for him. He doesn't want to go back to being Harry Potter, Savior of the Wizarding World. He just wants to be Harry Potter, and find out who exactly that is.
He tells Draco this one perfect December afternoon when big flakes of snow are drifting lazily down from the sky to coat the world in a pure white fluffy blanket. They're in their usual coffeeshop sipping mugs of rich hot chocolate spiked with a touch of peppermint liqueur and topped with real whipped cream. Harry's book is lying abandoned on the table, and he fidgets uncomfortably as he tries to articulate just what's bothering him.
Draco waits until Harry trails off before speaking. "You know, you're looking at this with the idea that there are only two options. Go back to being the Wizarding World's Boy Wonder, or live as a Muggle. You can do something else, you know."
"Like what?" Harry snorts disparagingly. "Try and change the system from within? Hermione joined the Ministry as soon as she got back to England, and she's getting discouraged pretty quickly."
"So remove yourself from it," Draco shrugs. "You can help people without being the Savior. You have plenty of galleons and plenty of magic. You can use those assets in real ways, not just as tools to serve the Ministry." His long, elegant fingers twirl the mug around and around in his hands. It's clear that this is something he's been thinking about.
Harry raises his eyebrows skeptically. "And what do you suggest? Make lavish donations and smile pretty for the camera?"
"Don't be so crass," Draco frowns at him. "You could help people, you know. We could help people. I still have the Manor. We could set it up as a refuge, a place where War survivors - or not just them, but anyone who needs a place to rest - can go to be healed. A sort of half-way house, or a refuge. We'd be doing it on our own terms, not the Ministry's. It would be ours."
Harry is silent. It's clear that this is something Draco has put a lot of thought into, and Harry has to admit that the idea is appealing. Something that would give him purpose, but that wouldn't be tied to the Ministry's layers upon layers of bureaucracy and their desire to exploit the famous Harry Potter. A new start not only for the lost souls that had been created by Voldemort, but for himself.
"What do you get out of it?" he asks Draco, because even though he knows that this is not the same spoiled boy he met in Madame Malkin's all those years ago there is still a part of him that can't really picture himself working with Draco Malfoy in any capacity whatsoever.
Draco smiles, wistful and sad. "Redemption."
Harry wants to tell Draco that he doesn't need redemption. That Draco had lowered his wand, had lied about recognizing Harry when he was dragged before Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy as a prisoner, had not behaved in the manner that a truly corrupt individual would. He knows that that's not what Draco needs to hear, however. Draco wouldn't even listen.
Harry reaches out and takes his hand, feeling more than a little bit shy and awkward. Draco sits still for a moment, stunned, then turns his hand palm up so their fingertips brush lightly against each other.
* * *
They go to Malfoy Manor for the holidays. Harry can't say that the place has any positive connotations for him, but he has to admit that there's a certain poetic justice in rebuilding it as a place of hope and healing. He and Draco spend several long days tramping through the grounds discussing what needs to be changed - the imposing furniture has to go, more windows added, the walls redone in lighter shades, perhaps sky blue or rose pink. There are plenty of improvements that can be made to the grounds. Flower beds would be a welcome addition, and perhaps a meditation labyrinth. An herb garden. A pond full of water lilies and fat, colorful koi.
They can make this place beautiful, a symbol of a real future triumphing above everything that has come before. Malfoy Manor can become a site of rejuvenation, and Harry realizes that he is excited by the prospect of transforming this place into something completely new. All the hours he spends with Draco debating the specifics they want to accomplish make him feel more alive than he has since the War ended, and he thinks that this could be something important, something good.
On Christmas Eve they drink the last few bottles of elf-made champagne from the Malfoy cellars and take turns trying to conjure increasingly elaborate light spectacles until they fall over each other giggling madly and stuffing chocolate truffles into each others' mouths. It's the most fun Harry's had in far too long, and come to think of it, he's never seen Draco smile like this. In all their years at Hogwarts he'd never seen Draco happy - arrogant, entitled, self-assured, yes, but he never looked like he was enjoying himself the way he is now.
"Vestimentum risibilis!" cries the blond as he points his wand at one of the old Malfoy family portraits, and they both fall over in gales of laughter as a silver-haired woman dripping with ponderous jewels and sporting a disapproving frown is suddenly wearing a boa made of bright fuchsia feathers and decidedly fabulous winged sunglasses. She looks down at herself and lets out an undignified screech before fleeing the frame. Draco giggles and snorts and pushes at Harry companionably.
"Wanted to do that for years," he slurs, "only Dad would never let me; he was always so stuck-up and formal."
"It's an improvement," laughs Harry, and reaches for the champagne. There's only one swallow left, and it goes down light and smooth. He smiles cheerfully up at Draco.
"Always thought you were a prick, you know, back at school. But now I think you're not so bad."
Draco beams at him. "'S mutual. Guess we just needed the world to end to figure out we're not so different."
That seems very funny after imbibing lots of alcohol, so they laugh hysterically until they both topple over clutching their sides.
Even without the alcohol, however, they know it's true. They're not so different. The hero and the villain, two sides of the same coin - only it's never been quite that simple, has it? They've both been trapped, really, by circumstances beyond their control. Harry was born into the role of Savior, Draco was born into the role of Slytherin. They were destined to be nemeses before they even knew each other.
But those rules were made in the outside world, the world of Hogwarts and Voldemort and the Ministry. Here, they can be whatever they want to be.
Harry and Draco share their first kiss just as the old grandfather clock strikes midnight. They spend Christmas Day making a traditional plum pudding the Muggle way, exchanging shy touches and sideways smiles all the while.
* * *
Harry has never put much stock in divination, and neither has Draco. So they cannot know that in fifty years or so, when the Ministry has completely reverted to the insular, slow-moving bureaucracy it was before the Second Rise of Voldemort and makes no attempt to pretend otherwise, Speravi will have the reputation of a secluded paradise. They do not yet know that the lost souls who make their way to them will become their chosen family, and that they will spend hours rambling through gardens heavy with the scent of roses and honeysuckle feeling content and at peace and untroubled by the wider world. They don't know how happy it will make them to see troubled eyes grow light and carefree again, and how their hearts will thrill to the sound of laughter floating on the breeze.
Even now, though, with the work they will do still in its infancy, there is one thing that they can be sure of.
They have each found someone that they trust, someone who understands them. Someone who challenges them, who makes them laugh and shout and who will prevent the days from becoming boring. They know, even if they aren't quite ready to say it out loud, that they have found love.
They'll say it one day, however. It's just a matter of time.