Pairing: Harry/Draco, but it's really more Harry-centric gen.
Warnings: Multiple character deaths mentioned
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 5K words
Summary: On the first day after the war is over, Harry goes shopping.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
On the first day after the war is over, Harry goes shopping.
It's Easter break and he's taken a room at the Leaky Cauldron. School is almost over and he'll spend his parents' money in any way he sees fit, thank you very much. He's earned that right. Besides, he's about to enter the adult world with all that comes with it: responsibility, work, taxes. He'll be making money soon enough.
Harry wanders around Diagon Alley, not really knowing what he's supposed to be looking for. The handle from the penknife Sirius had given him feels like a large brick in his pocket. He wonders if his robes look lopsided to passers-by, doesn't care. He thinks about visiting Knockturn Alley, remembers trays filled with fingernails, decides against it.
He avoids most people and takes his meals in his room, heedless of the celebrations. His name is called out so many times by various drunken sorts downstairs that he begins to truly loathe the words "Harry Potter" after a while.
On the third day, Harry notices Merle McDaniel's House of Blades next door to Eeylops Owl Emporium. He isn't particularly surprised he's never noticed the shop before. The building looks ready to collapse; the paint on the sign above the entrance is weather-worn, spiderwebs of cracks crisscrossing every inch. The place seems abandoned but there is movement inside that the grimy windows don't obscure.
The shop's interior is a study in not judging books by their covers. The hardwood floor is polished to a dull sheen and Harry feels a bit guilty for treading on it. The walls are a dark shade of burgundy, giving the whole place a gloomy feel; the various sharp objects adorning the walls only add to the impression. A faint smell lingers in the air; it reminds Harry of the surgical spirit the nurse at his Muggle school had used on his scrapes and cuts too many times to count.
The swords hanging on the walls are so varied that Harry wonders if there is a group of people somewhere who continually come up with new ideas for blade shapes and hilt designs. He glances to his right and notices a short, sinuously curved blade, tipped with a harpoon-like end. He doesn't know what it's called but he can tell that it is not a decorative weapon. A cursory look around the shop tells him that most of these blades are intended for functional use.
Seeing so much steel in one place sends a shiver down Harry's spine. There is something like a danger sign flashing at the back of his mind, causing his imagination to spin a wild tale. A Summoning charm miscast in this room could mean a quick and bloody death. With some surprise, he registers a newfound interest in these blades. Why are there so many shapes and sizes? What do the runes on that hilt mean? What is the animal on that handguard?
There is a low worktable at the back of the shop; a short, stocky man is standing over it, his back slightly bent. He doesn't seem to have noticed that he's no longer alone. Harry clears his throat and the man turns around very quickly. There is a long, double-edged sword in his hand. Harry takes a step back, blinking. The man's bearded face is unreadable; one of his eyes is covered by a large black patch that doesn't seem to be held in place by anything.
"Who're you?" asks the man in a rough voice.
"Er," says Harry, wishing he could keep backing away. "The door was open."
"Don't usually have people come in off the street, is all," says the man, lowering the sword in his hand. "Most of Merle's customers get stuff delivered. Know what they lookin' for, see."
Harry nods, suddenly forgetting what he came for.
The man sets his sword down on the worktable and folds his arms across his broad chest. "Name's Bill."
The man doesn't seem to recognise him and Harry is grateful. "Know what you lookin' for, Harry?" Bill asks, squinting.
Harry reaches into his pocket and draws out the handle of Sirius's penknife. "Yeah, I need a replacement for this," he says, handing it over.
Bill takes it and lets out a low whistle as he runs his thumb across the edge where the blade used to be. "Not a lot can do this to a blade. What'd you do?"
"Stuck it somewhere I shouldn't have," says Harry. He's surprised at the amused chuckle Bill lets out.
"Yeah, lotta problems these days from people stickin' things where they shouldn't," says Bill with a cryptic expression, then looks Harry up and down in a weird way that makes a little alarm bell start ringing somewhere at the back of Harry's mind. Bill continues speaking before the Harry has time to mull over anything. "You're in luck, though. This thing here's from Wentworth New Zealand, we usually get them every three years or so. Just had a shipment last week and I've two left. Sell like hotcakes, they do."
Harry lets out the breath he didn't realise he's been holding. Bill grins; one of his teeth looks like it's made of gold. He pulls a wand out of his rumpled robes and points it at the floor, muttering a spell under his breath. Immediately, a hatch door materialises near his feet. Bill gets on his knees, pulls the hatch open, and reaches down with his wand-free arm. A moment later, he pulls out a small white box. Grunting, he gets back to his feet, shuts the hatch and waves his wand at it, causing it to disappear again.
"Here we are," says Bill and steps over to the worktable, depositing both Harry's broken blade and the white box on it. "Well, come over here, I ain't gonna bite."
Harry walks over, not sure why he doesn't want to get any closer to the man than he absolutely needs to. Bill opens the box; inside, there are two penknives just like Sirius's. Harry's heart leaps a bit in his chest; they both look exactly like the original. Bill pulls one out of the box and flicks it deftly open; Harry feels a bit envious -- he'd never been able to do that. Bill inspects the blade, testing the edge with a roughened forefinger.
"These things have really good balance, watch," he says, and holds his right hand out sideways, so that his fingers are pointing forward. He sets the penknife on the side of his index finger. Harry watches with fascination: the knife stays perfectly still and doesn't even wobble. Bill's thumb hooks over the handle and he tosses the knife into the air. Harry's eyes widen as it spins several times before falling back down, and Bill catches it by the handle effortlessly.
"Neat, huh?" says Bill with a wide grin. "Magic aside, bladed weapons are great as toys."
Harry remembers the walls of the shop and looks around with some trepidation. Somehow, he hadn't really thought about knives as weapons before, but all these certainly are weapons. Even Sirius's knife is one, after a fashion. "So these are all magical?" asks Harry, looking at the suddenly-weapon in Bill's hand.
"'Course they are, wouldn't be sold in Diagon Alley if they weren't. This one here opens any lock and unties any knot, but you probably knew that. That one," -- he points to the curved blade Harry had been looking at earlier -- "causes wounds that never heal to anyone but the wielder. This one," -- he pats the hilt of the sword he was holding when Harry came in -- "will cut through solid rock like it's butter. Every one of our blades has a function, see."
Harry nods, noticing a dagger with a jewelled hilt in a display case behind the worktable. It's made of a black material that seems to shine and absorb light at the same time. Bill follows his gaze and grins into his beard. "The Dragonslayer. Only thing that can fell a dragon with one throw. 'Fraid it's likely more'n your life's worth; only five of 'em in the world."
Harry has a brief vision of the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament in his fourth year: he pulls out the Dragonslayer and kills the dragon, then strides over calmly to claim his golden egg. A hush falls over the crowd; Harry can see Ron's mouth hanging open, Hermione's hands pressed to her chest, Malfoy's fearful face, Cho's shocked expression... then a large hand is waving in front of his face and he snaps out of it.
"Don't look at it too long, boy, it's got a dragon's spirit trapped inside. Plays tricks with your imagination, it does," says Bill in a matter-of-fact tone and pulls a curtain across the back wall, obscuring the Dragonslayer from view. "So you'll be takin' the penknife, then?"
Harry looks down at the white box on the table and nods. "Both of them, actually."
"In case you stick one where you shouldn't again?" asks Bill with a chuckle and turns away without waiting for an answer. "They're twenty Galleons apiece, but I like you, so I'll give 'em both to you for thirty."
Harry feels vaguely uncomfortable for a moment, but nods. "Uh, thanks," he says, reaching for his moneybag. After paying for his purchase, he stuffs both penknives and the useless handle in his pockets and bids goodbye to Bill, who has in the meantime gone back to polishing the sword that can cut through stone.
Before Harry reaches the door, he hesitates. "Uh, Bill? Sir?"
"Yeah?" asks the man without looking back.
"Where can I learn more about swords?"
Bill turns around and presses a hand to his eyepatch in a seemingly habitual gesture. "There's books, I imagine. I learned everythin' by workin' here."
Harry grins suddenly. "Thanks."
The next day, Harry Apparates to the Ottery St. Catchpole graveyard. He ends up in a clearing; through the trees to his right, he can see the tombstones and monuments. Quiet solemnity is apparently overrated in these parts -- birds keep up a chorus of twittering and chirping, as though making up for time lost during the winter months.
Harry walks out onto the path, brushing a stray leaf from his sleeve. The graveyard is deserted save for a lone figure sitting motionlessly on a rickety bench at the far end of the lane. Harry hesitates for a moment then realises that that wild tangle of hair can only belong to one person.
Hermione looks up at him when he approaches. Her eyes are red-rimmed but empty, like a well that's run dry.
"I knew you'd be here," she says in a hoarse voice that's centuries older than Harry remembers.
She looks older, too, and probably so does Harry. They have both seen and experienced so much death in such a short time that it would be impossible for them to appear anything other than former children with world-weary eyes. No one should lose so much at seventeen, no one. No one deserves the fate of having to bury their friends, then living without them. Harry glances at the neat row of tombstones in front of him and his heart clenches in that particularly painful way that causes his eyes to sting and his throat to constrict.
There is no one buried under the tombstones because there had been nothing left to bury. When the magical fire consuming the Burrow had finally stopped raging, there wasn't so much as a shingle left; the whole house had been reduced to a large pile of ash that had long since scattered in the winds. The entire Weasley family had burned inside, except for Charlie, who had been killed during a Death Eater raid on the dragon reservation in Romania earlier that year. One of the last pure-blood families in England was no more; ironically, their own cousins destroyed them for being blood traitors.
Harry is sure he will not enjoy Christmas again, at least not until he forgets Ron, which means not ever. Harry had been at Hogwarts at Christmas; Dumbledore insisted that he was safest there. Ron had wanted to stay as well, but Mrs. Weasley wanted the family together -- Charlie's death had been a terrible blow. Sometimes Harry can think about Ron without feeling lost and looking around. Sometimes he isn't even expecting to wake up and see Ron walking through the door, grinning and suggesting creative ways of exterminating Malfoy.
Hermione sighs and Harry sits down beside her. She and Ron had had a row aboard the Hogwarts Express when they'd left for the break; she has not forgiven herself for not making up with him while she had the chance. She often cries these days and her studying is no longer fueled by curiosity or ambition, just habit. She says she can't bear the thought of them laughing at her for losing her nerve.
Harry understands. He, too, has been going about lessons and Quidditch and common room parties just as before because he cannot afford to show weakness; he is Harry Potter, after all. Since the details of the Prophecy became known to everyone in the wizarding world at the end of sixth year, people have built him a pedestal and expected him to stand atop it. They expected a seventeen-year-old boy to save them from Voldemort.
It was so absurd that even Harry understood the true motivation behind his being labelled a saviour. People were only glad to shift responsibility for ridding their world of evil onto someone they didn't care about. If he could have, Harry would have climbed that pedestal and shouted that they didn't need him to save them; Voldemort had already won if they were willing to be ruled by their fear like that.
Of course, there was no actual pedestal and no one would have listened to Harry even if he gave a million interviews, so instead he did what was expected of him. He killed Voldemort. He doesn't remember much of what had happened; he expects that his memory will become clearer as time wears on -- after all, it's only been four days.
There was a thunderstorm and Harry's wand was gone, then it was back again, and Dumbledore was there. Harry remembers things in flashes. He's watching Lucius Malfoy fall to the ground, eyes wide and accusing as Snape lowers his wand. Harry is raising his wand and there is hatred burning in his chest. He's punching Bellatrix in the face with a surge of anger for his parents, for Sirius, for Ron...
A bird lands on Ron's grave and skips across the smooth stone, chirping happily about something only birds would find interesting. Beside Harry, Hermione lets out a harsh choking sound and buries her face in his shoulder. He puts an arm around her dutifully but he can't bring himself to cry with her. He hasn't been able to cry since he'd lost Sirius. God knows he's wanted to, many times, but the tears wouldn't come.
Harry pats Hermione's shoulder and presses his cheek against the top of her head. The closeness is comforting but he feels nothing else -- that's another thing he hasn't experienced since Sirius's death. He'd dated Parvati Patil for most of sixth year, but there had been no warmth in it for him; she led him through the motions of a teenaged relationship like she'd led in the dancing during he Yule Ball in fourth year.
When the Patil twins transferred to Durmstrang in seventh year, Harry felt relieved to be rid of another expectation. He'd always thought that he would marry and have a family one day, large enough to fill all the empty spaces in his heart. Now he just wants to be left alone; ironically enough, Hermione is the only one who can understand him, but neither of them seek physical comfort in the other.
When Hermione's tears subside, Harry lets go of her and gets up. He walks over to Ron's grave and kneels in front of it, scaring off the hapless bird from earlier. Harry pulls the two penknives he bought yesterday out of his pocket, and sets one down at the foot of the tombstone that reads Ronald Bilius Weasley: son, brother, best friend. 1980 - 1997.
"If Sirius were alive, he'd want Ron to have one, too," says Harry to Hermione, who has got up and walked over to look at what he's doing.
Hermione wipes her nose with the back of her hand, attempts to smile, fails. "You finally replaced it," she says instead.
"Yeah, thought it was high time for a change, you know?" says Harry without looking at her.
He's trying to flick his own penknife open like the shopkeeper had done.
The interesting thing about obsession is that it is never a surprise guest. It is more like the unobtrusive neighbour who always says hello when you pass him, and then when one day he doesn't, you spend quite a bit of time wondering what you'd done to slight him. Harry has no neighbours to speak of, but he does have his penknife and a newfound fascination with all things sharp-edged. He's not into books and so instead of reading about different kinds of swords, he chooses to try and master control over the only blade he owns.
The trick to balancing a knife on the edge of your hand is to place it just above the middle of your index finger; Harry learns this quickly. He also learns that kitchen knives are not balanced for throwing. He gets a few strange looks from people as he tries to balance a steak knife at the Gryffindor table, but eventually they look the other way and let him be. His housemates think he's gone a bit touched in the head since defeating Voldemort; Harry finds that he doesn't care.
As the weather gets warmer, Harry and Hermione make a habit of going out to sit by the lake. Hermione is not much for conversation these days; she buries herself in her schoolwork and pays very little attention to anything else around her. It's a good thing Hannah Abbott was named Head Girl this year, because Hermione would probably shirk that responsibility now, much like she's supremely unconcerned with her prefect's duties.
The only thing that Hermione has not let go of is spending time with Harry. They are seen together so much that the society columns prophesise wedding bells and Malfoy runs out of jokes about Harry marrying his mother. Harry doesn't understand why people won't see their friendship for what it is. Let them think what they will, he decides, and flicks open his penknife with a deft wrist movement.
Habits, Harry finds, are a wonderful thing when one doesn't want to dwell on past mistakes.
"What is it with you and that penknife, Harry?" asks Hermione one day, looking up from her book.
Harry bends down to retrieve the knife from the ground, then gives her a sidelong glance. "What do you mean?"
"You're playing with it all the time instead of doing your homework, that's what," says Hermione with a sniff that's an echo of happier times.
Harry shrugs. "Different strokes for different folks, they say."
Hermione rolls her eyes a little and goes back to reading Advanced Transfiguration.
Harry throws the knife again and tries to catch it, with his left hand this time. He lucks out and manages to close his palm around the blunt edge. Sighing, he snaps the knife closed and collapses on the ground beside Hermione. She doesn't seem to notice and Harry flops over onto his back, squinting up at the already-darkening sky.
His first attempts at knife-throwing ended with cuts of various sizes. Harry doesn't mind; they're nothing a little essence of Murtlap can't fix. Sometimes Harry wonders what Trelawney would make of the thin white scar that cuts the Life Line on his left palm into two equal parts, or of the multitude of similar scars all over both of his palms, really.
Harry has always been glad he'd dropped Divination after fifth year, but he is doubly glad now, because it was Ron who used to make those lessons at least somewhat entertaining. Harry sits up abruptly, fishes the knife out of his pocket again, flips it open. Instead of throwing it into the air, he hurls it at the ground. It sinks into the earth up to the handle.
Hermione makes a disapproving noise but doesn't look up from her reading. Harry leans over and extracts the penknife from the ground, wiping the blade on his robes. It's become a crutch, certainly. He can't think about Ron, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, or even Snape without becoming frustrated and reaching for the knife. Focusing his mind and body on catching the knife is so much easier than dealing with the pain.
The evening before the Leaving Feast, Hermione has shut herself up in her dormitory and refuses to come out, so Harry wanders out to the lake alone. He watches as the giant squid splashes happily around in the far end, occasionally snaking out a tentacle to swat at the water, which seems tinged pink by the dying sun. Tomorrow is the last day Harry will spend at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall will no doubt make a speech, there will probably be a call to raise goblets to his health. Harry wishes he could avoid attending.
All his worldly possessions are in his sole trunk and Harry has no place to call home. He's certainly not going back to the Dursleys', of course, but he doesn't know where he will go. The Leaky Cauldron, likely, until he can find an affordable flat. Sirius's old house belongs to the Black family, and somehow Harry can't see Narcissa Malfoy, the only surviving witch with Black blood, allowing Harry to live there. Lupin left the country a month ago; he wouldn't have wanted Harry to live with a werewolf anyway.
He has no options. He's a seventeen-year-old wizard, not fit to live in the Muggle world. Muggle workers need to know things like maths and physics and creative writing; they need pieces of paper that prove that they know something. Harry doesn't know anything except magic so he's pretty much forced to go and live amongst wizards. It's strange that he hasn't given this any thought before.
Everyone expects him to become an Auror because he's good at Defence Against the Dark Arts and he's defeated the ultimate Dark wizard. Harry doesn't want to catch Dark wizards. He refuses to feel responsible for any more destroyed families. He got a letter from Oliver Wood the other day, with a not-so-veiled offer to consider replacing the retiring Seeker for Puddlemere United, but Harry's had enough attention to last him several lifetimes. Playing Quidditch professionally is just asking for attention. Harry still loves Quidditch, but not enough to willingly give up his privacy, or what's left of it.
Harry reaches into his pocket absent-mindedly and draws out his penknife. Flicking it open, he throws it into the air, catches it, throws it again. Practice does make perfect, after all. Harry suddenly realises that he's known what he's wanted to do for a long time, he just didn't allow the thought to formulate coherently in his mind. He turns around, ready to rush back to the castle and share his insight with Hermione.
Malfoy stands several feet behind him, sneering, but it looks almost half-hearted. Everything Malfoy does these days seems like he isn't quite there. It's really no wonder -- his precious Father is dead, killed by none other than his favourite teacher. Snape is a fallen hero while Lucius's name is a curse on most lips. The Malfoys and their pure-blood ilk are defeated and know it. Still, Harry has to give Malfoy points for being consistent. He still never passes up a chance to insult Harry.
Harry decides to keep walking. There isn't anything to be gained from a confrontation with Malfoy.
"Aren't you glad you get to say goodbye?" asks Malfoy suddenly, and Harry stops dead.
"What are you on about, Malfoy?" he asks, frowning.
"We're leaving tomorrow. You have won. The least you can do is say goodbye to your arch-rival."
The self-important pointy git. "You're not my arch-rival, Malfoy. You were a thorn in my side for the past seven years, and yeah, I guess I'm glad I get to say goodbye."
Harry punctuates his sentence by throwing his penknife, letting in spin, catching. Malfoy is silent and Harry's about to keep walking when he realises that Malfoy is staring at the knife in his hand as though hypnotised. He licks his lips and looks back at Harry, who's immediately taken aback.
Malfoy's staring at Harry as he might look at a girl. It reminds Harry of the way the shopkeeper at Merle McDaniel's looked at him and the way it made Harry feel uncomfortable. Except whereas Bill's look held idle interest, Malfoy's interest is apparently anything but idle. Why is Harry always the last to figure these things out?
Harry tosses the knife in the air once more and catches it without taking his eyes off Malfoy, whose gaze leaves Harry's face and follows his hand. When Malfoy looks at him again, Harry smirks. Malfoy's eyes narrow for a moment.
"Tell me, Potter, how does it feel to be a used-up has-been?"
"I didn't realise your ambitions involved filling Rita Skeeter's shoes, Malfoy."
Malfoy tilts his chin slightly upwards. "Sod off, Potter."
"Gladly," says Harry and starts to walk away.
Then Malfoy grabs him by the wrist so fast that Harry almost drops the knife he's still holding.
"You didn't answer my question," hisses Malfoy.
He's too close for comfort and Harry realises with horror that the last time his heart beat this frantically was when Parvati decided she wanted to give him a blow job. Malfoy's physical closeness is causing Harry's body to respond in ways it really ought not respond, not to another boy.
Harry blinks. "What was the question?"
Malfoy actually growls a little when he kisses him and Harry likes that a lot.
Harry's last ride on the Hogwarts Express is different from all the previous ones.
He has no one to share Chocolate Frogs with now that Ron's no longer there. Even Neville says he's too old for Chocolate Frogs. Harry wants to argue that one is never too old for Chocolate Frogs but stops when he realises that it makes no difference. He no longer has to share a dormitory with any of these boys and it's no longer important for them to find common ground.
Hermione's nose is not buried in a book. She is staring out the window at the passing countryside and occasionally gives Harry a forced smile. Harry told her about his career plans and she was happy for him, but didn't offer to share in return. Harry decides she really doesn't need to know about the Malfoy incident; she seems rather preoccupied. That, and Harry strongly suspects that she might just channel Ron and go into an apoplectic rage upon hearing the news.
For the first time in years, Malfoy doesn't try to hex Harry on the train ride home. In fact, Harry doesn't see Malfoy or his cronies on the train at all. Harry begins to wonder if perhaps Malfoy does have some common sense. After the things Malfoy had let Harry do to him over the past two evenings, he'd have to be very brave to try and antagonise him. Or perhaps Malfoy doesn't want to say goodbye. The thought warms Harry and he decides to believe it, against his better judgement.
Despite all the thinking he's done about the future, Harry really has a feeling that his life has ended. Hogwarts -- lessons, Gryffindor, Quidditch -- has occupied his mind so much during the past seven years that he really doesn't know how he'll manage without it. Hogwarts has always been his true home; most of his friends have loving families and they are all going back to their homes.
As for Harry, he's already homesick, which is an absurdity in itself because he doesn't have a home.
"Then you use the stuff from this bottle, gives it a nice shine, see?"
Harry peers at the shelf anxiously. Dark brown bottle with a green squiggle on the label, right. He hopes he can remember all this later.
"And if the blade's notched, you'll need this potion here, I forget what it's called now, but I'll give you a list before I leave for the Wales shop," says Bill, holding up a clear bottle filled with a viscous green liquid. "I know I've said this about eight times already, but I'm dead chuffed you'll be takin' over. Merle's taken quite a likin' to you, you know--"
There is sound of movement at the front door, and they both turn around. Draco Malfoy is standing in the doorway, looking as smug as ever.
"So it's true. The great Harry Potter has really chosen a career in retail," says Malfoy with a smirk. "Nice apron, Potter."
"Harry Potter? Blimey!" exclaims Bill, his eye widening. "Why didn't you say anything, Harry?"
Harry shrugs with a small smile and steals a glance at Malfoy, who looks bewildered. "You didn't?" he mouths.
"Is there anything I can help you with, Mister Malfoy?" asks Harry, folding his arms across his chest and matching Malfoy's earlier smirk. He can't afford to be rude to potential customers, after all.
Malfoy glances around, seeming to realise he's in a room full of sharp objects. He casts a nervous look at Biter, the main gauche Harry had also noticed when he'd first come through that door. "Not so much, no," Malfoy says after a moment. "I just couldn't believe the news till I saw for myself."
"Friend of yours, Harry?" asks Bill with a shifty look in his eye.
Harry grins. "After a fashion. Right, Malfoy?" He winks at the pale boy, reaches into his pocket and tosses the penknife into the air. It spins there for a moment and Harry is suddenly certain that life really didn't end with leaving Hogwarts.
As he catches the knife and glances at Malfoy, who's looking flustered, Harry knows that life is only just beginning.