Chapter One: An Appropriate Parting
Harry cast one last disconsolate glance around the Harmony Garden and tried to capture the gentle chiming of the Bells of Remembrance in a final aural memory. She would not be returning to this place. Ever.
Ignoring the statue that bore her visage, she opened the gate to the park and stepped through it. It was dawn, and the Girl Who Lived wanted to be well away from the Ministry of Magic before the officials and tourists arrived to begin their day. Harry had one final visit to pay in London, and then she would be leaving the Wizarding World.
Draco Malfoy was waiting at his door for her, a cup of fragrant, steaming coffee in his hand.
"Come in," he said, handing her the cardamom brew and stepping back inside his flat to allow her to enter.
As was their custom, they walked through the long chain of rooms toward the terrace.
"Good morning," Harry greeted the wizard after sitting in her favorite chair next to the Fire Ficus for which Draco could never seem to care properly; its leaves weren't even producing heat. "You should really have someone in to care for your plants, you know."
"Why?" he asked sharply. "Who's going to see them after you've gone?"
The witch didn't rise to the bait. "Point," she said mildly, sipping her coffee and watching the frown lines deepen on her host's face.
As alone as Harry felt, Draco truly was. Though he had never taken the Dark Mark, society had turned its back on the Malfoy scion. His family's legacy depleted after settling reparations on his parents' victims, Draco found himself little better than a pariah. What relatives remained to him viewed him with distaste because of his poverty, and the rest of society viewed him with suspicion because of the unsavory associations with his name.
Harry told herself that she held no great affection for the wizard, either, but Draco had helped save her life, and she would not allow herself to be ungrateful. Since the Second Trials, the witch had been a frequent guest in his home. The two unlikely companions had found that they understood each other--after a fashion.
"So," Draco asked, "did you enjoy your little sight-seeing excursion?"
"Then why go there, Potter?"
"I thought I should see the memorials at least once, and I wanted to say goodbye."
Several people to whom Harry had been close had been interred in the Hall of Monuments, which was near to the Ministry's war memorial. The visit to those places was the closest thing to saying a proper goodbye to her living friends that Harry would allow herself. They wouldn't understand, she thought, but I've got to leave.
It had been a little over a year since Harry had killed the Dark Lord and many of his followers, and the trials of the remaining war criminals had been very hard on the young woman. This was not least because Harry had refused, despite repeated attempts by the Ministry, the media, the public, and her friends to reveal just how she had ended the hostilities. Albus Dumbledore's interference on her behalf had gone a long way toward removing the political pressure on the young woman, but the media coverage of her had not yet ceased. And Mrs. Zabini, as Harry was still known in some circles, found herself increasingly ill-disposed to remain the object of scrutiny.
She'd had to learn a great deal more about camouflaging glamours in the seven months since her marriage had dissolved than she had ever desired to know. Hiding herself was almost more draining than missing her husband. Blaise had not appreciated his wife's failure to play her part in the arenas of family and public politics, and their disagreements on this score had led to their eventual estrangement. Despite this, the two spouses had parted amicably, and Harry had surprised many people when she had attended her ex-husband's engagement party only a month before. But now that her affairs were settled as best as they could be, the witch was prepared to leave.
"It's time for me to go, Draco."
The young man threw himself down on the stone bench across from her in disgust. "I can't believe what an idiot you are!"
The witch smiled, but there was nothing pleasant in her expression.
Draco groaned. "You knew when you married him that Zabini wanted to keep the old traditions. Where's the harm in a few familial spells?"
"A 'few familial spells'? Don't you mean binding magics?"
"They're the same in the Great Houses. If you'd been raised properly, you'd know that."
Harry set her cup down and stood up. "I didn't kill Voldemort just to perpetuate his hatred by becoming the broodmare for the next generation of blood purists. I'm not going to allow any children I might bring to term to become pawns in an attempt to 'build a better society'!"
Draco would have argued this point, but he knew Harry would never see sense. Not all traditions are worth abandoning, he thought rebelliously. But even he agreed with the witch to some extent. The Zabinis have always been more interested in protecting their bloodline than is strictly healthy.
For a Malfoy to see this fact was significant indeed.
"Why did you marry him, then?" Draco pressed.
Without hesitation, Harry replied, "Because I love him."
That was true. Since she'd first arrived at Hogwarts eleven years ago, she and Blaise had shared a quiet friendship, one she'd never told anyone about. Ron and Hermione hadn't even known of her attachment to the boy until his unexpected appearance at Sirius Black's memorial. It had taken Ron a long time to accept Blaise's place in his best friend's life, but on the day that Harry had turned seventeen, he had been present to give her away in marriage to the wizard. The next day, they had all returned to school and begun their last year of instruction.
It had been a bizarre final term, but Harry and Blaise had made the best of it by meeting in the Room of Requirement as often as they could to nurture their fragile relationship. They had made their marital status known at the Leaving Dance, and then they'd graduated to auror instruction at Novitiate One under the guidance of Alastor Moody.
Blaise had been fluorescent under the attention of the media, and had basked in the glow of his parents' approval. For although the Zabinis prized pure blood, they could hardly be seen to disapprove of their son's eccentric choice of bride. They had sought to make the witch feel welcome--in their way--by teaching her what was expected of her as a Zabini wife. This had been the beginning of Harry's trouble with her husband, but other matters had also preoccupied her.
Fulfilling the requirements of prophesy, the witch had caused Voldemort to cease to exist on a warm spring morning in the June of her nineteenth year. Seven months later, after Harry's steadfast refusal to submit to a traditional re-bonding ceremony as greatly desired by her new family, her marriage had ended on a frigid January afternoon. It had been an indifferent July evening when the "ex-Mr. Potter" had celebrated his impending nuptials to an outwardly subdued, but privately exultant, Pansy Parkinson. And now, on the eve of her twenty-first birthday, Harry was prepared to leave all that was increasingly unfamiliar to her and seek a new life for herself somewhere her fame would not follow her.
She was terrified.
Draco shoved himself out of his seat with a lack of his customary grace and approached the pensive-looking witch, cupping her face in his palms and staring down into her eyes. He allowed his gaze to express his concern.
But it wasn't enough.
Taking a deep breath, he said, "I care about you, Potter--and not just because you like my coffee."
Harry laughed, an honest laugh that carried away with it some of her trepidation, but saw at once that the wizard misunderstood her.
Catching his hands before he could pull away, she said, "Draco, I'm not laughing at you."
The wizard relaxed.
"I'll miss you, too."
"Harry . . . It doesn't have to be like this. If you'd only explain--"
"--no!" she exclaimed, pulling away. "I'm not going to discuss what happened. The war is over now, and I want nothing to do with its ghosts."
"So that's it, then? You're just going to abandon me to a solitary existence of teaching ungrateful brats how to defend themselves against dark magics they'll probably never experience?"
As a reward for his service during the war, Headmaster Dumbledore had offered the wizard the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship. Draco had accepted the position, but, characteristic of a Malfoy, had not scrupled to be grateful for Dumbledore's generosity. He had not fully accepted his descent from the highest rank of society to that of a lowly educator.
"I think you protest too much. What else are you going to do?"
They began walking toward the front door.
"At least as a teacher, you'll be able to rebuild your reputation," Harry continued. "And think," she said, a smirk appearing at one corner of her mouth, "of the joy you'll find as a molder of young minds."
Draco grimaced. "Yes, it sounds like a thrilling prospect, Potter. 'Turn to page one. Today, we're going to study the mysterious disappearance of the savior of the Wizarding World. One hundred points to the first of you who can explain how the Girl Who Lived managed her most welcome trick ever'."
"It's too late to feign bitterness, Draco. I already know that you like me."
"The bitterness isn't feigned," he retorted, opening the door.
Harry stepped through it.
"Well, at least you'll be in the happy position of having been the last person to see me. That ought to be worth a few dinner invitations from some of the less-discriminating 'Great Houses' of yours."
"Muggle prat!" the wizard called to Harry's retreating back.
"Insufferable ferret!" she rejoined without turning.
An appropriate parting, Draco thought, closing the door on the end of what had been the closest thing to friendship he had ever known.
For her part, Harry felt that the sound of the wizard's door shutting was a decent symbol of her passage from one life into another.
Goodbye, she thought resolutely, stepping into the waking street and apparating into her unknown future.
No one noticed the discontinuity created by the disappearance of the young woman from the front of the building; but then, Muggles rarely permitted themselves to notice such things.
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