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Way Down We Go

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in this story, your mother isn’t the villain.
in this story, you find a way to pick the lock, to wake up, to climb out of the tower yourself.
in this story, you’re angry.
in this story, you meet a dragon and
it is afraid of you.
in this story, you don’t need to be saved.
in this story, your mother raised you
to recognize a prison from a home.
in this story, they don’t fall in love with you before they know you.
in this story, they aren’t better than you.
in this story, you have claws.
in this story, happily ever after has bite marks in it.
in this story, you are free and terrifying.
in this story, you get away.
in this story, you bleed.
in this story, you survive.

Caitlyn Siehl

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The war was over.

Or at least that’s what the papers said.

They’d been saying it, for months, as if people needed reminding.

Maybe they did. 

Maybe others found it just as easy to forget. Maybe they, like Harry, often ducked at sudden movements, flinched at loud noises, and sometimes, inexplicably, found breathing an uncertain and laborious task. Maybe they went to sleep with ghosts and woke up with guilt and spent a little too long, eyes closed, head submerged, in the bath.

The war was over.

But what happens to heroes when wars are over? When prophesies are satisfied and evil is defeated. Heroes are supposed to live happily ever after, Harry thinks. But he doesn’t know what that looks like. How that happens.There aren’t stories about that part. He wishes there were because he’s eighteen and living in an empty house with a second inheritance and a job offer and thousands of owl-post letters thanking him and asking him for interviews and—he feels simultaneously ancient and infantile.  

He is so, so tired. But he also wants someone to tell him what to do. To tell him what comes after the fighting and the death and the supposed victory. 

Maybe the better question is: what happens to weapons when wars are over?

Because that’s what he is, Harry realises, and perhaps it is an embarrassingly delayed realisation. After all, he had been carefully honed: by ignorance and cruelty and finally, maybe worst of all, affection. His abusive childhood was not just a thing overlooked or allowed, but curated, to make him more reckless, more desperate, more stupidly, fiercely, loyal. More willing to die. 

It was effective, though, wasn’t it? It worked. He’d saved the world. And now he was—he didn’t know. 

He took Kingsley’s offer to join the Aurors. Of course he did. It was expected.

It only occurred to him later to ask why a traumatized teenager without completed schooling or any legitimate credentials aside from their name would be given that dispensation. But by the time it occurred to him to ask, he already knew the answer. 

The Ministry of Magic did not need a weapon, not anymore. But they did need a figurehead. He was the boy who lived twice. The savior. Harry, photographed at crime scenes, returned widespread public approval to the Ministry. Harry’s endorsement determined the success or failure of politicians’ runs. Of legislation. Of books and brooms and fucking soap. He shook hands and held his tongue. He learned the right lines. He wore the right clothes.

But.

You can put a sword on a wall. You can shine it and mount it on mahogany and show it off as nothing more than decoration.

But it is still a sword.

And Harry is still a weapon.

Harry realises this on an otherwise ordinary Monday, that starts, early, as most days do, with the lingering feeling of nightmare blood on his hands. When the day ends, the blood is real. When the day ends, so does the last of his willingness to pretend. So he goes home and he emails Hermione and he sends an owl with his resignation to Kingsley. He packs a bag, and floos to the international travel office. And he stands in front of the permanent portkey map and chooses the most obscure, ridiculous, location. Somewhere with more livestock than people. With no expectations. With enough space and open air that maybe his lungs will stop feeling claustrophobic in his chest. Where he won’t be able to hurt anyone.

He picks somewhere no one will know his name. 

What happens to heroes when wars are over?

In Harry’s case, they run away.

****

What happens to villains when wars are over? 

Draco supposes that, in most cases, they die. That certainly seems to be the Ministry’s objective. His father is dead, along with the majority of former death eaters sentenced to life in prison. Admittedly, death was perhaps preferable to the alternative of actually living in Azkaban. 

They’d given Draco his father’s ashes. A pitiable allowance, really. He wasn’t sure what to do with them. Lucious Malfoy should have been interred in the family crypt, but the marble mausoleum, its centuries of residents, and the estate they belonged to had all been seized by the Ministry as reparations. So his father was left, without fanfare, a pound of dust in a wooden box that Draco handled with more quiescence than care.

Draco can’t decide if his own punishment is worse.

It was professed as a kindness—a mercy due to his youth:

Five years without magic.

But everyone in that courtroom knew it was equal to a death sentence. He was unlikely to survive one year, much less five.

With his magic hobbled, his health and fortune gone, and a face as recognizable as his anathematized surname, Draco quickly finds himself thinking, not fondly, but certainly resignedly, of death. 

It would be easier.

His mother, at least, is safe. And he is indebted to Potter for that. Thanks to Potter’s intercession at Narcissa’s trial, she avoided both prison time and magical impairment. She is a shadow of the woman she used to be, working for the first time in her life at a bookshop in Diagon Alley. She lives in the tiny flat above it and is slowly selling the family jewellery collection, one agony at a time, to supplement her meager income. But she is alive. And people do not treat her too cruelly.

Draco, though. 

The black snake on his arm is a testament to the ending he deserves. 

Six months after Lucius’ death, Draco visits his mother for the last time.

He refuses to let her watch him die.

He will not continue endangering her and his remaining friends with his presence. 

He is out of money, he cannot find a job, and the constant rattle in his lungs is getting hard to hide. So he brings his mother a flower at work and kisses her cheek and waves off her concern that he’s lost even more weight. 

Despite caution, someone catches him with a hex as he leaves the shop and he returns to Theo’s horrible muggle flat—where Draco has been sleeping on the sofa—with bloody teeth and enough shame to last for the rest of his life. He packs his father with the meager remnants of his belongings and he walks to the international travel office. He stands in front of the permanent portkey map and chooses the cheapest, strangest, most rural, location. Somewhere that might as well have been called “Anonymity.” Somewhere without city streets or alleyways or preconceived notions. Somewhere no one would know his name.

What happens to villains when wars are over?

In Draco’s case, they run away.