That was the part of war the history books never talked much about. How did people rebuild after their world was destroyed? How did witches and wizards across Europe return to a sense of normalcy when their homes had been taken, their friends had been murdered, and many of their loved ones could never return? It wasn’t flash, crack, and like a bolt of lightning the war was over and everyone lived happily ever after. Voldemort was not a serpent who had crept into a kingdom of paradise and merely hypnotized his followers into doing his will overnight. The war was over, but it would take time to heal.
The volunteers who stayed at Hogwarts day and night and worked tirelessly to rebuild it knew that the first step to returning to normal would be to have their school back. It would bring hope for the future to continue training the children to be good witches and wizards. It was an investment in the next generation so that, even if this one could not heal, someone could do more than simply carry on. And so they worked for one hundred and twenty six days until the building was safe and the classrooms were repaired enough to let students in. The school would start its semester a few days late and with ongoing projects throughout the year, but Hogwarts would open. On Monday morning, the halls would be filled once more with the chatter of hopeful children. It would be a smaller returning class, but they would return nonetheless.
The Order of the Phoenix had been packing to move out of the dorms all day. The house elves, now paid staff, would need Sunday to clean the space and remake the beds for the returning Gryffindors’ arrival. Harry Potter, who had gotten quite used to living out of Hermione Granger’s purse, sat in a booth at The Hog’s Head staring down at a plate of cottage pie (on the house). He was dressed in an old pair of scuffed-up jeans and hand-me-down Chudley Cannons t-shirt that had gone through several Weasley brothers and probably had last fit Ron during fifth year. He hadn’t shaved in months, and he had grown a thick, dark beard that stopped too many people from recognizing him in the streets.
Ron had already gone back to help his family rebuild The Burrow and Hermione was off tracking down her confunded parents. The Hog’s Head was dirty and dark, but Harry had grown fond of Aberforth Dumbledore since his efforts during the war. Besides, the place was much less crowded than The Three Broomsticks, and everyone minded their own business here. Harry was alone and quite frankly enjoying the solitude. He was tired of recounting his miraculous resurrection and defeat of Voldemort as if it were a tale of joy when so many people he loved would not be coming back: Tonks, Lupin, and Fred. They were gone. There was no resurrection stone or fragment of horcrux that would bring them back. Harry had been given a choice when standing on the platform. He briefly wondered if anyone else had gotten the same choice, but he knew that Tonks and Lupin would never choose to leave their child behind. Harry knew he was unique.
Just as Harry had resolved himself to shove a few bites of food in his mouth and head upstairs to the inn to write a letter to Andromeda Tonks, the door to the Hog’s Head opened. A large, imposing figure stood silhouetted in the late summer sunset beyond. Harry gripped his wand, his heart racing as he remembered the fight with the snatchers, the one where Hermione had cursed his face to render him unrecognizable. But when the door closed, Harry recognized a friendly face and slid his wand calmly back into his pocket.
“Minister Shacklebolt,” Harry said as the bald, black wizard approached his table. “Shouldn’t you be in London cleaning up the Ministry?”
Kingsley Shacklebolt, impeccably dressed in pinstriped indigo robes, sat down in the booth across from Harry. Many of their comrades had sustained serious injuries during The Battle of Hogwarts, but Kingsley had come away unscathed. Still, the effects of the war showed on him now in the slope of his shoulders. He was tired. Harry could sympathize.
“Harry,” Kingsley said with a smile. “I hardly recognized you. I thought Aberforth was feeding goats at the tables again.”
Harry scratched his beard and chuckled. Maybe it could use a trim.
“Molly Weasley said I’d find you here,” he said, folding his hands on the table in front of him. A large gold ring on his finger bore the Ministry of Magic seal. “They’ve booted you from the castle?”
“School starts Monday,” Harry said, placing his fork down next to his plate. “So it’s only temporary.”
“You’re going back?” Kingsley asked, clearly surprised.
“Well, thing is, I didn’t do my seventh year. I was a bit busy.” Harry smirked. “Being Undesirable Number One.”
Kingsley nodded. “Right, yes, but still… Minerva told me years ago that you wanted to be an Auror. Is that not your plan?”
“That is my plan. That’s why I’m getting my N.E.W.T.s taken care of. I could sit for them in a makeup exam, but I’m kind of missing a year of Potions, Transfiguration, Charms—”
“Don’t be silly,” Kingsley said. “The job is yours. N.E.W.T.s be damned, you’re Harry Potter. You defeated Voldemort. Nobody is going to make you sit for exams. Consider it a requirement waiver from the Minister of Magic himself. The Ministry needs you, Harry.”
Harry hesitated. When he opened his mouth to speak, all that came out was a cracked whimper. Of course, it made sense, but Harry had never expected to be given his dream job without so much as a single A or E, and wasn’t he supposed to need Os in a few subjects?
“You and Weasley,” Kingsley said. “And Granger if she wants it, though she was babbling on a few weeks ago about elfish welfare. We need you. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is looking a little thin, and I’ve got work for you to do. Someone needs to track down the rest of the Death Eaters, and I’m too busy putting a government back together to do it personally.”
“Are you sure, sir?” Harry asked. “You want a Hogwarts drop-out in the Ministry?”
“Don’t consider yourself a drop-out,” Kingsley said. The corner of his lip twitched upward. “Think of it as an independent study program. You defended us against the dark arts, brewed advanced potions to break into Gringotts, and I’m sure you charmed and transfigured plenty on the run. If you’d like, I can get Minerva to write you a certificate saying you achieve Os in everything. Come work for me, Harry.”
Harry stammered for a minute before managing to blurt out, “Thank you.”
“Thank you, Harry.”
Kingsley stood up and smoothed down his dress robes. He turned and nodded to Aberforth, who stood behind the bar. “Be in London Monday morning. Check in with Gawain Robards and then come upstairs to my office for lunch. I’m buying.” Kingsley Shacklebolt reached out and shook Harry’s hand. Then he crossed to the fireplace, took a pinch of floo powder from the mantle, tossed it on the crackling fire, and stepped into the sudden rush of green flames. He shouted, “Ministry of Magic,” and with a woosh and a roar of surging flames, he was gone.