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Three days after he turned 30, Harry Potter resigned from the Aurors.

It happened like this: one sweaty day at the end of June, Head Auror Robards called him into the office. Harry had just finished his first cup of coffee and a raspberry Danish pastry, so he was fidgety with caffeine and sugar. His restlessness had nothing to do with the grim look on Robards’s face; it was Robards’s typical expression, although Harry wasn’t used to dealing with it first thing in the morning.

“Close the door, Potter,” Robards said. Then, when Harry was seated: “Davies has retired. I’ll be stepping into her position as Head of the DMLE.”

“Congratulations,” Harry said because he wasn’t sure what else to respond with.

Robards continued to glare at him. “Shacklebolt told me to offer you the position of Head Auror.”

“That’s very kind of him.”

It was clear from Robards’s tone and expression that he did not want Harry for the position, and to be honest, neither did Harry. Twelve years had not improved Harry’s attitude towards paperwork, but more importantly, it hadn’t improved his tolerance of office and Ministry politics. Once upon a time, he’d dreamed of becoming Head Auror and reforming the division, but twelve years of ignored recommendations for improvements, declined budget requests, and grinding overtime had cured him of his fantasy.

So he said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Robards grunted. “If that’s your choice, you can tell Shacklebolt yourself. He won’t hear it from me.”

So Harry wrote a memo to Shacklebolt politely declining the position. After only a moment’s thought, he recommended the name of Jaya Singh. She was two years younger than him but shrewd and ambitious and fiercely protective of her fellow Aurors.

Harry released the memo. He watched it fly away, then he stood in his cubicle looking at his crumb-strewn plate, the stacks of paperwork that fluctuated in height (but never by much), and the little notepad on which he’d written “potions test kits.”

All of a sudden, he wondered what he was doing there.

Until that moment, he’d been operating on autopilot, with the vague expectation that he would succeed Robards one day. But the expectation had never been his, had it? It had been everyone else’s.

He picked up the identification bracelet he’d been given at St Mungo’s the week before, after he’d been cursed—as if he’d needed one. Even if he hadn’t been Harry Potter, he’d have been known on sight by every hospital staff member. He was practically a resident by now, considering the number of times he’d been there; they could have given him his own bed on the Janus Thickey Ward.

Teddy had drawn something vaguely crude on the bracelet, the off-beat humor of the 12-year-old son of Tonks and Remus. Harry smiled to see it, and then frowned. That hospital visit had been the only time he’d seen Teddy in the last three months.

Of course, Teddy understood. All of his friends and family did. They always had a smile and a hug and hot meal for him, no matter how long he’d been away. He wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve that kind of love, especially when he was hardly around.

Well, he could hardly complain about not having enough time to see them when he was standing around doing nothing at work. He sat down and pulled a pile of papers towards him, determined to finish early enough that he could swing by Ron and Hermione’s after leaving the office.

As the hours passed, though, new files appeared in his inbox nearly as fast as he completed his current ones. He worked through lunch, only to be called for a consultation and return to find the paperwork had multiplied again.

He dropped into his desk chair. The hospital bracelet caught his eye again. He picked it up and turned it over in his hand. An odd emotion lodged inside of him—one somewhere between despair and alarm—and then he took up his quill to write his second memo to Shacklebolt that day. He visited Robards again and delivered his official resignation in person, with a promise to see out his current case.

He closed the case one day after his birthday and had his things cleared out two days later.

Then the news of his resignation hit the Prophet and the wireless, and Harry was glad his house was still under the Fidelius Charm.

***

Harry had no plans after that.

He thought he might have Teddy over for a week or two, but Andromeda informed him that the boy was visiting their family in France and wouldn’t return till shortly before the Hogwarts Express left for school.

Once, he went out for Auror pub night, and he somewhat enjoyed that, even if he was the brunt of most jokes that evening for his choice of Polyjuice disguise, but it felt strange to be a part of conversations about cases he wasn’t involved in. He bought Jaya a drink to celebrate her promotion to Head Auror and left well before the others.

Molly and Arthur were happy to have him over for lunch one day soon after, and he enjoyed the food and company, but when they asked what he planned to do next and he said, “Not sure yet,” Molly gave him such a look of pity that it haunted him into his sleep.

“Why should I know what I’m going to do next?” he asked Hermione and Ron when he saw them the next day. “It’s not—” He lowered his voice and glanced at Ron apologetically. “It’s not like I’ve had to touch any of my parents’ savings. I don’t exactly need to work.”

He felt uncomfortable mentioning his relative wealth in front of them, especially Ron, but Ron only shrugged and said, “That’s a good point.”

Hermione gave him a narrow-eyed look, then turned back to Harry. “It’s not about making money. I didn’t mean that you have to work, Harry. But you’ll have to do something. You can’t very well sit around looking at the walls of Grimmauld Place all day.”

“And why not?”

She rolled her eyes in a very Hermione expression that had not changed in twenty years. “Because. For one thing, you’d go mad. You’re a very active person.”

Ron shrugged. “That’s also a good point.”

“Thanks, Ron,” Harry said, and aimed a mild Stinging Hex at him.

“Oi! Blame the post owl, why don’t you.”

“I’ll renovate Grimmauld,” Harry said to Hermione.

“What?”

He smiled darkly. “I’ve been wanting to tear that place apart for years but never had the time.”

“Good luck with that one,” Ron muttered, and reached for a bread roll.

Hermione pursed her lips but said no more on the subject.

***

The next morning, Harry woke, put on an old t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, and stood in the sitting room. He regarded the peeling wallpaper, soot-darkened walls, and rainy oil landscapes and did not feel inspired to action. He needed to start somewhere, though he didn’t want to start there, so he scrounged up a mostly-empty legal pad Hermione had left on a previous visit and took it to every hall and room in the house, making an inventory of the damage, curses, infestations, and sentient mold.

The list grew long, and included an aggressive flock of books in the library, a cloud of noxious fumes under a Stasis Charm in the old potions lab, a nursery with walls sweating some kind of brown droplets, and a door that opened into solid darkness. Twelve years as an Auror, and a lifetime spent as friends with Hermione, had taught him the usefulness of approaching some things in an organized fashion.

Evening had fallen by the time he arrived in the attic, damp with sweat and hand tired from clutching the legal pad all day. He leaned in the doorway and looked in at the piles of junk. After being attacked by an almanac, nearly unleashing a deadly gas, and almost walking into a void, chucking a bunch of old stuff seemed…doable.

So, he would start here.

***

The next morning, Harry had his coffee and pastry before climbing to the attic. He spent that first day rearranging the mess into rough piles. On the second day, he chose the pile in the furthest corner to start with, picked the largest chest, and opened it.

The scent of pine wafted out. Someone in the Black family had loved Christmas. Harry almost fell into the crate while taking an inventory of its contents: snow globes filled with real snow, an angel that sang (but unfortunately didn’t want to stop), an Everlasting Tree thirty feet tall—all jumbled in a vast space created by an Undetectable Extension Charm and lit with floating green and silver candles.

He closed that chest and moved to the next. He dug through antique jewelry, notebooks filled with unintelligible scribbles, dried lizard feet, moth-eaten capes, yellowed lace bedding, half-melted silver cutlery, and a cameo locket with a tiny painting inside that screamed when he opened it. Startled, he dropped it—then snapped it shut.

He looked down at it all. Once, this had been someone else’s treasure.

Slowly, he worked his way through that pile, then the next. Some of the chests were locked with wards so old and fragile that they crumbled at a touch from Harry’s wand. A few of them were secured with curses that had tangled over the years. He set them aside and planned to talk to Bill about getting a Curse-Breaker to look at them.

He Vanished objects that were crumbled beyond repair, even by magic, including a chest full of dolls that looked Muggle in origin. The doll heads collapsed at his touch and might have been cursed because he felt a sudden wave of euphoria and dizziness. Alarmed and reeling—nearly laughing at the madness of the situation (though that had to be from the effects of the curse)—he got rid of the lot with a wave of his wand.

He drowned under piles of old accounting scrolls that included a detailed listing of every purchase made to stock the larder, and Harry Vanished those, as well, because he didn’t think anyone needed one hundred scrolls of “beef tongues: 3; sheep intestines: 1; goat heads: 2,” no matter what Hermione might have said about “history.”

One chest was locked with a newer ward, and the magical signature felt familiar. Intrigued, and despite his lingering giddiness from the cursed dolls, he spent some time undoing it. It was a tricky little spell, but somehow, he felt like he knew how to pull it apart. At the last moment, he erected a hasty Shield Charm, but the ward gave way with no more than a gentle pop of air, and the lid of the chest creaked open.

Inside, he found letters. He unfolded one and smoothed it open. Something struck him as familiar about the handwriting, an echo of the feeling he’d got from the ward. Dear PF the letter began. Harry jumped to the bottom. Love, M. He frowned and skimmed the contents. At the word Prongs, he stopped. Checked the date. 1977.

Harry felt faint again. He reached a hand behind himself blindly, planted it against the floor, and sat.

PF,

I’m not sure whether I should thank you for your last letter or send you a bill for the three Calming Draughts I had to drink to recover from it. Who took the pictures? Was it Prongs? Should I be jealous?

Things here are the same as ever. Now Dad knows about us, I think he’s more excited to see you again than I am. I’m beginning to suspect he thought I would end up alone forever—I’m trying not to be insulted. When you get here, I’d appreciate it if you could mention all the people you had to fight off to win my heart. Just make up some names, he won’t know the difference.

Merlin, I really can’t stop thinking about those pictures. If you were to send any more, I wouldn’t complain. Just make sure Prongs isn’t actually in shot, won’t you? It would dampen the mood a bit. (Don’t tell him I said that, he’ll take it as a challenge.)

Love,

M

Hand shaking, Harry pulled out another. This one was written in 1980. His mouth went dry.

PF,

You’re a monster. I can’t believe I love you. But yes, I’ll bring it over tonight.

Dumbledore stormed into Prongs’s dining room in the middle of dinner yesterday, sent me away halfway through a slice of Lily’s excellent mushroom pie. Any ideas what that might be about? It didn’t seem like good news, whatever it was.

I’m going to drop in on Wormtail later—he’s been acting awfully strange recently. I think the news about the McKinnons hit him hard. Remember when he followed Marlene around for months during sixth year? Perhaps he wasn’t quite as over that as we thought.

I’ll be at yours for eight. Wear the red thing. You know the one.

Love,

M

Harry lowered the letter, heart pounding. A cold sweat had broken out on his brow. He felt a bit sick, not because he’d apparently stumbled across Sirius’s secret stash of love letters from Lupin—well, not because they were love letters. Not like he thought there was anything wrong with that. But they were in Lupin’s handwriting, and they talked about his parents, and they were all suddenly, achingly alive on the page. And—Sirius and Professor Lupin. How had Harry not known? But what about Tonks? And Teddy. Merlin.

Hands shaking, Harry folded the letter and returned it to the chest. He cast his own ward over it, then went downstairs and had a glass of Firewhiskey.

***

Ron came over that night and brought a Chinese takeaway. Harry got the sense that Ron was checking in on him, and he wondered if Hermione had put him up to it. Or maybe Molly, judging from the treacle tart Ron pulled from his robe pocket and un-shrank for him. But Ron maintained a friendly cheerfulness, and Harry went along with it as they unpacked the chow mein and rice and chips and a mound of sweet and sour chicken.

They talked about Quidditch and George’s latest exploits in the Wheezes’ test lab and the audio drama Hermione and Molly had started listening to on the wireless, which Harry knew Ron used as an excuse to listen as well.

“How’s it going with the house?” Ron asked between bites of chicken.

Harry thought of the letters; he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about them. He shrugged. “Got through some stuff in the attic. Lot of old cursed junk up there. I need to talk to Bill.”

Ron made a face. “I can just imagine. You should. Bill’d probably love that. Old Black family heirlooms.” Ron shuddered. “It’s nice Sirius left you this place. But.”

Harry stabbed a piece of chicken. He snorted. “It’s something else.”

“That’s a euphemism. The attic, huh? What about the rest of it?”

Harry grimaced. He told Ron about how some of the weatherproofing charms had apparently failed years ago, how the walls and floor were crumbling with dry rot in places. The wallpaper needed to be pulled, the walls painted. Old Doxy nests needed to be cleared out of the draperies. A cursed window that always let in a cold wind, even on still, sunny days. Rugs that needed to be removed. Stains that looked suspiciously like blood.

Ron swore softly.

“So I’ve started in the attic. I figure I’ll…work my way down. One room at a time.”

Despite his casual tone, the thought of tackling the house made his chest squeeze.

“Blimey,” Ron said, staring up into the dark corners of the sitting room.

The letters crossed Harry’s mind again. It was nearly on the tip of his tongue: Ron, did you know… ? But he dragged a chip through the sweet and sour sauce and popped it into his mouth.

“I might give it another few days,” he said. “Then I’ll call Bill.”

“You know,” Ron said casually, stabbing up a bit of chow mein. “Bill’s wrapped up in a project for the next couple of weeks. I’m sure he’ll be happy to come over after that.”

“Yeah. That’d be great.”

“And I’ll be done working on this prototype with George by then.” He made a face. “I’d better. Rotten thing’s already taking weeks longer than it should have. Point is, you don’t have to do this alone. You know?”

“Oh. Thanks. That’d be nice, actually.”

Ron nodded. “You’re family. I bet Dad would be happy to help, too. And Mum. She’s dying to have a go at your kitchen.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “She can have at it.”

“So it’s a plan, then, yeah? We’ll help you get this place sorted.”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Harry said, uncertainly. “But you don’t have to.”

“Of course we don’t. But, listen. That’ll give you a few weeks to relax before the whole clan’s over here. And you know how Mum is. It’ll be a madhouse. You’ll almost wish for the quiet again.”

“Well…”

“And Ginny and Luna were asking after you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“How are they?”

“Good. Milking goats. Picking tomatoes. Whatever else they get up to on a farm. But, you know. They’ve got a guest bedroom. You’ve got the time.”

Harry was feeling a bit dizzy. “Wait. Ron, are you saying—?”

“Go visit Ginny and Luna, yeah.”

“In Oregon.”

“Well, yeah. They’re not coming here. Ginny says it’s hell for them to take a holiday, need to find someone to house sit and feed all the animals.”

Ginny and Luna. Merlin. It’d been years since he’d seen them. He still remembered hugging them goodbye before they left for the US.

“I mean, Grimmauld’ll be waiting for you,” Ron said. “Been waiting decades already.”

Harry looked around the dim sitting room. He’d stoked the fire in the hearth, but its light was swallowed by the ever-present shadows. “I guess. Yeah.”

Harry thoughtfully scratched through the rest of his sweet and sour chicken, and mopped up the remaining sauce with a soggy chip. “What do you reckon the Chinese food is like there?”

Ron shrugged. “Same? Except it comes in those little paper boxes. They’re brilliant.”

***

That night, well after Ron had left, Harry lay staring up at the ceiling. He could hear a rhythmic knocking noise coming from the floor below, where the agitated books had never calmed down.

Thock. Thock. Thock. Thock.

He cast a Silencing Charm, but the unnatural quiet made him uneasy, so he lifted the charm and listened to the knocking until he finally fell asleep.

***

The next day, Harry returned to the attic. He levitated all of the oldest chests with their failing wards against one wall, all of the sheet-covered portraits against another, and everything from Sirius’s time to the other side of the room. There were odds and ends that didn’t quite fit into any of those categories, and Harry left those piles in a haphazard group in the center of the space.

He stood for a while with Sirius’s chest of letters in his arms. He debated taking it downstairs and rifling through the rest of the letters. Not that he would read them. The thought discomfited him. They were too private for that, even if they did include mentions of his parents. But maybe they weren’t even all letters. And maybe he could ask Hermione about a spell to check for the presence of specific words. It wouldn’t be so invasive if he were just looking for mentions of Prongs and Lily. Sirius and Lupin wouldn’t have minded that, probably.

His heart raced, his palms were sweaty.

He took the chest downstairs and set it on the floor in the sitting room. Then he poured a glass of Firewhiskey.

Shadows moved across the ceiling. The fire popped. Gold accents on the chest gleamed. He stared at the box for a long time. From elsewhere in the house, a book banged against a wall.

He stood, chewed on his lip, and then threw a handful of Floo powder into the flames.

“Oh hey, Harry,” Hermione said.

“Hey, Hermione. Is Ron around?”

“He’s making dinner. Something I can tell him?”

“Yeah. I guess, or maybe you can help. I wanted to ask Ginny and Luna if they wouldn’t mind me visiting. And what do you know about booking a trans-Atlantic Portkey?”