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Graduating was a bittersweet experience. It was exciting to finally shed the shackles of education and orient himself towards the next thing in his life. All of his new friends had dreams of grandeur, and he couldn't help but get swept away in the anticipation. However, he was painfully aware that those friends were all the people he had there with him; his parents couldn't attend, and his brother –

No matter what he did, his thoughts always cycled back around to the boy who had once been his hero. Sometimes, he wondered whether he'd been permanently stinted by the war; he hadn't sustained any physical injuries – hadn't even undergone the torture that his classmates had had to endure – but it felt like his heartstrings had been twisted so tight that the pain would never fade. No matter how happy he otherwise was, or should be, there was always an undercurrent of loss. Honestly, he wasn't sure what frightened him the most; the prospect of living with that forever or the prospect of his emotions dulling until he couldn't feel anything at all. Either way, he was sure that it would cripple him emotionally. After all, it already had.

Torn between the allure of finding and honouring the place where Colin died and being terrified of the possibility of passing it by without ever realising its significance, he had decided not to return to Hogwarts. Instead, he'd finished his schooling at one of the larger schools nearby; it was neither as renowned nor as selective as Hogwarts, but it had been the right decision for him. He had still maintained contact with his old friends; they understood him and his experiences in a way that no one else ever could. His new friends had been affected by the horrors of the war, but their school hadn't been turned into a metaphorical battleground, let alone a literal one.

An informal support network had cropped up around him after the war, full of people who knew and missed Colin and didn't want Dennis to go through his grief alone. But, despite their good intentions, it just made him feel even more isolated. Their home was filled with people who felt the loss intensely but didn't even know that there had been a war in the first place. When he went to his friends – new and old – for understanding, he was faced with people who knew the backstory and understood what Colin had sacrificed but didn't really know or understand him. They had seen the cheerful boy who'd followed Harry Potter around like a love-struck puppy; the golden-haired boy who had fully embraced the role of older brother since the day the doctors had first confirmed their mother's pregnancy was almost a stranger to them. The rare few who were cognizant of both the facts and the emotions were too busy dealing with their own losses; they were open to his presence but were too shattered to be able to do anything but focus on their own jagged shards of life.

He considered staying in Scotland. It had always been associated with safety and home for him, and, in the wake of the war, it was starting to get to the stage of actually being safe, as well. Besides, despite the double-edged nature of being with any of his family or friends, it was daunting to give them up; a support network of the broken was better than none at all.

Still, the allure of fast-paced anonymity beckoned him like that wisp of temptation that starts as a whisper and grows until it, having tied up your brain and neutralised any divergent thoughts, is practically shouting at you, demanding attention in exchange for the safe return of its hostages. He had tried to implement a non-negotiation policy at first, ignoring its murmurs and promises by throwing himself into social situations he didn't even want to be in just to provide himself with distractions, but he eventually succumbed to its call. It was, after all, rather difficult to fight against one's own brain.

At first, his friends and family weren't thrilled with his decision to move. None of them thought it would be good for him; he was too broken, too quiet, too young to strike out on his own like that. In their minds, he needed them nearby to walk through the darkness by his side. In his, they were keeping him in the shadows; they let him talk about it, but they never responded in the right ways, instead keeping him locked within an unbreakable cycle of memory and loss. He didn't have the ability to escape it alone, and nobody else was properly equipped to pull him out of it.

They never fully understood his reasoning, but, despite their objections, they accepted his decision; it was just one of those things that he had to do, and resistance was proving not only futile but also estranging. A child who lived elsewhere, whether they soared or returned to ground, was better than a child who never talked to you.

Or, at least, they accepted it until they realised exactly where it was that he intended to relocate to. That announcement provoked another round of debate. The idea of the teenager moving to some little Welsh town where he could lose himself in the mundane in his quest to find himself was one thing; the idea of him moving to the fast-paced New York City as part of his journey to self-discovery was another entirely. It didn't seem like him, they insisted; it was uncharacteristic of him and certainly a sign of a grief that he should weather rather than humour or, worse still, embrace. Of course it's a sign of grief, he always replied; of course he missed his brother and was trying to find ways to cope with that pain, and of course some of those ways were new, were things that weren't characteristic of how he'd acted before. Dennis couldn't understand how they expected him to find a way to manage the loss without exploring and testing new coping mechanisms and lifestyles; it just seemed antithetical to him, like getting caught in a bog and deciding to wait for the ground to dry out rather than getting out to push the car free. He might get muddy, and he might get sore, and he might not get that car free, but at least he would be doing something about it.

That was, ultimately, the reason he eventually decided to move as soon as he found a decent place to live and a somewhat secure job. It did seem like a strange decision for him to make, given that living in New York City had been his brother's dream. Colin had been fascinated by the lights and the hubbub and the sheer number of people all possessing their own unique stories and experiences and brushing up against one another without ever crossing one another's paths in any meaningful sense of the word. It had caught the young dreamer's imagination and inspired his childhood desire to commit to art everything that so much as swayed in the breeze, seeming like a veritable cesspit of inspiration and muse to him. Ever since his grandfather had bought it for him as a Christmas present, Colin and his camera had been inseparable. That little boy with his bright, eager eyes had dreamed of moving to New York and becoming a photographer or a journalist or, really, anything that would let him live that life and interact with those stories and with the people they belonged to.

Anyone in wizarding Britain who knew of his hobby, other than his closest friends, related it to all the times he'd chased after Harry Potter with a camera. They assumed that his interest had merely been the culmination of star-struck eyes and a desire to share that with his equally obsessed family, not realising that it was much more complicated than that; none of them understood the depth of personality that lurked behind that lens and within that brain. It was just another example of how little his friends and acquaintances understood Colin and so how poorly equipped they were to relate to Dennis' pain; how could he commiserate with people who thought his brother had been obsessive and annoying?

Then, one day, he came across a promising ad in an American newspaper he'd subscribed to back when he'd first started considering the move. It had been but a dream back then, but reading stories and advertisements had given him something of a reprieve from his otherwise dull and flat life. The ad listed a small – tiny, really – apartment that was being let for a surprisingly reasonable price. Of course, even 'a surprisingly reasonable price' was well out of his means. Fortunately, his parents – despite their continued reticence – offered to cover some of his living expenses until he established himself there. Their rationale was that they would rather help him secure living space in a decent neighbourhood than leave him to live in whatever cheap place he could find. While they were by no means wealthy, the Creeveys were rather well off, and they'd saved the money they would have otherwise spent supporting the boys in case either of them wanted to then return to Muggle education.

Their assistance was bittersweet. Savings or not, they wouldn't have been able to spare enough money to make the move feasible had Colin still been alive. In fact, had Colin been alive, Dennis would have been living happily in Donegal, visiting the beaches and playing hurling with his childhood friends, while Colin fought tooth and nail to get himself to New York. It felt strange to be virtually handed Colin's dream on a platter that he only had to walk a few steps to take initial ownership of. Dennis couldn't help but wonder if, had the situation been reversed and it had been he who had died, Colin would have still decided to move to New York. Might he have planned to rent the same apartment whose owners Dennis was currently making contact with?

When he arrived, the apartment looked even smaller than it had in the pictures. The real estate agent had obviously employed a photographer who was rather adept at choosing angles and lighting that would make rooms look bigger and more appealing; the colours and dimensions were never completely off, but they were often different enough to make a difference in how the rooms felt. Some of the wallpaper was peeling off, more than one window refused to open unless presented with substantial persuasion, and its ventilation was poorer than he'd have thought a building code would allow. Not wanting to risk accidentally reversing a Transfiguration and shattering all of his plates, he'd resorted to Muggle methods of acquiring furniture. He had brought some furniture with him and was going to buy more when his income allowed him to. The apartment seemed more like a hollow shell than a home, but it wasn't hard to see it becoming one. He was a wizard, after all, and, while he wouldn't be able to make any drastic changes without alerting the Muggle owner to the fact that something strange was happening, he would be able to fix up little bits and pieces and erect wards that would make the place much nicer. His vision of it might still be homely and cosy in all of the bad senses of the words, but he could genuinely see it becoming a small haven that, at least temporarily, belonged to him alone.

Filled with such hopeful imaginings and fancies, he contentedly set about levitating his furniture into place and putting up the decorations he'd brought with him. Most of what he had went in his bedroom, but he'd had some of Colin's photographs copied and enlarged before he left Britain and he showcased them, moving and stationary subjects like, throughout the house.

The reminder that there would never be any new photos to grace his walls floored him. He would never again experience the excited rush of seeing another batch of Colin's photographs for the first time or the frustration of having to find a way to reorganise the displayed pictures to make room for more. The strange intimacy of seeing a place that he'd never been but that had meant something to his brother and the baffled confusion of trying to work out what the more abstract photos meant were forever lost to him.

It had always just been such a casually present part of life. Seeing Colin had usually involved being given a copy of his latest photograph and being regaled with at least one story about how he'd found a quaint little place or cornered the elusive subject or experimented with the technical elements of the photo. After he'd taken it for granted for so long, its absence was stunning in its unexpected suddenness.

Having Apparated directly into the American Ministry of Magic and then Flooed from there to his apartment, he hadn't yet had a chance to see the city itself. Once that his apartment was satisfactorily set up, he decided to remedy that.

He was met with a burst of noise as he stepped out onto the street; cars revved and beeped and slowed to a halt, and people chatted to their friends as they strode along the footpath with them. It was strange to hear so many people speaking English with such a different accent. Dennis had never been further afield than the United Kingdom, so he was only used to the kinds of accents he'd come across at school or in his youth. American accents weren't completely unknown to him – he'd watched television before, after all – but they certainly weren't a commonplace thing. It felt like he was being bombarded by all of it. What he had thought would be exciting was, instead, daunting and overwhelming. He didn't know where to look or where to go. Were any of the beeps or chattering directed at him? Did any of them pose a risk? He hadn't been in the Battle of Hogwarts – Colin had left him to guard their parents and, when he'd tried to sneak in anyway to make sure his brother was alright, he'd been spotted and detained by a friend's father – but his time on the run had still made him jumpy, conditioning him to be wary of any sudden movements or noises. The instinct had died down a bit since the final battle, but it apparently still flared up at times like this.

This is an amazing opportunity, he reminded himself. This is fantastic and brilliant and I'm so lucky to be here. Colin would have loved to be here, so I'm going to love it for both of us. This is part of his legacy. I am his legacy.

Having thus determined to see the city through his dead brother's eyes, he looked at the city afresh. The people bustling their noisy way along the footpath all had fascinating stories that he would be amazed at. Each of those jam-packed cars were conveying those people from exciting, unknown point of their busy days to another. Those sounds, as loud and alarming as they were, were a sign of life and vitality.

Life is noisy, he thought. It's when it's silent that you should worry.

Picking out a random lady in the crowd, he wondered at her story. It was a game that Colin had learned from some of his school friends as a child and that he had incited the Creeveys to play at every possible opportunity. The lady in question had frizzy red hair and was wearing a warm, tight-fitting coat. A small dog was cradled in her arms like a baby, and a raincoat was draped over her shoulders like a shawl. Dennis imagined that she was a well-to-do businesswoman who adored her pet and, secretly, liked to think of him like a son. Perhaps she did, in fact, have a son – a son who had grown up and moved away, perhaps. Yes; her son had moved away, so she had adopted a dog and named him after her boy and, now, treated him like the baby she'd once had to hold and cherish and look after. They were making their way back from the park; she had walked her pet there, but he had grown tired and she had decided to carry him home. Having trusted the weather forecast, she had anticipated and prepared for rain, but it had been a surprisingly clear day, so she hadn't needed the yellow raincoat. In fact, she would have, in all likelihood, taken her actual coat off as well if it would not have meant that she would have been toting about a dog, a raincoat, and an actual coat. She kept up with the latest fashion and cared about her appearance, but not enough to concern herself with whether or not it was fashionable to drape a raincoat over her shoulders.

Dennis could almost picture the way Colin would have been immersed in the story. His eyes would have shone with interest as they flickered between the lady, the replacement child of a dog, and Dennis the storyteller. His lips would have slowly curled upwards as he imagined the love between the woman and her pet, but then his brows would have furrowed when he considered the estrangement that had led to that love. The comment about fashion would have instantly pulled him from his empathetic sadness, and he would have laughed and saucily asked Dennis when he'd become an expert on ladies' fashion.

Colin's mind had always jumped about too fast for him to ever be fully in the moment. On more than one occasion, Dennis had likened it to a fast-forwarded movie; things passed by in a blur and you got the gist of it but not the specifics that made it what it was. It had been frustrating and more than a little hurtful and, most of all, utterly endearing. When it came to a good story, however, the boy – for that was how he would be forever ingrained in Dennis' memory – had had all the time in the world.

You're living in the past again, he told himself. Don't let this cripple you, remember?

A car backfired nearby, and he jumped in fright at the bang. A few people shot him unimpressed locks as they passed him, sending self-consciousness rushing through him like water escaping a broken dam. He reminded himself that they merely didn't understand the history that caused it to provoke such a reaction, but the forced platitude did little to calm his jittery nerves.

Perhaps it's time for me to return to the apartment, he thought. I haven't been out much lately, so all of this activity is rather sudden. I can try again tomorrow after I've had some time to process everything.

Satisfied with his decision, he headed back for the building.

He would deal with everything tomorrow.

His warm bed enveloped him like a welcoming cocoon. Hopefully, he would crawl into it as a caterpillar and emerge from it as a beautiful butterfly that was ready to take on the world with its red and gold wings. As he stared up at the white ceiling, however, he couldn't help but think about how empty it all felt. He had never before been truly alone. When he was little, he had shared a room with Colin. He had felt abandoned when Colin went off to a faraway magical place that he could only hope would one day open its doors for him as well, but his parents had been there for him, and they had helped one another through it. Not long thereafter, he too had been heading off for that wonderful school, where he had spent every night in a dormitory with four other boys. When he and his family had gone on the run, they'd slept in even closer quarters than ever, spending almost every minute of every day together until their coins burned and Colin – and, later, Dennis – headed back to Hogwarts to fight.

After Colin's death, they'd had to face the fact that their brief time without him years prior in no way prepared them for a world where he was no longer alive. When he first went off to school, they'd received letters and photographs and visits home for the holidays. After his death, all they got was sympathy, flowers, food, and, in rare cases, genuine empathy.

Dennis had struggled with the loss all throughout his time at Evergreen, but he had still been surrounded by classmates and professors and, for all that he wished there had been more people in the junction between people knowing Colin and people understanding his grief, they had been there for him. Now, however, he was, for the first time, completely and utterly alone. The sounds of peaceful breathing and snoring were noticeably absent. For the first time, he longed for the frustration of having his ears assailed by others' snores, just for the reassurance that there was someone else there with him. For the first time in his life, there wasn't even someone within calling distance. There was literally no other sentient creature in his home; he would have to leave its bounds in order to speak to somebody, let alone to have a real conversation or seek help.

Alone. Displaced. Lost. Isolated.

During his brief exploration of this new, scary, brilliant city, he'd been surrounded by people, even if they were only strangers. Now, in his bedroom, he didn't even have that; it was merely him and his memories and imaginings of his brother. And, in the dark silence of the room, it was hard to give any credence to that visualisation. Most shadows faded into virtual nothingness when exposed to the piercing perceptiveness of the light; this one drifted away when it was introduced to the dark, dispersing itself throughout it black food dye poured into a vat of oil.

Displaced from his country, alone and isolated in the cold room, lost in the dark, Dennis did the only thing that was left for him to do; he cried. He burrowed himself deeper into his covers, wrapped his arms around himself, and let the tears fall.

In some way, he did emerge from his cocoon as a changed man. The sobs had somehow cleansed him; the next morning, he felt tired and weary but, ultimately, ready to start afresh. His faux bravado had faded away like sand drizzling through open fingers, but the hands they left behind were much cleaner for the loss. As he brushed away the remains of his ersatz and borrowed enthusiasm, he was left with the beginnings of his own excitement. Despite the heartbreak and the fear, it really was an amazing opportunity for him. Even if he went home, he would not be returning a loser; he would be returning home as someone who had spread their wings and flown and then realised they were going the wrong way. It had just taken having his happy façade chipped away at for him to be able to see it.

After quickly getting ready, he made his way down the street to the American Ministry of Magic for his first day at work. His position wasn't anything spectacular; it was his first job and, while the fact that he had spent four years learning from famous wizards and witches like Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick, Severus Snape and Gilderoy Lockhart definitely worked in his favour, he was freshly out of school and a war that they knew was bound to have left him with psychological scars. Being the junior assistant to a fairly low-tier worker wasn't the flashiest of jobs, and he was seriously considering looking for a second job at a bar or something in the Muggle world to supplement his income and help him become independent, but it was a good learning opportunity. And he couldn't be choosy when he was merely looking for a simple means to an end.

Besides, it was something that was solely his. His parents hadn't given it to him. People who knew of Colin's death hadn't been impelled to help him by charitable tendencies. A society who owed its youth their childhoods hadn't been trying to make it up to him by giving him a position or attempting to rebuild itself by using him to fill a position he wasn't yet ready for. That knowledge made it all the more special. He kept that feeling close to him as he nervously entered the building that he'd only ever Floo called before, as his new boss walked him through what was now expected of him, as he introduced himself to his colleagues, and even as he ate lunch at his desk because he knew he had a lunch break but wasn't sure how to go about taking it.

The day was by no means perfect. He stumbled frequently in his tasks and faced confusion at every turn. Although he and his colleagues all tried to connect, cultural differences complicated things; jokes that were supposed to be funny fell flat, comments that were supposed to be serious came off as peculiar, questions that were supposed to be perceptive came off as clueless, and answers that were supposed to be helpful came off as patronising. There were times when he internally questioned whether he really was the right person for the job, and when he felt certain that those around him were doing so as well. One of his colleagues outright provoked him about Britain's inability to control their Dark wizards just to test the limits of his control, and it took all he had in him to respond without snapping. Still, Dennis managed to win the older man over with his political response, and he was smiling broadly as he left work that evening because, despite all of the stumbling blocks that he had faced and was undoubtedly still to face, it was his and it was special and it felt good.

Things improved after that. There were still reassuring highs and disheartening lows in both his work and his attempts to socialise, and the letters from friends and family in Britain unfailingly gave him a sense of homesick melancholy. Their power was, however, lessening. The lows were fewer and farther between as he and his colleagues wrapped their heads around their cultural differences and as he grew accustomed to his work. They all grew better at responding to issues as they arose rather than jumping to conclusions about a phrase or gesture somebody on the opposite side of the cultural divide had used so casually. News from home, while still inciting feelings of longing, gradually grew less potent until he merely felt a nostalgic tinge as he read updates on the lives of people he rarely saw.

He wasn't crippled. This wouldn't hold him; he was down but certainly not out.

And he was starting to feel more at ease with the city; it wasn't just that the noises and impersonality of it stopped bothering him, but also that they started to invigorate him. Stereotypes and expectations still surrounded him like mosquitos waiting to be swatted, but they were all centred on his nationality rather than on him himself. However irritating they might be, they were noticeably easier to deal with. He found it easier to dispute and throw off the shackles of expectations surrounding his nationality than to skirt expectations surrounding him himself; after all, he was still Caucasian, so any discrimination directed towards him tended to be petty rather than debilitating. He would take jabs about tea-drinking and stiff upper lips over remarks about recklessness and starry eyes any day.

His parents and closest childhood friends visited him for his nineteenth birthday. He'd been back to visit them a few times and some of them had come to see him when they were able, but it was the first time they were all reunited since he'd first left Britain. Wizarding transport still got to his parents, who both looked a little green upon their arrival, so they hung around inside the Ministry until they were confident in their ability to walk without fainting or vomiting. As they finally left the Ministry, their second comments – after their obligatory birthday greetings – focused on how much better – how much healthier – he was looking. Dennis merely smiled and said that the city suited him before shepherding them down the road towards his apartment. The furniture and decorations were much more complete; they would never be fully done for good, of course, but they were satisfactorily done for the time being. It was all starting to come together as a place he could truly call home.

His American friends met them there. They headed to downtown Manhattan to explore a few of its art galleries before eating lunch at a fancy restaurant, watching a movie – which stunned and fascinated the purebloods among the group – and heading to Dennis' favourite jazz club for the evening. As they sat in the dim lighting, drank champagne and enjoyed the fast, restless music and serene ambiance, Dennis let his thoughts wander. Moving to New York City had been like jumping into the stuff of sensationalist novels; he never knew what to expect from it from one day to the next but, even as it drove him crazy and threatened to do his head in with its bright lights and fast nights, he adored it for that. Most of all, however, he loved the fact that he felt like he genuinely belonged there. He'd always been Colin's little brother or another impulsive Gryffindor or a Muggle-born wizard on the run; here, he could just be Dennis. As he explored who he was and what he wanted and needed from life, he frequently got the sense that the city had been there waiting for him all along; waiting for him to be ready for it, waiting to heal him, and waiting to free him.