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What We Pretend We Can't See

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Twelve days after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry steps across the threshold of Grimmauld Place and knows abruptly that he can’t live there anymore.

He moves through the house systematically, almost blindly, picking up and packing away those things that are his or that he wants to keep. There aren’t many of them; he can’t so much as look around the place without being swamped with a memory of someone who just… isn’t, anymore. He’s sick of it. He’s tired. Every bone is his body has ached for two weeks, as though all the trials of the past year are catching up to him at once, and there are moments he can barely breathe for grief, moments he has to close his eyes and remind himself forcibly that it’s over, they’ve won, he can let go now. He’s not sure how — he’s not sure he’s ever known — but he is sure that he can’t keep coming home to this mausoleum without becoming part of it himself.

It was Sirius’s place, and Harry feels hideous guilt rise in his throat at the solicitor’s office the next afternoon, but the guy’s old school, a professional, a brusque almost-kindness to his frank practicality and lack of judgement. He says, “Of course, Mr. Potter,” and “Makes perfect sense, Mr. Potter,” and tells Harry they can ensure the house goes to someone who will preserve it, take care of it, keep Kreacher on — with a wage, even, if he’ll take it, though Harry sincerely doubts he ever will. It doesn’t feel like enough, but nothing has felt like enough for so long now that Harry doesn’t think it matters very much. He signs some documents and agrees on some figures and Mr. Bracefoot shakes his hand, says, “I think you’ve made an excellent decision, Mr. Potter, I’ll Owl you when the right offer comes in,” before his secretary sees Harry out the door.

Harry Apparates almost at random to a Muggle neighborhood near the Leaky, close enough that he can walk to Diagon Alley if he likes but not so close that he has to worry that his neighbors will know who he is and sell pictures of him buying milk to the Prophet. He prowls the streets looking for for-sale signs and then buys the first place he finds that’s immediately available, a one-bedroom with creaky pipes and a cramped kitchen in this old building’s fourth floor. It has little to recommend to it, but it's never been occupied by anyone who has since died horribly on his behalf; that, for Harry, is quality enough.

He gets a job as an Auror, because it’s what he always said he would do. He goes down to the pub with Ron and Hermione and Ginny, brings Ginny back to his flat with him after, because it’s what he always thought he would do. He testifies at a few trials —  Alecto and Amycus Carrow to convict, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy for acquittal — because it’s the sort of thing he thinks the person he wants to be would do, and he knows he has to try.

Six months later Mr. Bracefoot Owls him to say that a buyer has made an offer on the Black estate, complete with a verifiable blood claim and an offered Unbreakable not to do any intentional harm to the structure or magic of the house. Harry waives the Unbreakable and signs the papers by Owl for the sake of expediency, heaves a sigh of relief as he watches the bird disappear on the horizon.

Hermione tells him, a year or so later, that it’s been turned into some sort of museum. Harry’s only half-listening when she says it, busy watching with narrowed eyes as Ginny and Neville linger a little too long together at the bar, but he turns to her when she asks if he thinks he might ever like to go and see it. Her gaze is sharp, almost probing, and he thinks this might be one of those things where she’s worried he doesn’t have — closure, or something.

“Honestly, Hermione,” he says, with a wincing little shrug, “if I never go back to that house again, it’ll be too soon.”

She nods slowly, and that’s the end of that. And if sometimes, when his walls feel too thin and his surroundings too ordinary, his pipes too loud and his kitchen too small, Harry thinks about what the old relic might’ve been like clean of all the loss it stood for — well. He’s only human, after all. It’s natural to wonder.