Harry disappears from the wizarding world for a little while after the fall of Voldemort and only like Ron Hermione and Ginny know where he’s gone
but he’s traveling. he considered backpacking Europe, but then he realized he’d had enough of camping for at least twenty years, so he teaches himself to drive and pulls enough strings to get himself an American drivers’ license and and then he’s off on a roadtrip in a beat-up car that’s still fast as anything. he doesn’t use magic if he can help it because it feels tainted, feels like it belongs to the war, feels like it marks him out again as someone with power and responsibility and the weight of a world on his shoulders. and for now he wants to find out what it is not to be a world-saving wizard, but just to be Harry.
and he meets a lot of strangers (he figures it’s safe enough picking up hitchhikers when they’re more than likely muggles and he’s got his wand if anything bad happens) and he learns what it’s like to be just another face, another car on the road and he learns all sorts of stuff on the radio, tries every genre out there. and it’s nice to listen to stuff that isn’t specifically designed to remind him of the wizarding world, but he finds so much of it surprisingly relatable and sometimes he just breaks down sobbing at the wheel and has to pull over.
and one of the hitchhikers he picks up is a veteran, and Harry doesn’t tell him much but he does say that he’s been a soldier, too, and it’s hard adjusting to a life that you never thought would exist because things were so hard that you could not imagine yourself after. hard to think about settling down and marrying the girl you thought you’d die loving. hard to think that not everyone around you is an enemy. were you a prisoner of war? the veteran asks. or undercover? both, says Harry. and lost, not knowing whether I was on the run or on a mission that was taking a year. I got back alive in the end but something—something’s definitely dead, you know?
how old are you, says the veteran. I’m eighteen, says Harry. the veteran raises his eyebrows. but they both know that some armies, some wars, don’t care about your age.
I think the dead thing is me, Harry says one day, when he’s going seventy in a fifty-five mile zone and the sun is setting in their eyes. when I killed the enemy, I killed myself.
and the veteran looks at him for a very long moment and Harry slows down and looks back at him and at last the man says, no. no, you lived. and you’re going to keep living, son, and one day you’ll be ready to marry that girl, if you love her, and now that you’ve got out of the war, it’s time to get the war out of you.
(they almost have a wreck when Harry pulls over to the side of the road, gets out, sits in the grass and laughs through his tears. flowers start to spring up around him and he feels the magic in his core, but this time it’s peaceful and pure and fun. unspoiled. and he knows it won’t always feel this way but for now things are leaking out of him, joyful things, because he is the boy who lived again, the boy who lived after the war.)
the man keeps a flower, one that he picks after Harry gets up, in his breast pocket. he brings it home and it’s not wilted, so he sticks it in a book to preserve and press it. as he gets older, he goes back to that book - one on history, focusing on wars, and sees exactly where he put it. in the section about coming home and the joys of victory. he thinks about it every day until he meets Harry again at that white kings cross station, holding that flower out to him.