Harry isn’t quite out of his teens when it fully hits him—the war, the blood and the guts spread across the corridors of Hogwarts, the screams and sobs, the nightmares, the shadows that never seem to leave him.
It’s too much.
He gets a flat in London—Muggle London. Hermione and the Weasleys give him space. Kingsley ensures the wizarding world gives him privacy. Not that some aren’t reluctant. Rita Skeeter releases articles every day, wondering when their Boy Who Lived will return.
But Harry doesn’t see those articles.
He tries to forget who he is for awhile.
His flat is cozy. He stuffs it with plants and paintings and books. He has a cat (or three). He wears sweaters and blazers with corduroy pants. He goes to the market every morning to buy fruits and vegetables. That’s where he meets the kindly old woman who lives down the street.
She lived through World War II and so many other wars, wars that Harry has never experienced but can only imagine.
She goes to his house and she goes to hers. There’s always tea and small cakes and dinners and cocoa—apparently she believes that a teenager needs cocoa—and baking and reading and knitting.
Harry uses magic to brew the cocoa one day, not realizing that she’s standing in the doorway. She calms him by telling him that she knows all about magic.
Their conversations shift after that. They talk about their favorite creatures and how hard it was to watch them perish before their eyes. They talk about the wall that seemingly gave way to let them enter the magical world. They talk about lions and friends and family and love and betrayals and life and death.
“When did you leave?” Harry asks one day.
She pauses, a hand resting on his cat’s head. After a moment, she looks up with a heaviness in her eyes, a heaviness that Harry sees when he looks in the mirror everyday.
“I was young,” she says. “Younger than you are now. But I had already grown up. I didn’t want to leave, not really, but it became too much.”
“Do you regret it?”
“Some days I do, some days I don’t.”
It’s a few months later, when he’s helping her shovel the first snow from her walkway, that he asks, “Did you ever try going back?”
“Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t,” she says, shoving a cup of cocoa into his hands. “I was shut out as soon as I hesitated.”
He pauses, nearly dropping the cocoa, before whispering, “That’s horrible.”
“What about you?” She escorts him inside, her cane tapping against the floor that he’s magically heated to warm her feet. “Would you be welcomed back?”
“Oh, yeah,” Harry says. “Til they turn on me because they don’t like the color of my shirt or because I sneezed the wrong way or because—you name it.”
She laughs and he smiles.
“Imagine that,” she softly says. “Rulers of our worlds and we’re not even allowed in them.”
He does go back to the wizarding world, of course, but he never forgets his London flat. He visits the street from time to time, knowing that Susan Pevensie will be there, ready to push a cup of cocoa into his hands.