"To being slaves to the Ministry," said Seamus, crashing his mug against Dean's. "May we toil in their embrace forever."
That, thought Dean, might well be exactly what Seamus did. He might never have dreamed of, talked about or wanted to end up working for the Ministry, but he seemed to like it well enough. And if it was dead boring, well, Seamus had quite the personal life to make up for it.
"I reckon you've almost finished your project by now," Seamus went on, wiping the foam off his upper lip with a half-arsed swipe with the back of his hand. "You've been at it for ages."
"You're not finished? Honestly, Dean, it's taking you longer to paint the thing than it took to fight the war in the first place."
Dean tightened his fist on his mug, and refused to meet Seamus's eyes.
"Sorry," said Seamus. "Sorry. So... what's next for you, then? Take the British art world by storm? No, no, you've likely been spoiled by renewing paints and portraits that'll tell you themselves if you've missed a spot, haven't you?"
"They don't move right away, you know," Dean told him. "There's a spell to do, after."
"Yes, yes, I know. But I was right about the renewing paints, wasn't I?"
Dean had to give him a smile at that. "Yes, you were right about the renewing paints. You know, my mum about had a fit the first time she saw them."
"You think she'd be pleased, not having to spend so much money on you and all your paints and pencils and canvas and--"
"My fa-- my dad as well," said Dean.
"Right," said Seamus. "Right. Though I suppose no one else would know about the paints if you painted in private...."
"It doesn't matter anyway, Seamus. High profile in the Muggle world? Even the most careful wizard's bound to slip up."
"The wizarding world's where you belong, anyhow," said Seamus. "There's plenty of work for an artist here, even once you've finished the Ministry's commission."
"I'm not done yet anyhow," said Dean.
The mural took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling and end to end, with three-quarters of it -- no, more than that -- completed. Wizards duelling, the dead lying still on the ground, flashes and blood and smoke everywhere... it was as true to reality as Dean dared to be while still painting something the wizarding public wouldn't shrink from.
Dead centre of the mural stood the heroic figure of Harry Potter, wand trained on a kneeling Voldemort, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. That wasn't how it happened, of course, but it was true enough to the spirit of the confrontation, and Dean wasn't an historian, he was an artist.
It was the bottom right, and it alone, that was little more than empty space. He'd sketched in a few figures, those on the fringes, but most of it was utterly blank, whitewashed and empty. Dean did to his mural what he could not do to his memory.
"Harry Potter's friend is back! Has Harry Potter's friend come back to paint more of Dobby's great battle?"
Dean hadn't told Seamus the entire truth about that spell. Like it or not, if the desire was strong enough and the magic was there, a portrait could apparently come to life on its own. He'd only had it happen this once, and was quite sure he hoped it would not happen again.
"Hush up," muttered Dean under his breath, picking up a fresh brush and twirling it round his fingers. The sun was just beginning to peek through the high, leaded windows at his back, slowly illuminating his work. It might be the greatest thing Dean ever did, if he ever managed to finish.
"If Harry's Potter's friend has forgotten, Dobby can tell him what happened! Dobby is having a very good memory."
"I haven't forgotten," said Dean, pointing his brush like a wand, as though he could finish his work now with no more than a wave of it and spare himself the ordeal. "And you might as well call me Dean."
"Dobby would be very happy to call you Harry Potter's friend Dean!"
"Forget it," muttered Dean, and reached for his paints. He could fill in the ground at Lavender's feet, and the half-scorched oak tree nearby that he would never, could never, forget. He could do those things at least in exquisite detail, even if no one ever knew that it was the little details that were the correct ones.
"Harry Potter's friend Dean looks sad. Can Dobby be doing anything for him? Can Dobby be getting him anything?"
"You can't do that anymore," Dean reminded him. "You're paint. And can you try not to wander into the part I'm working on? I might accidentally give you an extra ear."
"Dobby is not needing an extra ear! Dobby is happy with having only two!"
"Then stay put," said Dean. "Or I'll exile you to the painting of the three dogs in my mum's living room. And believe me, you'd not see me again till I'm finished here."
"Harry Potter's friend Dean is not liking his family?"
"I like them fine," said Dean. "I'm just not sure I know them anymore."
"I thought you had a date tonight."
"I did," said Seamus, stealing Dean's pint. "Been and gone, over and done. And do remind me not to let Weasley set me up with any of his Romanian dragon-herding colleagues again."
"You know, they don't actually herd dragons there. More like contain them, really."
"Makes no difference, the woman was built like Gryffindor Tower."
"Thought you liked 'em that way," Dean teased him, taking his drink back before Seamus finished the whole bloody thing. "How's work?"
"Same as always," said Seamus cheerfully. "Little bit of paperwork, little bit of fresh air, little bit of making nice with the local folk. You?"
"Lousy," admitted Dean, and drained his drink.
"What, did you run out of cerulean blue or something, mate?" laughed Seamus. "How can being a great artiste be lousy?"
"When you're the bloke who has to recreate the last battle," snapped Dean. "Honestly, Seamus, you joke about it all the time but can you even imagine? I get nightmares."
"We all get nightmares, Dean."
"So just imagine how bad they'd be if you were going back there every day and seeing it all over again."
Seamus pressed his lips together. "Hadn't thought about it like that," he admitted after a moment. "Had the idea you were just doing portraits, you know? Thought it might've been nice for you, actually, to see Harry's face again. Parvati's. Dumbledore's. You know? Like having all your mates back again."
"No, it's not like that at all," he said. "And you of all people know what I went through during that battle, Seamus. It's reliving that all over again, as well."
"There are worse things than discovering your father was a wizard, Dean."
"A wizard murdered by Voldemort's minions during the first war," Dean clarified. A year later and the anger of that moment, that revelation, still hadn't left him. "And that wasn't all I learned."
Seamus looked like he wanted to tell him there were still worse things, but he wisely kept his mouth shut. There had certainly been worse things, and there would be again, but nothing would ever shift his world so much as that one moment.
"You," Seamus said finally, "look like a man who needs another drink."
The empty space grew smaller as Dean slapped paint around the edges, but not by much. Still, the mural now included the last stand of Cho Chang, and Dean took great pride in depicting her taking on two werewolves simultaneously. She might have fallen, but she took both of them with her when she did.
"Harry Potter's friend Dean does not look happy! Is there anything that Dobby can be doing to help?"
Dean resisted the urge to answer "stop moving" and added some more grass at Cho's feet. "What are you doing here, Dobby?" he asked finally, before sticking his brush between his teeth and searching for a rag to wipe his hands with.
"Dobby is fighting at the feet of Harry Potter!" he said proudly. "Dobby is hurting the bad wizards."
Dean gritted his teeth around the paintbrush and finally removed it again, wiping his palms on his robes. "But you know you're a portrait, right? You know I painted you?"
"Dobby is the first house-elf ever to be a war hero!" said Dobby. "Dobby is very proud to be painted by Harry Potter's friend Dean."
"But why are you here?" he asked again. "Where did you come from?"
"Dobby came from Harry Potter's friend Dean's paintbrush!" he said. "Dobby found it very hard to wait until Harry Potter's friend Dean was finished. Dobby is the first house-elf to be a war hero!"
That was probably as much answer as Dean was going to get; he wasn't sure he'd actually expected Dobby to know how he'd got there, without any help. But then there was a lot about house-elves that wizards didn't know, and Dean didn't imagine they had anyone paint them very often.
"Is Harry Potter's friend Dean almost finished with the others?"
"It's just Dean," he muttered, staring at the hole in the portrait. "Just... Dean. And no, I'm not almost finished with the others yet."
Dobby abandoned his battle with Nagini and wandered over to the edge of the white space. The edge of his world. "Dobby is thinking there is not much left for Dean to paint."
"No, I suppose there isn't," Dean had to admit. "A few things here, a few things there. Then him. And me."
Seamus didn't mind if Dean got multihued fingerprints on the walls of his flat and Dean didn't mind if Seamus burned the tea again and they had to get takeaway, which were two of the many reasons they got on as well as they did.
"You need to get a telly," Dean told him, for what he was sure had to be the tenth time, or maybe the twentieth. "There's a match on tonight, we could be watching."
"I can't believe you've had all these years of Quidditch and you still want to watch football on the telly," said Seamus.
"Oh hush up," said Dean. "You know you watch with your dad when you're home. And I'd watch Quidditch on the telly if they'd show the matches."
"Wouldn't that be a sight," laughed Seamus, dropping a napkin in Dean's lap before settling in next to him on the sofa. "Can you imagine all the Muggles, watching Quidditch on the telly?"
"I know what I would've thought of that, as a kid," said Dean. "My mum and dad would watch now, though, if it was on."
"Would they?" Seamus asked him. "Even though you decided to become an artist and not an International Quidditch Sensation?"
Dean gave him a friendly shove. "I was only ever good enough for Hogwarts," he said.
"Surprised you even know what they would or wouldn't do," said Seamus mildly. "Have you even been there in a month?"
"I've been busy," said Dean. "They understand. It's weird there now anyhow."
"You know you're being a complete twat, right?" said Seamus. "He's still your dad."
"Of course I know that," Dean snapped. "I always knew my mum met him after I was born, even before she told me. Knowing who my father was now doesn't change who my dad is."
"Was just wondering," said Seamus, around a mouthful of curry. "You don't talk about that much."
"There's not much to talk about," said Dean, and that was all he said, until the lack of a telly in the background made him want to fill the silence. "You're a pretty happy bloke, right, Seamus?"
"What?" he said, letting a bit of food fall from his lips and back onto his fork. "I suppose I am, more or less. Why?"
"Would you say you have any regrets, do you think?"
"Don't think there's a bloke out there who hasn't got regrets," he said. "What's this about?"
"I mean big regrets," said Dean. "Not regretting not asking Parvati out in fourth year, or regretting having leftover pizza for breakfast. Life-changing regrets."
"I don't know," said Seamus, after a short pause. "I suppose I don't. At least, nothing that haunts me. Do you, is that what this is about?"
"Supposing you did," Dean went on. "Supposing you had a big regret, what do you think you'd do about it?"
"I don't think I'd do anything about it," said Seamus. "There probably wouldn't be anything I could do about it. That's why it's a regret, yeah? Because you already missed your chance."
Dean nodded. "Suppose you're right," he said, picking at the remains of his food. "I still think you need to get a telly."
"Harry Potter's friend Dean is working very hard tonight," said Dobby, doing a kind of an odd hop, or maybe a dance, around the stump Dean had painted into the mural the day before. "Harry Potter's friend Dean is missing his supper!"
"Harry Potter's friend Dean isn't hungry," he said, before shaking his head at himself. "You see what you're doing to me? I'm not hungry, Dobby. I had a big lunch."
"Dobby is thinking Harry Potter's friend Dean is not eating at all. Dobby would be bringing him food if Dobby still could."
"Really, I'm not hungry," he said. "And I told you, Dobby, just call me Dean. It'll save a lot of time."
"But Dobby has nothing but time!" he said, turning those big, wide eyes right on Dean. "Is Dean finishing the painting tonight?"
"No, Dean is-- No, I'm not finishing tonight," he said sharply. There was really only one thing left to paint, though.
"Is Dean frightened of painting himself?" Dobby asked him. "Dobby is thinking that Dean must have a reason for not finishing already."
"I'm not frightened," he insisted. "I am not."
"Dobby is telling him that he doesn't have to be frightened. Dean did a very good job painting Dobby. Dobby is thinking he will do an even better job painting himself."
Dean half-laughed and half-sobbed into his sleeve. "Thank you, Dobby," he said. "But I'm not afraid of painting myself badly."
"Dean did a very good job on Harry Potter, as well. Harry Potter was the best wizard Dobby ever knew."
"Best wizard Dean ever knew, either," he said, but the truth was that he didn't think he'd ever really known Harry Potter, and now he never would. The truth was, he wasn't sure if he'd ever known himself really well either. "Will you be sad, when I'm finished?"
"Of course Dobby won't be being sad!" he said indignantly. "When Dean is finished Dobby will have many more people to talk to. Dobby will be able to speak to the great Harry Potter again!"
"Right," said Dean, looking over his work. But he wasn't sure the Ministry was ever going to encourage anyone to animate this painting.
"I'll be done by the end of the week," Dean told Seamus over tea and biscuits in the Ministry cafeteria.
"It's about bloody time," said Seamus. "Will I finally get to see it, or will I have to wait and see it with everyone else when the Ministry unveils it."
"I'll try to get you in," Dean promised him. "Don't know why you'd want to, though. You know what I've been painting."
"I do," agreed Seamus. "And while the rest of my mates were fighting the last battle against Voldemort and his followers, I was laid up in St. Mungo's for a month. I want to see it, Dean, and not just because you're the one who painted it. I want to see with my own eyes what happened."
"It's not all exactly right," Dean confessed. "You can't paint eviscerations on the Ministry walls."
"Doesn't matter if it's exactly right, I know you did it exactly the way it's meant to be done," said Seamus. "And I want to see it. I know you've told me about it, and others have told me about it, but I need to see it, at least one time."
Dean nodded, and in a way he thought he understood. "I've just got one corner left to do. I've just got one corner left, where I fought with him. With that bastard Rathbone."
"With your uncle," said Seamus, looking as solemn as Dean had ever seen him.
"With my father's killer."
"You should've done that bit first," said Seamus. "Got it done and over with, instead of building it up in your head. You've been worrying about it for ages, haven't you?"
Dean shook his head. "I couldn't have done it first," he said. "I wasn't ready then. But I've got to now, haven't I? Or it won't ever be done."
"If you weren't ready then, are you sure you're ready now?" Seamus asked him. "You've been at it ages, but it's a bloody huge mural and I bet the Ministry wouldn't even know if you took a bit of time...."
"No, I'm ready," said Dean. "As much as I'm going to be, anyhow. I've just got to go and get it done."
"Just do what you need to do," said Seamus. If only Dean knew what that was.
It was nearly sunset when Dean picked up a paintbrush, stared at the wall and finally started to work. The little things came out first: a stone, a broken wand underfoot. He sketched in two full bodies and gave them no detail at all, like a pair of ghosts at the edge of the battlefield.
Then he almost walked away.
Months of escalation, skirmishes and injuries and days and nights of plotting, and this was what it came to. A crumbling house, an open meadow and all of them rushing each other at once. And Dean, newly-minted wizard and faithful member of the Order, coming up against one thing he hadn't ever imagined he would face.
You don't know who I am, do you?
He did the eyes first, slashes of brown and black, and built the smug face around that, the curly hair, the broad shoulders. He remembered every detail.
You're the spitting image of your father, did you know that? He looked just like you, when he had his wand trained on me. And just like you, he was easy to subdue.
"I look nothing like my father," Dean said aloud, and painted himself in, scared but defiant, unwilling to back down. His father who had been safe at home with his mother, cradled in as many protections as Dean could give them. Not his father who had once been a wizard, who had once stood up to these same men, in a different war.
You look an awful lot like me, too, but then the Rathbones always did have a strong family resemblance.
"And I look nothing like you."
He did, of course; the same eyes, the same chin, the same cheekbones. But as Dean painted the two of them, in a flurry of brown and green and red, the resemblance faded to nothing. He painted a slash on Rathbone's belly, red and seeping, a gash on his cheek, a cut across his throat.
"Nothing like you," he said, again and again as he added more detail, more cuts, more fire, more hatred.
Light was just beginning to show through the windows when Dean finally stood back and surveyed his work. Slashes and burns and blood and horror, and the green of the killing curse just beginning to emerge from his wand. Just as he'd imagined so many times.
"Is Harry Potter's friend Dean finished now?" Dobby asked him, once Dean had been standing there for a very long time.
Dean stared and stared and finally shook his head. "No," he said. "That's not how it happened. I need to start all over again."
"Dean drew it wrong?"
Yes, Dean drew it wrong. Dean drew everything he'd always imagined doing, all the things he wished he'd done in that moment instead of freezing, and all of them were wrong. He'd thought he would feel better, avenging his father, killing the Death Eater, making everything right.
But in the end, he wasn't sorry he'd done things exactly the way he had, and a life in Azkaban was better punishment than death by Dean's hand.
"Harry Potter's friend Dean is not a killer," said Dobby. "Harry Potter's friend Dean will do it right this time."
And so Dean started again.
"You look well rested," said Seamus, bumping his shoulder against Dean's once he found him in the sea of people.
"No more nightmares," said Dean, looking up at the fully draped wall. "At least, nothing other than the normal sort."
"We all get those," said Seamus. "Can't believe you're finally finished. I hope the Ministry paid you overtime."
"They paid well enough," said Dean vaguely. "After all, there weren't a lot of other people who could've done the job." And fewer still who would have. Seamus just bumped him again, and fell silent.
"And now," said Minister Scrimgeour, "in honour of all the brave witches and wizards who fell fighting You-Know-Who, I present The Last Battle."
The cloth vanished and Dean's work was displayed, to the collective gasp of the crowd. It was gratifying, in a way, that his work could have such an effect, but what made Dean smile was the image of Dobby, hopping around and waving.
"Did someone cast--"
"Is he supposed to--"
Dean's smile just grew wider. The Ministry might not have wanted to bring this particular scene to life, but Dean had no doubt that if it could be managed at all, Dobby could do it all on his own.
"Good job, mate," said Seamus, as the Minister for Magic quieted everybody down and started in on his carefully prepared speech. "It's magnificent. And... is that Dobby?"
"He's been keeping me company," admitted Dean. "Powerful magical creatures, those house-elves."
"I think Neville's halfway to bursting out laughing," said Seamus. "Good job. I haven't seen him like that in... since the war." They weren't all laughing, of course. Most people looked up at the mural with a kind of misty-eyed horror and awe, that was no more or less than Dean might have expected. There were a lot of memories on that wall, and very few of them good ones.
"Think any of these people will ever come back to look at it again?" Dean asked Seamus, as the Minister for Magic reached the midpoint of his speech.
"No," admitted Seamus. "But their children will, and then their children's children will, and that's what matters, isn't it, mate?"
"I'll come," said Dean, and gave Dobby a last wave before making his way out of the crowd, out of the hall, out of the Ministry.
It was done.