Pairing/s: Harry/Draco, Harry/OC
Warning(s): Character death, although the death has occurred before the story begins
Length: 10,000 words
Summary: Harry staggers under a burden of grief, trying both to remember and to forget.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction set in the Harry Potter universe – all recognizable characters and settings are the property of J. K. Rowling and her associates. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is made from this work. Please observe your local laws with regards to the age-limit and content of this work.
Author's Notes: This story is about grieving, but it’s also about healing. Even against all odds.
NOBODY’S EVER DIED OF A BROKEN HEART
They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance . . .
Breathe, he tells himself. Just breathe.
Harry rolls over on to his back and stares at the ceiling. In the kitchen, the refrigerator hums while out on the street a car door slams. He’s been lying here since he got home from work. It’s no longer day, and the lights from passing cars slide along his wall like searchlights. The neon signs have come on. The rain drops on his window reflect their colours.
He rolls back on to his stomach and pushes himself up from the mattress. In the bathroom he opens the cabinet and reaches for one bottle and then another, but not the third. Not tonight. It takes him three tries to twist the cap off the first bottle. He concentrates harder. There’s no reason this should be difficult. The uppers are flesh-coloured capsules. He takes four. He’s taken more, but tonight he feels okay, like maybe he could wait another couple of days before he died. He takes only two downers. Tomorrow he has things to do. Letters to draft, groceries to buy, that sort of thing.
He turns on the tap and watches the water swirl down the drain as he brushes his teeth. There’s blood when he spits into the basin. His gums are bleeding. He looks up. His face in the mirror is paler than usual, and his eyes look like drops of antifreeze on snow. The florescent bulb flickers. Everything looks sharp around the edges, even the round lenses of his glasses. The wall behind him is covered with white tiles held together with greying grout. He pulls the string on the light, and the bathroom goes dark. For a moment, he’s blinded and has to use a hand to find the door. It reminds him of something the grief counsellor said at yesterday’s meeting. He can’t remember the precise phrase. Something about groping in the night. Or had those been Martin’s words, a line from one of his poems? Harry can’t remember.
Outside, the rain has turned to drizzle. He tilts his head back and welcomes its wet breath on his face. Above him, the buildings loom like mountains. They sway slightly, and he closes his eyes. He’s not ready yet for the pills’ disorientation. The street shines. Cars swish past. He turns up his collar and starts walking. Somewhere behind him, tires screech and a voice yells out in frustration. There is the sound of honking and people laughing. The smell of cooking meat escapes the door of a restaurant when its patrons step in off the street, shaking their umbrellas. His stomach growls and he buys a Mars bar at the newsstand. It’s too sweet, but he chews it diligently all the same. In between bites, he swigs a can of Irn Bru, throwing it in an over full bin when it’s empty.
As too often happens, he’d seen Draco on the bus today. His hair had partially escaped a very un-Draco-like wool cap. He was sitting with his head against the window listening to an iPod. Harry had sat behind him, swallowing around the lump in his throat. Draco must not turn his head. Harry must not call out his name. Every time he has, Draco turns and he’s no longer Draco. He’s a stranger with a couple of Draco’s features. Sometimes the hair, sometimes the profile, and once and while the hands.
Harry’s waved through at the door even though there’s a queue and slips the bouncer a tenner. He usually gives the man twenty quid, but he’d forgot to visit the ATM on his way home. Inside, the air is heavy and damp as people’s clothes steam in the heat of the overhead lights. He sees Martin by the bar and pushes his way through the crowd. Martin is dressed as he always is in black jeans and a green shirt. He’s already started drinking. Harry can taste gin in his casual kiss. Neither of them dance, so they find a table in the corner. Martin tells him about his day. He teaches poetry to the young punks in Feltham Prison. It’s a new program, and he’s enthusiastic about its prospects. Neither of them mentions the latest rejection letter from his publisher. Harry tells him that he spilled coffee in his lap and scalded his balls. They laugh and sip their drinks. The dullness of Harry’s job is a running joke.
The club’s doors close on the exclamations of those cut off in the queue, and the overhead lights go out and the party lights come on. Martin orders them both another drink. After the first few sips, Harry can feel his eyes closing. His limbs are heavy and his head tilts back against his chair. Martin chuckles and asks which pills Harry had taken. Harry smiles enigmatically, but in truth he can’t remember.
Draco would not have approved of the pills. Harry can imagine his frown even as he feigns indifference. You’re already fucked up enough as it is, he’d say. But when Harry would look for the pills later, they’d be gone. Draco’s way of dealing with Harry’s post-War depressions was to pretend to ignore them. But in the wee hours before dawn, after another nightmare, he’d feel Draco’s lips on his forehead and a finger tracing the line of his jaw. Shush, he’d say. You’re safe and I’m here. It’s all over, Harry. It’s all over, love.
Martin plants a booted foot on the bench between Harry’s legs and leans back, surveying the room.
“Where’d they find those scrubbers?” he asks, gesturing with his chin to a group of fag hags holding blue martinis with maraschino cherries in them.
Harry picks his head up and stares at them until he can remember what he’d meant to say. “They’re harmless.”
“Never said they weren’t. You’re always looking at everything as though it might jump up and bite you,” Martin says. He pokes at the ice cubes in his glass with a dirty fork that had been on the table when they got there.
He has no idea how Draco died. Harry’s never told him.
Harry snorts and lets his head fall back again. He feels relaxed and charitable to the world, and he settles in to enjoy it. He knows from experience that it won’t last. Tomorrow morning, he’ll pretend to be asleep when Martin kisses his cheek and leaves. What he can’t explain to Martin or to anyone else in this magicless world is that no object is inert, no boundary impermeable. Even a man like Martin who works with rhymes for a living could never imagine that words can literally kill. If Harry looks at everything as though it might jump up and bite him, there’s a very good reason for it.
They say the process is not the same for everyone and sometimes the stages don’t occur in their “right” order . . .
Harry’s job pays well, but it’s incapable of distracting him from his thoughts. His phone seldom rings, and unless he’s got his “grief group” as he’s dubbed it, he eats his lunch at his desk. The view through his window is of another office building. He often sees people walking around, passing from one window to the next. They make him think of characters in a soundless movie, jerking from frame to frame. He types letters of institutional apology. They always begin with the words “We regret . . . .” Sometimes followed by “to inform you” and other times “we can no longer . . . .” Once, for the sake of variety, he’d written “We regret to inform you that we regret nothing.”
When it rains, his windows fog up, and he sometimes writes a name and then erases it with his sleeve. He writes it again. The people across from him would only see an unintelligible word, possibly an Irish name. O’ something.
He never takes the pills at work. Instead, he wears his consciousness like a hair shirt and watches his fingers move over the keyboard. He always leaves the second “t” out of “settlement” and has to go back to correct it. The words on the back of his hand remind him that he cannot forget because to forget would be a lie. His other hand is ringless, but there’s still a band of white around the base of his finger and a slight indentation that will not go away. Outside his office door, the secretaries giggle, and he can hear the gurgle of the water cooler. There’s a toy reindeer on a nearby filing cabinet that is motion sensitive and sings “Rudolph” every time someone walks by.
Night falls quickly this time of year. Harry watches it with relief. He prefers darkness. Not because he’s morbid but because he feels anonymous as he slips through streets and alleyways back to his flat. It’s in an old building with crumbling steps, but the foyer is grand if faded. Like an old madam, Martin says. He takes the lift to the third floor, and unlocks the door to his shabby little studio flat. Nobody’s there. Sometimes this still surprises him. He dreads the day that it won’t.
He’s not going out tonight. In the kitchen, he doesn’t bother to turn on the overhead light, flicking on the light above the cooker instead. There are leftovers in the refrigerator, and he eats them cold. The tap is loose again, and its drip, drip, drip is in counter time with the clock beside the bed. It will drive him mad if he doesn’t do something about it. Folding a dishtowel, he positions it over the drain. Tonight he will take the pills from the other bottle. The third bottle. The bottle that still hums with magic.
Even before the pills take full effect, Harry feels the mattress dip as someone sits down. He can smell soap and sweat and warm skin. His heart beats faster, and he reaches out, but he is still clear-headed enough to remember that the pills only let him see, hear and smell, but not speak, not touch. Suddenly everything is clearer. He can hear again the dripping of the sink as the drops strike the wet towel. He can hear the upstairs tenant flush his toilet and someone out in the street ask someone else for a fag. He can smell the scent of cardamom from the Indian restaurant two blocks away. He can see a hair crack in the ceiling and the light from the hallway shining through the keyhole. Beside him, Draco pulls off his tie and unbuttons his shirt. The glow of the bedside clock is almost blinding. It casts a sickly glow on Draco’s skin and reflects off his cufflinks. As he concentrates on the shirt buttons, his hair falls around his face. He takes his time. Draco had never rushed anything if he could help it. Especially not when it came to food and sex. His chest is now bare, and he slips the shirt off his shoulders. As in life, the muscles in his arms are defined but not bulky. No one would ever call him slight as they had when he was younger, but he certainly wasn’t a blond version of Crabbe. Draco reaches for his buckle. It clinks open, and he unzips his trousers. The knuckles on his right hand are bruised and scraped. Harry is relieved. Sometimes the wounds Draco appears with are far worse. He doesn’t know if this is a defect in the pills or whether Draco comes to him from the grave and has to dig his way out.
The rain is streaming down Harry’s windows in rivulets, leaving streaks of living shadow on Draco’s skin. Draco leans his head back against the headboard and closes his eyes as he slides a hand from his chest down over his belly and into his pants. Harry watches as he pleasures himself, and his mouth waters painfully. He can remember Draco’s taste and the smell of the hair around the base of his cock. He can remember the way Draco used to squirm and slap at his head when Harry jabbed his tongue into his navel. He can remember Draco’s look of debauched concentration as he made himself come on Harry’s face. Nothing had been off-limits. Nothing had been too violating to try at least once.
Harry’s consumes Draco’s body with his gaze. It is just as he remembers it. He notices he’s removed his shoes and socks. Draco’s ankles are bony and his toes too long. Harry remembers sliding his tongue between them, flicking the rarely-touched skin with the tip. He remembers the calloused lines above Draco’s heels. They’d often been blistered because he could never find shoes that fit properly no matter how many Transfiguration spells he cast. Harry would bite those blisters. He’d tenderly tighten his jaw until they burst. Draco would swear and try to pull his foot away, but it only made Harry hold on tighter.
Draco. Harry would say his name aloud, but the pills aren’t strong enough to permit him to. If he tried to speak, he’d be thrown back into reality like a rider bucked from a horse. He knows. He’d tried once.
A flush has appeared on Draco’s chest. Harry knows from memory that the skin there is hot and beneath it his heart stutters alarmingly. Draco had once told him that he’d been sickly as a child. Something to do with valves and chambers. Harry had known him when he was young. He’d never thought to imagine his rival as anything less than virulently alive, but his hand on his lover’s chest told him otherwise. If he could, he would have ripped Draco’s ribs apart and kissed his beating heart. Instead, all he could do was reach a grease-slicked forearm into his colon and strain with his fingers to find a deeper pulse than the one at Draco’s throat. Harry’s hand flexes into a fist involuntarily while beside him, Draco comes with a soft cry.
Harry covers his face with his palms and pulls at the roots of his hair as he screams.
Everyone grieves. To grieve does not mean you’re weak. To be strong does not mean you have to forget . . .
The market is too noisy and too colourful. He knows he looks like an arsehole, but Harry wears dark glasses all the same. He’s never liked crowds, and the aversion has only grown worse with time. The boxes in the cereal isle are too vivid. The produce is limp and bruised. He takes a wide circle around the group of people flocked at the meat counter. The music is instrumental versions of eighties pop tunes. It is here more than at any other place that he thinks he will go mad.
Shopping with Draco in Muggle markets had been a nightmare. He was always elbowing fellow patrons in the side, ramming their carts or running over their heels with his. Harry had followed behind apologising and picking up the items Draco had knocked from the shelves. At the check-out, Draco would read the trashy tabloids aloud and make inappropriate comments to the people around them. At first Harry had thought Draco behaved this way in Muggle stores because they were Muggle, but then they’d go to the market at the south end of Diagon Alley, and Draco would do the same things there, except with a wand and a couple of wordless jinxes.
Harry never compares brands or prices. It would require more time than his sanity permits. The food he buys rarely requires more than a kettle, a microwave or a splash of milk. Anything more elaborate is exhausting even to think about. Nearby a baby wails and flings a box on the floor. Its mother looks like she’s one nerve away from a break down. Harry picks up the box and hands it to her. The gratitude she shows him is more than the act deserves. She brushes her limp hair away from her face. Her eyes are friendly. He turns away.
Outside it’s raining again. Puddles shine with petrol. Harry catches the bus and throws his bags on the seat beside him. Now that he’s out of the store, he can take off his shades. He slips them into his pocket. This is the first time he’s worn this jacket since Draco died, and he discovers a piece of paper folded several times. He pulls it out and reads it. It’s a receipt from the same market he’s just left. Milk, bread, eggs, tea, smoked salmon. Harry squeezes it into a wad in his fist. At his stop, he drops it on the floor and grinds it beneath his heel.
Harry fumbles for his key and nearly drops the bag with the eggs in it. Martin’s waiting by the lift. He offers to help, but Harry refuses. The only other person in the lift is a stout woman with a scarf over her head. She smells of exertion and cabbage. She speaks urgently into her mobile in some eastern European language. Harry nods to her when they exit the lift. She doesn’t notice.
Harry is quiet, and he knows that Martin will know what that means. They’re still together because Martin is capable of maintaining a silence. Flopping down in the armchair by the window, Martin shakes out his newspaper and lights one of his unfiltered cigarettes. With the other hand, he absently picks at the rip on the armrest.
Harry unpacks his groceries. His refrigerator is spotless. Its light falls on the kitchen floor, which is not spotless. His other pills, the ones that keep him awake, hadn’t lasted long enough for more than the refrigerator. Next time, he’ll tackle the bathroom. It hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time.
“Listen to this,” Martin says. “Some chap poisoned a co-worker by lacing his cokes with cyanide. I guess he knows now who’d been stealing his lunches. Didn’t kill the bloke though, so they’re only charging him with attempted murder.”
“I wish something like that would happen at my office,” Harry says. “Maybe he’ll end up as one of your students.”
“He’s forty-five. I teach kids, remember? Or as you like to call them ‘little criminals in training.’”
Harry snorts. “Well, they are little criminals in training even if you do manage to get them to memorise Daffodils.”
“I don’t teach Wadsworth,” Martin says and returns his attention to the paper. “In fact, I don’t teach any of those Lake District plonkers.”
Harry chucks the empty bags in the cabinet under the sink. Maybe he should get a cat. He asks Martin if he’s allergic to cats, and he answers no. Draco had been. Harry lifts his glasses and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. Martin hasn’t brought his overnight bag. Harry is relieved. Tonight he feels like a visit from Draco and then taking the pills that make him sleep for fourteen hours. Tomorrow is Saturday.
“You wanna fuck?” Martin asks, turning a page in his paper.
Harry pauses to think for a moment. Does he want to fuck? “Maybe,” he says. “Can I make up my mind after supper?”
“Okay,” Martin says absently. “What’re we having?”
“Salad,” Harry says. “I boiled some eggs a couple weeks ago.”
“A couple of weeks? Are you sure they’re still good?”
Harry shrugs. “Don’t know.”
“Okay, what the hell,” Martin replies. “It’s kind of fun playing Russian roulette with your salads. But if I get the runs, you’re out of luck with the fucking.”
Draco never liked salad. Always said it was too cold and slimy. Harry had never argued with him. He, himself, didn’t like salad enough to stand up on its behalf. And Harry had never liked Draco’s smoked salmon for the same reason. It was cold and slimy. He glances over at Martin and sees him light another cigarette. Tip-toeing to the closet near the bathroom, he opens the door and kneels on the floor. There’s a chest way back behind his shoes. He opens it and reaches for the first thing he can find. The school sweater is well worn. Its wool is pilled where its owner’s arms had rubbed against his sides. Harry buries his face in it and breathes deeply. Behind him he hears a soft cough.
“Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” Martin asks.
Harry doesn’t answer him.
Grief can surface at the most unexpected promptings: A sight, a sound, a smell, learning of the death of a celebrity, hearing a new song on the radio, or watching the tellie.
There had been twenty-six vertebrae in Draco’s spine. Harry knows because he’d kissed every one of them. In Draco’s chest there’d been twenty-four ribs. Harry knows because he’d traced them all with his tongue. Draco’s femur had been whiter than a knuckle clenched into a fist. Harry knows because he saw it when it tore through muscle and skin and cloth.
Harry can’t sleep. Beside him, Martin’s breathing is slow and even. Above him, the young couple are fucking like they always do. Their bed slides on the floor, and the headboard bangs against the wall. Outside, the clubs are letting out. They spill their drunken patrons onto the street. Harry’s mouth is dry, but he cannot find the will to get up and get a glass of water. Tomorrow is Monday. He risks nodding off at his desk if he doesn’t get some sleep.
He and Martin had watched a movie about two Americans in Japan. One was a man somewhere around fifty, and the other was a young woman no older than twenty-one. The setting alternated between the girl’s hotel room on the forty-third floor of the Shinjuku Park Tower and a green park amidst blowing cherry blossoms. It’s because she’s a virgin, Martin said. It’s called symbolism. Harry had shushed him with a kick. Of course it was about virginity. You didn’t have to be an Oxford don to figure that out.
He and Draco had both been virgins. Neither had done more than kiss a girl or two at a school ball. Harry had touched a breast once but only briefly. Neither of them knew what to do, and it was a long time before they grew bold enough to touch anything more taboo than each other’s cocks. They didn’t fuck until almost a year after they’d first kissed. There’d been blow jobs and a lot of frotting, but nothing more adventuresome. Harry had been afraid there’d be pain. Draco had been afraid there’d be mess. When they finally did it, there was neither.
Harry kicks his feet out of the sheets and accidently hits the bed stand with its clock and its empty condom packets and a lamp without a working light bulb which wobbles and almost falls off. It’s too hot in the apartment. He’d crack a window but it would wake Martin. He’s a light sleeper, and Harry doesn’t want to talk. Or fuck. They’d done the latter already. One by one, cars’ headlights slice across the wall and crawl up the ceiling. The intervals between them grow longer and longer.
He is still awake when the alarm on Martin’s mobile goes off. There is a mumbled “fuck” and then another. After a couple minutes, Martin sits up and rubs his face. He’ll almost certainly use Harry’s razor again. Not that Harry minds, but he wishes he’d ask first. He likes Martin, but Harry’s stuff is his stuff. He hears the toilet flush and the shower come on. He closes his eyes and doesn’t open them again until he hears the flat’s door open and then click shut.
Draco had known no boundaries. Harry’s stuff was his stuff, and his stuff was Harry’s. Harry would often put on a pair of his trousers and find receipts from restaurants they’d visited and a few fuzzy Mentos. He’d occasionally find an origami beetle struggling to escape or scraps of paper that said something along the lines of “I know you’re reading this Potter. Pick up some merlot on your way home.” Once, while Draco had been away for a couple weeks, Harry had found a note that simply read “Thank you. For everything.”
Mornings are not Harry’s best time of day. They never were even when Draco would try to lure him out of bed with coffee so strong it should’ve been added to the periodic table. It takes Harry nearly an hour just to turn his clock off snooze mode. Luckily he can tie a four-in-hand with his eyes closed, one of the benefits of a public school education. There’s only Orange Squash in the refrigerator. Harry is certain he’d bought a bottle of Ribena on Friday. Nothing wakes him up like Ribena and black coffee. He sits down on the couch with a bowl of cereal and flicks on the tellie. There’s something hard on the cushion. He reaches under him and pulls out the DVD box. “She’s adrift, her soul’s on ice,” he reads on the back. “He’s jaded and melancholy.” Harry doesn’t recognize either description. Was this the right box? “Both are jet-lagged, and Tokyo’s culture and language push them further off kilter.” Harry chucks the box on the floor and reaches for the remote.
“Grief,” the counsellor said last Friday, “creates its own world. You learn to read its maps and speak its language. It has its own anatomy. For a long time the only people you can really talk to are others who are suffering too. But at some point this must end. You must return to the land of the living. You must find your way home.”
I’m cold, Draco would say when he opened the door of their flat. Come here and warm me up. It was a ritual of theirs, a way to push their natural barriers aside. It was a spell to open the doors in their hearts which were so tightly closed to others. Draco’s nose was always cold, no matter the season. So were his hands. Harry would press them between his own and breathe on them. Every print on Draco’s fingertips was a whorl except his right index finger. There were twenty-seven bones in his hands. Harry knew because he’d looked it up on Wikipedia.
It is not uncommon to feel anger. It is not uncommon to relive the moment you saw or heard about the death . . .
The will had arrived on a Tuesday. It was the last thing Harry had received by owl post before he’d disappeared into the Muggle world. It left him nothing. He hadn’t expected it to. It’d been drafted by the Malfoy family’s solicitor and signed by Draco’s parents when Draco was still a boy. He’d never bothered to draft another one. After all, thirty year-old survivors of the War, by definition, had to be invincible, especially if they’d been Death Eaters spying for the Order. The tone of the will was cold and unambiguous. It left nothing to interpretation. Harry hadn’t bothered to hire his own solicitor to contest it.
Harry braces himself on the edge of the sink in the bathroom down the hall from his office and looks in the mirror. There are only a dozen pills left in the bottle. He’d taken five the night before. It takes more and more these days to achieve the same effect. He’s done the math. Two more nights and he’ll be down to one. After two years, he’ll be down to just one. His face is worn. Even he can see it. Since Draco died, he’s been taking these pills. They were the only magical artefact he’d brought with him. First it had required only one, and then two and so on. And then the pills had required other pills. He took the uppers to complete the tasks of his daily life and downers to sleep at night. He was swallowing handfuls now.
“You alright, mate?”
Harry looks up and sees the reflection of Lawrence the accounts guy in the mirror. He nods.
“Big night last night ‘eh?” Lawrence unzips his fly. The sound of pissing echoes off the tiles. Harry can see his back in the mirror. He’s wearing an ill-fitting jacket. It’s too tight across the shoulders. Its seams look strained. Harry turns on the tap and cups the hot water in his hands. It turns his palms pink. He hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do when the pills run out.
Lawrence shakes his dick and stuffs it back into his fly. He tries again.
“Cold out there, isn’t it?”
“‘Bout froze my tits off this morning.”
Harry smiles wanly and turns off the tap. Beside him, Lawrence turns on his. They stand in awkward silence. At last, Lawrence tugs a towel out of the dispenser and dries his hands.
He clears his throat. “Good day, mate,” he says and leaves.
Back in his office, Harry watches the clock in the right hand corner of his computer screen. On the windowsill is a sandwich-sized paper bag with its top folded several times. When he’s not watching the clock, Harry watches the bag. It does nothing. It never does. It’s just a paper bag.
Last month, the grief counsellor had told them to bring to the next meeting some kind of container, a special box or bottle perhaps. Harry had forgotten to bring anything, so she’d given him the paper bag. “Open your containers,” she said. “And speak into them whatever it is you want to say to your departed loved one.” Harry had felt stupid and then embarrassed when the matronly woman beside him began shouting her son’s name into a Tupperware bowl. He tried to think of something to say. There must be something he wanted to say. He felt guilty when he could think of nothing. Across the room, he saw the counsellor frowning at him. Why was he here if he wouldn’t do the things she said would help him? Bringing the bag to his mouth, he’d whispered the first words that came to mind. Fuck you. He was almost certain this wasn’t the point of the exercise, but he said it again all the same. Fuck you. FuckyouFuckyouFuckyouFuckyou. Eventually he’d said “fuck you” so many times that the words lost their meaning and began to sound like a foreign language. FuckyouFuckyouFuckyou. Chinese maybe or perhaps Tibetan. FuckyouFuckyouFuckyouEggFuKungfuShitzuo.
The coffee in the break room is weak. Harry can only drink it with several spoonfuls of non-dairy creamer. On the counter is a plate of Christmas cookies and a dry half-eaten sandwich. Harry throws it in the bin. Behind him, the kettle starts to boil. A woman in a red blouse and Christmas ball earrings comes in and pours the steaming water into a mug. She dunks a teabag a few times before tossing it in the sink. Harry wonders how anyone can drink watery tea. He wonders how he’s going to survive the holidays.
The view outside the break room window is of a different building. People there are sitting at desks. Harry leans against the wall as he sips his coffee and watches them. They seem just like him. Their computer screens glow through the lowering dusk. Harry watches their profiles and wonders what they’re thinking about. He wonders where they go when they leave their offices. He has a hard time imagining. He suspects they just evaporate like steam or disappear in a puff of purple smoke like the assistant in a Muggle magic show. He wishes to God that Draco had gone like that and not as he did. Harry would give his own life to go back and change things. Like him, Draco had disliked crowds. Everyone knew he was Marked, though few knew he’d been a spy and that Harry’s victory had relied in good part on his information. He’d hated crowds and yet he’d died amidst a herd of holiday shoppers. He’d died right in front of Harry’s eyes. Blood had burbled from his lips. His eyes had stared pleadingly into Harry’s. His hands had scrabbled at Harry’s shirt. His skull had shattered when the spell had thrown him into the plate glass window. Harry could see his brain as though through a tiny window. The sight was too terrible and intimate to bear. The only reason they’d been there at all was because Harry had nagged him into buying a present for his lab assistant. Something small, Harry had prodded. Some singing chocolates or a self-wrapping scarf. The Healers had said later that there was no spell on earth that could have saved him.
A group of people enter the room. They’re laughing about a video they’d found on the nets. Something about a bloke setting his farts on fire. Harry opens the refrigerator door, pretending he’s still there for a reason. Something’s gone off. He closes the door again. In two years, he hasn’t made any friends at the company. One of the men raises his voice above the others.
“Did you see the one where the bloke got kicked in the balls by a donkey?”
Another chimes in. “I found one the other day where this poor blighter got his arse stuck in a toilet seat. Medics had to come pull him out.”
“Bollocks,” says a woman. “That one’s a fake. There’s a lot of stupid people out there trying to get attention.”
“It’s still a laugh though,” says farts-on-fire man.
They throw their empty soda cans in the bin and leave one by one. The last turns and nods in Harry’s direction. “See ya, mate,” he says. “Have a good Christmas.”
Grief lasts as long as it lasts. Although this statement may not seem helpful, it is true. It is different for each person. It is important to realise that, while grief and its intensity will subside, most find it replaced by a “sweet sadness” that comes at times of remembrance. This is simply the acknowledgment that a significant loss has occurred.
Harry doesn’t even take off his coat. His hands shake as he opens the bottle. Two pills tumble out and fall down the drain. He swears, but now the cap is off, and he’s swallowing five pills without water. He sinks to the floor and throws his head back against the wall. Sweat beads on his upper lip and trickles down the sides of his face. He tries to slow his breathing. He feels like a junkie. He closes his eyes and squeezes them tight.
In his mind, Harry watches an almost translucent version of himself walk into his and Draco’s old flat. Draco looks up from his book. His expression makes it seem as though he’s been waiting for hours, but Harry can see the rain drying in his hair, and his shoes have left wet footprints on the floor. Draco cocks his head and appraises him as though he’s still considering whether to keep Harry or chuck him out on the street. The new gold ring on his finger flashes in the light of his reading lamp.
Harry has bought him a bunch of roses from a Jamaican selling flowers near the entrance to the tube. Their buds are closed but they’re limp on the stalks. The cellophane crinkles as he hands them to Draco.
“These will never open,” Draco says, but he stands up all the same and goes to the kitchen to find a vase. Harry removes his coat and shakes the rainwater from it.
“It’s the thought that counts,” Harry says. Draco rolls his eyes and walks into the dining room. “How clichéd,” he says. There is the casual fondness of a long comfortable relationship in his voice. Harry smiles and goes to him where he’s standing by the window. He can see Draco’s own smile in the reflection of the glass. Harry slips his arms around Draco’s waist, settling his chin on Draco’s shoulder.
“Welcome back from Muggle hell,” Draco says. “How was your lunch with Granger and her parents.”
“Fine,” Harry replies. “How’s your book.”
“Dull. I don’t know why I’m still reading it.” His drawl is so familiar that “real” Harry feels a surge of excruciating remembrance.
Slowly, as though Draco might rebuff him, Harry tugs the tails of Draco’s shirt free.
“Bringing me roses doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get into my pants,” Draco says without much conviction.
Harry kisses the back of his neck, and Draco shivers. “Your mouth is cold,” he whispers but nonetheless nods his head forward, giving Harry greater access. Harry breathes against the soft hair at the nape of his neck, and Draco shivers again. Slowly, Harry slips his hands underneath the waistband of his trousers and reaches for the crease between Draco’s left thigh and groin. He’s hard. There’s a bulge where his cock strains against the fabric.
“What are we having for supper?” Harry asks.
“Don’t know, but whatever it is, it can what,” Draco replies. “Shut up, Potter.”
Harry takes an earlobe in his mouth and gently chews. He undoes Draco’s buckle and then his button and finally unzips his fly. Draco sucks in a sharp breath. There’s a wet spot the size of a Galleon just below the waistband of his pants. Harry slips to his knees and turns Draco around.
“I’m going to suck your cock,” Harry says with a nod to the obvious.
Draco leans back to balance against the sill and pushes his trousers and pants down to his ankles. Harry nuzzles his balls breathing deeply as Draco runs a hand through his hair.
“Real” Harry tears open his jeans and wraps a shaking hand around the hard heat of his erection as “ghost” Harry peels back Draco’s foreskin with his lips and sucks on the purple head of his cock. Draco’s head falls back with a thunk against the window. He pushes his hips toward Harry’s face as a groan escapes his throat. “God,” he says to the ceiling and closes his eyes.
On the other side of the glass, rain trickles down in rivulets. “Real” Harry averts his gaze from the sight of himself pleasuring Draco and watches the panes fog over. He used to take a half an hour to bring Draco slowly to orgasm, letting the pressure build by the tiniest of increments. But he, the “real” him, is going to come any second, and the sensation will tear him out of the pills’ embrace. He strains to hold himself back, but Draco is now letting his hips surge forward and back, a little faster than before. “Ghost” Harry guides the movement with his hands on Draco’s thighs. Red prints form under his fingertips. Draco groans again. “You,” he says shakily. “You.”
Harry pinches the sensitive skin on his forearm, but even the pain is pleasure at this point. He comes with an anguished whimper, and clutches at the vision. It wavers before him. Draco is saying something, but Harry can no longer hear his voice. It will be over in seconds. A sob hitches in Harry’s throat. Too soon. Too soon. Five pills used to last almost a whole night. Now it’s only an hour. The spell that made them is weakening over time or else Harry’s memories are fading. He prays it’s not that latter.
He’s sweating on the bathroom floor. He can see a warped reflection of himself in the porcelain of the toilet bowl. His glasses have slipped to the tip of his nose. Furiously, he pulls off his coat and uses the sleeve to wipe up the come on his belly. He is weak. He can neither forget nor remember. The thought terrifies him. A month ago, a woman in his grief group told them all with a smile of relief that she didn’t need them anymore. The agony had subsided to a melancholy she could live with. The others had looked at her blankly. No one, especially Harry, could believe that the misery could end. Or that any of them, especially him, would want it to.
The most intense grief experience usually comes from the death of a loved one. Feeling empty and numb is common. Besides deep feelings of sadness and sorrow, physical symptoms may arise: Long or short-term memory loss, or the inability to eat or sleep. Strange or disturbing dreams may arise. Absent-mindedness is common. In fact, grief and sorrow can lead to a sense of “losing one’s mind.” Such feelings and behaviour are normal and will pass . . .
There is only one pill left. When he takes it, it will be the last sense memory of Draco he will ever have. Except in dreams, but in dreams, love-making can turn in an instant to screaming silently for help, and he may nonetheless wake with dried come on his sheets. Those are the times he sicks up in the sink and alarms Martin.
The one pill will not last long. Perhaps only a few minutes. He’s pondered for a long time what memory he’ll conjure. Mere minutes aren’t enough for one of their marathon fucks. Not even enough for a proper kiss. He thinks of conjuring the first time Draco admitted that he felt something for him. Something other than loathing that is. His wand was drawn and his cheeks had been pink as he’d spat out the words. Harry had been stunned, and Draco had interpreted his silence as disgust. “Just forget it, Potter,” he’d said and turned away. It’d all happened so fast that Harry had barely been able to stop him. His fingers had missed Draco’s arm but had managed to close around the sleeve of his robe. “Wait,” he said. But before he could think of what to say next, Draco had turned around, stepped forward and kissed him shyly on the mouth. It’d been the most tentative kiss Harry had ever experienced. He’d been unsure whether he’d felt it all, but then Draco had pressed closer and kissed him again, harder this time, surer. It was then that Harry’s brain kicked into gear, and he’d closed his eyes and kissed Draco back.
Martin puts down his fork and looks at him. The restaurant is their favourite despite being filthy. The lino where the floor meets the wall is curled back to reveal greasy dirt. The overhead lights are too bright. It has no ambience to speak of. The silverware is often only partially clean, but the food is without match. At least within a seven block radius of Harry’s flat.
“You’ve hardly eaten anything,” Martin says. His tone is not accusatory. “I thought you said you were hungry.”
Harry signals to the waiter and asks for more wine. The glass when it arrives has water spots and a trace of lipstick on the rim. Harry wipes it off with his napkin. He avoids Martin’s question altogether and asks instead how his writing’s been going.
“Not well,” Martin answers. “I’m too impatient to finish whatever I start.”
Harry smiles at this. Martin is always too impatient to finish everything.
“I don’t enjoy the process anymore,” he sighs. “All my poems sound the same.”
Harry begins to disagree but then he stops. It’s true that Martin’s poems do all sound the same.
“You should try writing,” Martin says. “I mean something other than insurance claim denials.”
Harry smiles again, but this time he knows it doesn’t reach his eyes. Unknown to Martin he did used to write. Stupid stuff that he never showed anyone except Draco who invariably laughed at them but kept them all the same. Harry had found a stash when he’d been packing up Draco’s things, deciding what to return to his parents, what to keep, and what to burn. They’d clearly been opened and folded many times.
“Rose are red, violets are blue,” Harry says.
Martin rolls his eyes. “Eat something, you stupid git.”
Martin knows nothing of Draco except that he’d been Harry’s lover and then his husband and that he had died in a tragic “accident.” One of the reasons Harry likes Martin is that he never wanted to know more. The one before him had pried. What had Draco looked like? Where was he from? Did Harry know him from school? Was he a better fuck than he was?
When they’d first started seeing each other, Harry had told his grief group about Martin. They’d been encouraging. It made Harry want to jump up and punch them in the faces. They thought he was “moving on,” “finding closure,” “opening his heart up to love again.” He knew he wasn’t doing any of these things although he often wished that he could. He was merely lonely, and Martin was kind. Moreover, there hadn’t been much more room for Harry to go crazy, and he was pretty sure crazy wasn’t a desired outcome of the grieving process.
“Let’s go back to your place,” Martin says. “You can box up what’s left.” That was another thing Harry liked about Martin. He never referred to Harry’s flat as “home.”
The street is wet but it had stopped raining while they were in the restaurant. They walk in silence until they arrive at Harry’s building. There’re two kids, no older than fifteen, sitting on the steps. They disperse when Harry and Martin approach. One of them looks like he needs to pull up his jeans. The crotch is at his knees.
“Teenagers,” Martin says. He’s a few years older than Harry. “Christ, that looks stupid.” He pushes open the door with his shoulder and holds it for Harry. Harry has never told him that he and Draco were still teenagers when they became lovers. He glances back over his shoulder and watches the boys run across the street, making cars honk and a cab driver yell obscenities. Harry is sure they don’t care. The world is their oyster and all of life is before them. He barely remembers feeling the same way himself.
In the lift, Harry surprises himself by asking Martin to recite one of his poems. Martin gives him a sceptical look. Harry is always saying he isn’t the literary type.
“Okay,” Martin says. “How ‘bout my latest?”
Harry shrugs and unlocks the door to his flat. “Fine,” he says, “whatever.” Inside he goes to the refrigerator and pulls out a can of Tennant’s. “You want one?” he asks.
Martin shakes his head. Harry expects him to flop into the armchair like usual, but instead he goes over to a window and leans against the sill with his back to Harry. He’s silent for a long time before he clears his throat. Harry cracks his can of beer and sits down on the bed. When Martin starts speaking, Harry can barely hear him.
“You betrayed me,” he says, “when you went away with everything. No ultimatum you ever spoke warned me of so final a farewell. Years pass. The books all lie to me. Their authors mean well but they cannot know how the night crowds in and your voice speaks to me through the plumbing, through the tree scratching against my window, through the hum of electric lights. You are everywhere and nowhere. Like air. They say that misery loves company but they are wrong. Nobody can reach me no matter how loud they scream. Nobody can touch me. You are the ghost in the hall, a phantom slipping along my wall in the moonlight. You have betrayed me, but I can betray you too. I will not let you go. I will not let you rest. I will cling to your soul like a repentant suicide clings to the ledge he just jumped from. You are mine, and I am your own private hell. Heaven calls you. You can hear the breath of its song. But you will stay here with me. You will stay here with me until I can forgive you. Everyone says to let go. Everyone says to move on. Everyone says that nobody dies of a broken heart. I hope to God they are wrong.”
They are silent for a long time. Harry is shaking and cannot stop. At last he finds his voice.
“Get out,” he says.
Martin turns from the window and looks at him. At last he nods and picks up his coat from the armchair. “Good night,” he says and closes the door behind him.
Most all people who have lost a loved one wonders if there was something he or she could have done. Often they wonder if they could have saved their loved one, even when the circumstances make it clear that they could not. This wondering impedes the healing process and raises the likelihood of lasting mental scars . . .
Draco has just come back from a run. His hair is damp with sweat. He cannot see Harry where he’s standing against the wall. He pulls off his shirt. His face is still red, and he smells. Harry wrinkles his nose. He watches as Draco turns on the tap in the kitchen sink in their old flat. He holds his hand in the stream of water until it’s warm. Nodding sharply, he combs his hair forward with his fingers until it all falls forward over the top of his head. Bending, he sticks his head under the tap. The nape of his neck is bare. Something about it breaks Harry’s heart. It’s so thin, so fragile. Using dish soap, Draco scrubs his head until it’s covered with suds. Harry can scarcely hold back a laugh. Draco Malfoy washing his hair with dish soap. He wonders if Draco will try to pass it off later as the scent of an expensive shampoo. When he’s done, he begins to rinse, combing his fingers through his pale hair, darkened now to blond. At last he turns off the tap and reaches back to squeeze his hair dry. He stands, his back to Harry. Rivulets of water run down his shoulders, and his face is in profile. He thinks he’s alone. He thinks that no one’s watching him. Harry is close enough to see his eyelashes. They’re still clumped together with water. He reaches out and touches Draco’s arm, and to his amazement Draco turns. For a moment, he looks Harry straight in the eyes. His gaze is surprised but full of recognition. He’s able to say Draco’s name once before he disappears. But only once.
It’s been a week since the pills ran out. Harry has kept the empty bottle. Carrow’s Apothecary, a family business since 1734. The address at the bottom reads “Thistle Street off Knockturn Alley.” The man behind the counter had given Harry an oily smile when he entered, but he hadn’t said a word when Harry told him what he wanted and handed him the vial. The man charged him an extravagant fee, but Harry hadn’t protested. He hadn’t the energy or the will. It had only been a couple hours. For the spells to work, the blood and marrow still had to be wet.
The man disappeared behind a curtain and came back less than twenty minutes later. “Here you go,” he said as though he’d just brewed a batch of Pepperup Potion, but then he lowered his voice and leaned over the counter.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “The last of his kind and to think he’d been scarcely more than a boy when the Dark Lord gave him the Mark. You’d think those bastard vigilantes would have spared him. Especially with you speaking out for him and all. It is a terrible thing.” He tut-tutted like somebody’s grandmother. “A terrible thing,” he said. “All that blood for a bit of ink.”
Harry’s jaw had been too clenched to respond. He was still in shock. Still in a suspended state of horrified disbelief. The glass falling on the sidewalk had sounded like bells on a sleigh. It had taken him too long to figure out what had happened. Somebody screamed, and Harry’s legs were moving before he knew he was running. He tore his scarf from around his neck. He hadn’t known where to put his hands first. Draco had been bleeding from so many places. When Harry placed his hand on Draco’s stomach, he could feel the slip and slide of organs. Crazily, he’d thought of the other times he’d been inside Draco’s body with every part of him possible, his tongue his cock his fingers his fist. Harry’s sleeves were soaked with blood up to the elbows, but still no one ran to his side. Nobody even drew a wand. They’d just stared, their arms full of brightly wrapped packages. To this day, Harry doesn’t know if it was out of shock that they just stood there or out of relief that the last Death Eater had got his reward. It didn’t matter. The fact was they let Draco die in his arms. It had taken too long – long enough that Draco must have known he was dying. He’d tried to say Harry’s name, but there’d been too much blood in his lungs. It still haunts him; Harry cannot recall what he told Draco in those final minutes. He hopes it was “hold on, I’ve got you.” He hopes it was “be strong, I’m here.” He hopes it was “I love you.” But all he can remember is screaming over and over again for help. You fucking bastards! Help me! After all I did for you, for God’s sake, please help me! Draco had died with his eyes open. They’d stared unseeingly past Harry’s shoulder. He remembers smearing his face with Draco’s blood like a warrior before a battle. He remembers pulling a shard of glass from that tender place at the base of Draco’s throat. The place he’d kissed so many times. He remembers clenching his fist and raising the shard like a knife to his heart in a gesture of savage inarticulate grief. He remembers that was the moment when people surged forward. That was the moment wands were drawn and protective spells were cast. Their saviour couldn’t die. Not like a dog in the street. Not like a Death Eater in a pool of his own blood.
Although it is hard to believe, one day you will laugh again. One day you will love again. Nothing lasts forever. Not even grief.
Harry lies on his back knowing he should call Martin but can’t. He can’t get up. From two years of grief counselling, he knows he shouldn’t be alone at times like this, but he can’t remember how to use his legs let alone his fingers. He knows now that as long as the pills had lasted, he’d been able to convince himself that Draco wasn’t really gone. The bottle has been empty for nearly a month.
Outside, ambulance sirens wail, and Harry watches their red lights dance on his ceiling. Had he really gone to clubs since Draco died? Had he really packed their things and moved out of their flat? Had he really found a Muggle job? Had he really cared about the weather, cared whether he could make reservations at a restaurant, cared whether the bus was too crowded for him to find a seat? Had he really shopped for groceries and eaten instant Ramen noodles while in bed watching the tellie? Had he really walked in parks and gone to films? Had he really ridden a lift and used a key and typed a thousand letters denying people insurance coverage? Had he really sat in a circle in his “grief group” and described “happy memories”? Had he really been bored, amused, horny and content? Had he really slept and pissed and bathed and fucked and scratched his balls? Had he really got out of this bed?
Had he really survived?
It seemed like an unforgivable betrayal.
Hale taps against the window. The sink is dripping again. The clock says it’s quarter to five in the evening. Outside someone kicks over a bin and a dog barks. There are footsteps in the hall, and music coming up through the floor. Someone’s cooking a fry-up. A car honks and a woman laughs. In the flat across the hall, a baby cries. The hale taps against the window, and a key turns in the lock. Harry doesn’t roll over.
“Hey,” says Martin. “I brought you something to eat.”
“When did I give you a fucking key?” Harry croaks.
“You didn’t,” says Martin. “I made a copy of yours.”
“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve,” Harry says.
“I teach convicted felons e.e cummings for a living. Of course I have a lot of fucking nerve,” Martin replies. “Are you going to sit up or do I have to feed you lying down?” He lifts a menacing forkful of curried chips.
Harry sits up. “Are the holidays over?”
Martin nods. “You stink. When was the last time you showered?”
Harry shrugs. He can’t remember.
“Here open your beak,” Martin says “There you go, just like a baby bird with its mummy.”
“Fuck you,” says Harry around a mouthful of soggy chips and peas.
“Maybe next week,” says Martin. “After you’ve decided whether you’re going to live or die.”
Harry stops chewing and stares at him.
“Of course, I’d prefer it if you decided to live,” says Martin. “I’m not into necrophilia.”
Harry swallows and continues to stare at him. Martin’s curly hair is getting too long. He’s starting to look like Shirley Temple.
Somewhere down in his belly beneath his ribcage, Harry feels a tickle that he only eventually recognises as laughter. Martin, bastard that he is, tears up and then tries to cover it by pretending to choke on a chip. Harry gives him an exasperated look.
“You’re an arsehole,” he says.
Martin shrugs. “Better than a drama queen.”
Harry seriously cannot decide whether to slap him across the face.
“Give me that.” He pulls the fork out of Martin’s hand when Martin tries to feed him another mouthful.
“With pleasure,” Martin replies. “I brought a movie.”
Harry blanches. “What’s it about?”
“Dragons,” he says. “And wizards and crystal balls. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with something from the fantasy section.”
Despite himself, Harry starts to laugh, and somewhere in his heart Draco laughs too. A snotty pure blood laugh but with a ridiculous snort at the end. Draco had always hated it when he did that.
Harry’s heart squeezes into a fist, and his laugh turns into a sob. Martin puts a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not fair,” says Harry.
“Of course not,” Martin replies. “What do you think we poets would write about if it was?”
“I wish I could die too,” Harry says. “I’m sorry, but I do.”
Martin just nods. “Eat up.” He hands Harry a note. “It’s to go on your fridge. I even bought you a magnet. Ignore the fact that it says ‘Hello Kitty’ on it.”
Harry unfolds the note. “It’s my best poem yet,” Martin says. “Nice and simple. No purple prose and flowery metaphors.”
Harry wipes his eyes with his sleeve and puts his glasses back on. The words are written in pencil and the script is wobbly.
“I wrote it on the bus,” Martin says. “I hope it’s legible. Sorry about the napkin.”
Harry starts reading, but “breathe” is the first word. He closes his eyes around a stab of pain. He remembers saying “breathe” to Draco after close games of Quidditch, after tickling him till he cast a Jelly-Finger hex, after making him come so hard he forgot his own name. It’d been what he’d said the first time Draco had told him that he loved him. It’d been what he’d said after he got down on his knees in the slush like a sap and taken Draco’s hand. It’d been what he said as he clutched Draco to his chest, Draco’s blood soaking his jeans. “Fuck you, keep breathing! Don’t you dare fucking stop, come on, breathe! Don’t even think of stopping, breathe, Draco, God damn it, breathe!!”
It would be so easy right now, so easy to give up and lie down and never get up again. It would be so easy to surrender. He is tired without Draco. So tired . . . . He feels Martin’s hand squeeze his shoulder and forces himself to open his eyes.
Then do it all over again.
Breathe . . .