Title: Fragile Pleasure Here on Earth I Find
Summary: Sometimes, Harry looks at Draco, and sometimes Harry knows Draco is looking at him, and there are even times when they see one another between the shadows, silhouetted in pain and shaking in despair. It is in these latter moments that Harry knows something is wrong inside him. It is in such moments Harry wants to reach for Draco, whether out of comfort or pity or some deeper connection. Knowing this, he hesitates.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): switching POVs, present-tense, angst
Epilogue compliant? Well…this is set before the Epilogue, so it could go either way. I'd like to say it is not, though.
Word Count: ~5,000 - with bonus art!
Author's Notes: dm_p, you asked for "something with layers", so I kind of ran with that. I imagined writing this like drawing memories from a Pensieve—some memories may not be complete, but they are as the person who experienced them remembers. Huge thanks to LS, BB, and AS, all of whom helped shape this into a much, much better piece of writing.
Harry stands in front of Hogwarts, the tall castle looming with rows of captured ghosts. With a raise of his wand, he sends them wailing, slithering back into the cracks between bricks and stone to the shadows they call home. It is an empty existence, but Harry envies their luck—to be trapped without responsibility.
The magic is drawn from within, and it is the first time in Harry's life he wonders if he is strong enough to complete the task before him. Perhaps the second time, but no matter. There is work to be done, and they are counting on him. Merlin knows why—they still believe he can do anything, that it isn't just luck he is still standing.
Piece by piece, Harry draws the castle up from the ground, roots and ghosts and all. He is not alone, but he feels no different with Hermione's hand on his arm or Ron's shoulder brushing his than if they had simply stayed home.
Draco stands in the foyer of Malfoy Manor, blackbird regrets nipping at his heels. A rush of guilt and unutterable sadness floods under his skin, a dam of nightmares unleashed to his bones.
There are crystals still dangling from the chandeliers, portraits of ancient likenesses still adorn the hallways, and the rooms are just as Draco remembers them. There is not a hair out of place, nothing has changed, and yet everything is different. Draco knows there is no going back to youthful disagreements over allowance and broomsticks, petty laughter at the world's expense, but he still mourns the loss of such innocence.
Draco remembers sitting at his father's feet near the fireplace, drawing aimless shapes into the fine carpet with his fingertips as he drips wet from his shower. He is only five when his father's fingers lace through his hair, combing out the tangles and pulling the fine strands back. He tells Draco a story about a wizard so powerful no one dares speak his name aloud. Draco's eyes are wide as he looks up at his father, and he thinks there is no one more powerful than Lucius Malfoy. He tells Lucius this, and Lucius chuckles fondly. When he draws Draco up on his knees, he holds him so tightly that Draco wonders momentarily if he is being punished. Lucius sends him off to bed with a Chocolate Frog, which Draco hides from Narcissa.
Draco steps into the empty dining room, the rustle of ghosts at his feet. He stutters on an inhale, heavy and caught between throat and nostril, the scent of blood and death stagnant in the air. He remembers what it is like to love someone fully, to trust their intentions, to believe in every lie spilling from their lips—and in the same breath to lose them just as quickly. The echo of a lost childhood festers in the space between what he can remember and what he has blocked.
Slowly—so afraid to disturb the tremulous peace that befell the Manor in the aftermath—Draco runs his fingertips over the stairwell banister, which winds snakelike up storeys and storeys. Draco knows the layout of his home like the back of his eyelids; to close his eyes is to see himself laughing as a boy, chased by his father, a snitch whizzing up and up and up endlessly. The dizzy, breathless embrace of his father seems historic; it belongs in a museum, where it can be sorted and labeled with classifications ad infinitum.
The darkness of his father's shadow is endless, sweeping across the whole of Draco's childhood, his youth, his innocence. He feels strangled with the memories and grips the banister at the staircase for support. A pale head bows, the last in the long line of pale heads that came before it.
The emptiness is infinite. There is no going back.
Harry looks at the Marauder's Map every night while he is at Hogwarts. Perhaps he is hoping to see the familiar faces of his previous years. He imagines Dumbledore pacing in the Headmaster's office. Instead, McGonagall's dot is in the adjoining chambers, still as a corpse in her sleep. Eyes drawing over the expanse of parchment, Harry imagines Fred and George chuckling in the shadows near the Great Hall, Snape mere yards behind but never close enough, Remus out by the gardens and Sirius roaming the grounds as Padfoot. The pale parade of ghosts is all-encompassing, a reminder of all Harry has lost and no amount of rebuilding can reproduce.
But there is a new dot in an unexpected place, one that interests Harry just enough to stare at it until he falls asleep with the map against his heart.
The dot for Draco Malfoy does not move again until morning.
Draco is obsessed with what could have been, the choices he did not make and those which litter the path of his life with guilt.
The wall before him is frightening. It is the only thing in the world he is afraid of now, the only thing worth fearing, the only thing left to turn his blood to ice in his veins. The only thing that makes him feel anything anymore. In the middle of the night, when the rest of the students are safely tucked away in sweet sleep, Draco roams the hallways and always, always ends up here, sitting stiffly cross-legged, looking up at the simple stone wall that shifts when it is told.
Within its lifeless material, it holds Draco's greatest fear and one of his worst memories. He looks at it, because he is afraid to enter, to see the things he has lost and the things everyone else lost and the reasons for their pain and the consequences of his actions.
Drenched in cold sweat, Draco returns to his dormitory, a solitary creature hidden from the world behind a single green and silver bed curtain.
Harry knows what it is to push friends away, but there is one difference between what he does to distance himself and what Draco has to live with—for Harry, his friends will always be there. No matter how many times he pushes them away, they remain and come for him when he needs them most. Draco does not have these luxuries; he has no friends anymore, and Harry knows he is alone.
On the map, at the same place every night, it takes Harry a week to figure out what Draco is doing there. Harry wonders at first what brought Draco back to Hogwarts to help in its rebuilding; then, he wonders what Draco is doing on the seventh floor; then, he understands that the answers are one in the same—Draco is searching for closure.
Harry does not pretend he knows anything about Draco or that they are friends at all. Even saying that they are acquaintances gives Harry a weird, uncomfortable churn in his stomach. He does not like Draco, and he may never grow to respect him, but things did change the moment he saw him crying in the bathroom. Everything that happened afterward defined the boundaries of what is possible for them as friends, acquaintances, or strangers.
And so, despite everything, Harry watches Draco every night, with growing anxiety and hope that Draco will one day be able to open the wall again and come to an understanding that it is the past, and the past cannot be altered.
"I have asked you here to meet a very important guest," McGonagall says.
Draco is trying to ignore how out of place he feels shoved in the Great Hall with everyone who hates him. He tries to remember why he is here, why he came back when he could have just as easily stayed out of the public eye like Pansy, Blaise, and Goyle. His mother tells him that France is beautiful. She is enjoying her vacation, which is not really a vacation but an escape from visiting Lucius in Azkaban and seeing her son's numb, dull gaze. He wishes he could escape, that he fit in, that he is anywhere else but where he is standing.
The room is filled to the brim, Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, Slytherins, Aurors, Ministry officials, professors, and now a new guest—Draco thinks the room will spit him out because he does not belong.
"This is Healer Barras Aldridge, from the psychiatric ward of St. Mungo's," McGonagall continues. "He has volunteered to assist us in the rebuilding of Hogwarts."
There is light applause, scattered and broken, echoing through the Hall. It hurts Draco to listen to it, and he cannot bring himself to join in. He knows there is more to what McGonagall has to say, but he can barely look at her anymore.
"You will all be required to have a private sit-down with Healer Aldridge once every week and to come to two meetings every week here in the Great Hall with your fellow peers."
"You can't be serious? Therapy?"
Draco only looks up because Fred or George Weasley is the one who asks the question on everyone's mind, even Draco's. He feels somewhat sad he was never able to tell the twins apart; but then, it was no difference to him which was left that way.
"I am quite serious, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall says.
Draco knows that tone—she is in teacher-mode, falling naturally into her position as Headmistress, as the leader, as an instructor there to dole out instructions and punishments, with little time to care for the needs of the few. Still, he wonders if she has any pity left within her. Then he knows she does, because she reminds him suddenly of his mother who is full of pity for everyone.
Healer Aldridge steps forward, centre stage, and even Draco cannot look away.
"Please don't misunderstand," Aldridge says, his kind eyes shining as he extends both arms, as if to invite everyone into them. He looks like Lucius; Draco misses his father's warm embrace suddenly and wholly. "Rebuilding Hogwarts is not just about pulling up bricks and stone and fitting them back into place. We have all lost things here, and I have incredibly high hopes that I can assist you all in finding these things or repairing them. Three times every week is very little to ask, and none of it is mandatory—after all, this is not a school at the moment. Though you are living here, you are not bound by these walls by any means. Some of you come and go as you please." He glances at Fred or George, at Weasley and Granger, at Lovegood. "Some of you are staying put." Draco follows his eyes—across the room to Longbottom, to Harry, and… to Draco's own, where they remain. "There are reasons for each, and how you choose to mend your sorrows is up to each and every one of you. I only wish to assist where I can. If you trust me, I do promise to offer my support."
Hot embarrassment floods Draco under the gazes of the entire Great Hall. They only turn away when Fred or George scoffs and leaves the room, and McGonagall reins in the crowd to give the nightly assignments.
When Draco looks up, only one pair of eyes—the only pair that ever matters—remains trained to his own.
They sit together, all of them, in a circle big enough to stretch around the entire hall. Aldridge is a part of the circle. He is trying to fit in, to be understanding, to help, and Harry appreciates the concern and the tender way Aldridge treats those who are beyond repair.
Harry watches Aldridge talking to George. He cannot remember the last time George smiled or cracked a joke, and yet there he is with the corners of his lips lifted just so. Harry wonders if Aldridge knows how important it is for George to smile again.
They sit in the circle, and Aldridge tells them they will go around and talk about the things they have lost. Harry is about to scoff, except every single person is looking at him, and he isn't sure if he should ruin their Golden Hero image by telling them to sod off and leave him alone or if Aldridge is right and talking will help.
He remembers everything—walking into the Forest, the numb disassociation with his own body, Narcissa Malfoy's fingers clutching his heart, grabbing Draco's hand to lift him out of the fire and fly him to safety, everything. But remembering these things is different than saying them aloud.
"Pass," he says instead.
Draco is watching him. It makes Harry feel ashamed.
"You said it wasn't mandatory."
"I did. But you're here."
"I am… So, do I have to talk?"
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, Draco. But I am here to listen if there are things you'd like to talk about."
"…I got a letter from my mother today. She’s in France."
"That's nice. Is she having a good time?"
"No. I think she regrets everything, even saving me."
"How did she save you?"
"Please don't patronise me. She risked her life for mine at every turn, it was all over the Prophet and the Wireless from her trial. Potter told everyone what she did. Potter said her fingers were cold against his skin, and Potter vouched for her, kept her from Azkaban."
"Do you want to talk about Harry Potter?"
"What was in your mother's letter?"
"Niceties, pacifications, lies. She is trying so hard to make me believe she is okay."
"But she's not okay?"
"No. She's dying."
"What does Draco talk about when he's in here?" Harry asks. They are in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, a strange place to hold therapy sessions—there are so many ghosts lost to the walls within.
Aldridge smiles. He has kind, brown eyes, something like Ginny's, but Harry doesn't want to think about Ginny.
"What do you think he talks about, Harry?"
Harry sighs. He is tired of this. It is a waste of time. He stands, ready to leave. Something stops him, the look in Aldridge's eyes maybe, or the flare of Harry's nostrils as he breathes. He is bothered by Draco, by the way he is not even trying, the way he holes up in his room, the way he sits like a statue in front of the Room of Requirement, the way he is giving up.
Aldridge's voice startles him. With a shrug, Harry turns away, fiddling with an inkwell on the desk. "Dunno. Me?"
"Some people would call that egotistical."
Again, Harry shrugs. "I saved everyone—I'm the Boy Who Lived. Don't you think I deserve to be egotistical?" He doesn't mean it. He hates feeling like this, like somebody owes him something, but he has never had time to think someone might before, and now he has plenty of time for dwelling on inaccuracies.
"You don't think very highly of these sessions, do you?"
Aldridge is standing next to him now, looking at Harry like Dumbledore and Sirius and Remus used to look at him. Harry can't bear to see it, but he turns to him anyway. Aldridge looks older up close, worry lines etched on his dark forehead and creases at his lips.
"I think it's pointless," Harry says. "And I don't have time for pointless." Guilt floods him. He doesn't mean these things, he knows it's not pointless for other people—for George, for Ron, maybe even for Draco, they need it. Harry Potter shouldn't.
Aldridge smiles and places a hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry feels the wind knocked out of him at the touch. He wants to shake it off, to get away, to sever the obvious and unwanted connection; it makes him uncomfortable and full of disgust.
"Harry, don't you understand? You have all the time in the world now, and that time is all your own."
With a sharp inhale, Harry feels shaken, something awakened inside his chest. He wants to find Draco with a rush of emotions he cannot understand.
Draco is sitting where he sits every evening, staring at the wall that is unmoving for him, when he hears the rustle of something in the darkness. He is not afraid of being caught—there are no curfews to adhere to, no pestering from Filch or Snape or McGonagall about being out of bed at all hours. There are no rules anymore.
So Draco does not turn, does not acknowledge the presence of another boy tripping and trapped in the dark shadows of the past, and certainly does not feel comforted by the warmth of the understanding that passes slowly and tremulously between them without a word.
They never speak, but Harry thinks he understands things about Draco now than he didn't when he saw him at Malfoy Manor or crying in the bathroom or embracing his family at the end of the battle at Hogwarts. Words are unnecessary in the thickness of these demons they battle.
Sometimes, Harry looks at Draco, and sometimes Harry knows Draco is looking at him, and there are even times when they see one another between the shadows, silhouetted in pain and shaking in despair. It is in these latter moments that Harry knows something is wrong inside him. It is in such moments Harry wants to reach for Draco, whether out of comfort or pity or some deeper connection. Knowing this, he hesitates.
They sit on the tenuous precipice of deepest understanding, the dawn's light stretching their shadows long and away into the emptiness.
At first, Draco is sure Harry is there to try and figure him out. Like Aldridge, he probably thinks Draco is a puzzle just waiting to be pieced together correctly. Like Aldridge, he can't possibly realise how many pieces are missing and lost to the room before them.
It is early September when Draco lays back against the cold stone floor and Harry joins him in the easy but uncomfortable pose. Together, they lay side-by-side but separated by so much more than mere inches of space.
It is late September when Draco stands and looks down at Harry. Their eyes meet, and Draco feels for the first time like they are on equal footing, that he has nothing to lose by allowing Harry this moment and allowing himself to feel again.
It is a cold October chill that rushes Draco's spine as he presses his fingers to the wall and empty regrets swell in his chest. There is one warm thing to tether Draco's sanity and that is Harry's unbearably strong hand on his shoulder. Under its weight, Draco wants to sink to his knees and confess everything, to explode with the things he is keeping from even himself in the darkest of his loneliness.
Aldridge holds both of them back after the group session. Harry knows he is connected to Draco by more than just silence and refusal to speak in these meetings.
"If you don't want to be here," Aldridge tells them, together, "then you needn't come anymore. It is unfair to sit and listen to everyone else but pass when it is your turn. These discussions are designed for your welfare, but if you cannot take part in them, they are, as Harry has put it on several occasions, a complete waste of your time."
"I don't need to talk about these things," Harry says.
"You don't want to," Aldridge combats. "There is a difference."
"Fine. Maybe I don't want to talk about the fact that I walked to my death in the Forbidden Forest, that I had to watch my friends die at the hands of cowards, that I am so angry at myself that I couldn't help them that I want to rip my skin apart! Talking about it doesn't do a thing. It's bollocks for me. It just makes it worse."
Harry leaves. His body is hot all over, and he wants to punch a hole in the stone wall with his fist or kick in the nearest window or run out beyond the grounds and escape. Burning with rage, Harry ignores the boy racing to keep up with him until a hand is reaching for his and fingers are twined and squeezing. Spinning to face Draco, Harry feels like he is looking in a mirror—the twisted fury makes Draco's pointed face look disfigured in the dark lights, and all the shadows they chased away together in silence are flooding Draco's pale skin again like blackbirds flapping their wings endlessly against a pale sky.
Draco's fingers are clammy in his hand, and both of them are clenching their fingers, a connection of fists and remorse and shaking desire.
Harry is on Draco in an instant, shoving his body to the wall. It feels good, watching Draco's lip curl in a snarl. It feels better when Draco pushes back, when they wrestle each other like warriors, like brothers, like lovers, like everything they are not and have never been but what Harry is aching to have.
When mouth finds mouth in the darkness, it is with a clash of impulse and hunger. They try to devour one another until they are panting and red in the face and everything feels better. It is then that Draco sucks against Harry's bottom lip and then that Harry's fingers are dragging up under Draco's jumper and then that they are entwined and long-limbed to touch everywhere and convulsing.
Draco's back is against the wall near the Room of Requirement as Harry's lips draw down his throat, as he bites and claws and rips at his body. It is like feeling alive again, Draco thinks. It is like losing control. The ghosts are at peace, chased away.
It does not take long for Draco to want more than Harry's mouth, but he settles for grinding against Harry's body, holding him close, worrying the fleshy lobe of his ear between his teeth, tangling his fingers in Harry's hair and yanking. They writhe like snakes, desire pulsing and hot between them, until Draco fears he might explode and shoves his hand down Harry's trousers to take what he wants.
"No," Harry says. It startles Draco, but does not stop his eager, impatient hands. "No," Harry repeats, both hands working to push Draco away. "I've never."
They stare at one another now, the silent moments of hesitation ticking away between them. Draco thought Harry understood, but now he is not sure. All Draco really knows is that when he leans in again, he is careful not to disturb what is between them as he trails a series of breath-warmed mouthings down the pulsing veins in Harry's throat. Teeth catching at Harry's Adam's apple, Draco is not sure if the moan that tears into the air belongs to himself or to Harry.
Ron and Ginny keep asking Harry over to the Burrow for Christmas, but there are so many other things clamouring for attention in Harry's head. When he and Ginny are alone, Harry is thinking of Draco. There is so much that is broken between Harry and his friends now that he wonders how much can be repaired.
"Have you talked to Aldridge yet?" Hermione asks one night by the fire.
Harry shrugs, stares at the flames, the ache for Draco so corporal he cannot unwind the pain from the pleasure of it.
"You really should. Talk about it, I mean."
"I told you—I don't need to talk about anything." Harry stands up, impatient. Normally, Draco is not at the Room of Requirement for another hour, but Harry cannot wait that long.
Hermione's fingers catch Harry at his wrist. "I hope you are at least talking to someone about these things, Harry, even if it's not us."
Humiliation and bitter anger floors Harry. "What does talking ever do? It is what it is. There's no words that can change it."
He jerks away, face ablaze. The angry pounding of his heart batters all his empty feelings against his chest, and the impulse to touch Draco is too strong to control, like a beast let loose of its cage into the wilds of possibility.
Draco's blood rings in his ears. He cannot hear anything. If Harry speaks, Draco would never know it. They are standing before the wall, having agreed to go in, but now Draco is not sure. There is so much he fears about what could be on the other side.
He told Aldridge this in one of their first one-on-one sessions. Aldridge responded that sometimes the things we fear most are the very things we need to see to deal with. That the reality is there is no such thing as fear if we overcome it. Draco did not believe him then, and it is harder to believe him now.
Harry grips his hand. It is unnecessary to say what it means to Draco that Harry is beside him. It is everything to him.
They pace together, three times, and think the same thought—I need to see what I have lost.
It is Christmas Eve when Harry sits down with Aldridge. Aldridge looks as surprised as Harry feels, but he welcomes Harry with a cup of tea. The office is decorated comfortably, festive garland adorning the walls and red and green candles hovering to light the way.
"Are you all right?" Aldridge asks, sitting beside Harry.
Harry shakes his head. He is still confused and full of regrets. Entering the Room of Requirement did nothing for him, and Draco has not returned for a week, and he feels alone again, even amongst friends. But saying all of this out loud seems an impossible task. He is heavy with the weight of it.
"Do you want to talk?"
Draco returns to the Room of Requirement and passes it three times, thinking of the same things as always. Entering it is still hard, but it's better, and he feels at peace with the ghosts that reside there, all the empty choices withered beneath the floors.
While he is not expecting to see Harry, he is also not surprised that he is waiting.
They do not speak but touch. First with their hands, then with their mouths, then with their whole bodies, until the world they cannot understand is whisked away and all that remains is that they need.
They have never progressed beyond snogs, beyond hurried handjobs, but tonight Draco pushes Harry against the floor and lets Harry push him too and together they discover everything they have lost.
Harry enters Draco's body sharply, partially out of fear that Draco will pull away or that he will do so himself, and partially because he does not know how else to do it, and even partially because he wants to feel every inch hard and rough and yielding to the force of his hunger.
Their mouths are desperate, and Harry's kiss is unapologetically sloppy. The sweat between them sticks their bodies together, or perhaps it is the way Draco grips him around his neck and waist and everywhere he can touch. Draco's nails drag down the hard, angular planes of Harry's body, and it takes Harry over the edge with a shout of climax.
Lying beside each other, Harry feels unbearably aware of the distance. Without Draco's body, he is cold. Without Draco's mouth, he can't breathe. Without Draco's touch, he can't feel.
Reaching for Draco, he crawls on top of him to straddle his pale waist. The light catches on the long, jagged, pink scar that stretches like a chasm from Draco's shoulder to his hip. The candlelight flickering across it grotesquely outlines everything Harry is afraid of. The tears prick like daggers against the backs of his eyelids, piercing him wholly with unendurable shame.
Draco takes Harry's hand, guides his shaking fingers over the length of it. It takes every ounce of strength in Harry not to vomit; he is sickened with the thought of what he has done to Draco, of everything left unspoken between them.
"It doesn't hurt," Draco says, his pale eyes searching. "Not anymore."
"I'm sorry." The words tumble thick off Harry's lips. He bends to mouth the words into Draco's chest, down to the jut of his hip, and swallows them around Draco's length.
Draco arches up with a gasp and fists Harry's hair. "Again," he demands. "Again."
They only stop when their bodies are exhausted from the things they have done, when they are unable to breathe, when they collapse in a heap. Arms and legs and fingers and hair entwined.
Draco stands back, far away from the celebration, watching the final bricks slide into place in Hogwarts' walls. It has taken them a year to rebuild it, a year to come to terms with the fragile existence of the things they cannot change and those they have the power to restore.
The Prophet reporters hound Harry after he finishes, and Draco leaves them to it. It is not Draco's place to interrupt. Later, they will have time enough in solitude; just two boys in an unplottable room, mouthing long goodbyes to shapeless ghosts.