Title: Over the Withered Bracken
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, mentioned Ron/Hermione
Summary: Harry starts seeing a second, fake Draco who is far nicer than the original. Then, the second Draco leaves his dreams and enters the real world.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): cursing, an emotionally unhealthy relationship, major character death
Epilogue compliant? No
Word Count: ~3800
Author's Notes: Thanks to tigersilver and groolover for the beta. Also, in case this is confusing to anyone, I wrote this on the premise that Harry and Draco have been sleeping together for a while, but none of their friends know about it.
The first time he saw Fake-Draco was in the middle of a particularly creepy dream.
He knew it was Fake-Draco because Real-Draco wasn’t ever that sweet or happy or open. But this dream version of Draco, who flew into Harry’s arms out of the mist surrounding the odd decaying mansion—this could not be the real Draco Malfoy. And yet, as the late-autumn wind jangled the dry branches and Fake-Draco gently took his hand and led him through the curling withered bracken away from the gutted house, Harry suddenly thought that maybe Draco wouldn’t be so bad like this.
Real-Draco didn’t appear for a few days after that, even if Fake-Draco flitted in and out of Harry’s dreams at night. After asking around, Harry learned that Draco had been called away to deal with something at Malfoy Manor.
“Where are you?” he asked Fake-Draco one night, feeling impatient.
“Right here,” said Fake-Draco, and kissed him.
A week later, Real-Draco returned.
It was Saturday afternoon, and Harry was listening to the Wizarding Wireless Network while catching up on some old reports from work. When he looked up again, Draco was standing on the other side of the table, an ambiguous expression on his lips. Harry, used to kisses and smiles after a week of dreams, held out his arms expectantly.
Draco gave him a strange look. “What do you want, Potter?”
Harry was careful not to let his face fall, but he was apparently only partly successful because Real-Draco sneered. “What is it, Potter? Couldn’t do without me for a few days?”
“Shut up, Dra-Malfoy,” he spat back.
“Draco? Got familiar with me while I wasn’t here, haven’t you?”
“Last time I make that mistake.”
The door slammed.
The next morning, Harry was sitting at a café, sulkily sipping at coffee, when Draco came sidling up to him.
“What do you want?” Harry snapped, still annoyed. He knew it was his own fault for mixing up Real-Draco and Fake-Draco, but at least the real one could be a bit happy to see him.
Draco flushed. “I just wanted to say, sorry about…yesterday. You know how I can be.” There was a pause as Harry stared at him.
“You should be getting to work, shouldn’t you?” Draco interrupted quickly. “I’ll…see you later.” He hung back reluctantly for a moment, then quickly pecked Harry on the cheek before rushing out.
“What’s goin’ on, mate?” Ron asked at work. “I haven’t seen you so bloody cheerful since—” He broke off. “Since a long while back, anyway.”
“Oh, it’s not anything important.” Harry brushed it off, but couldn’t help a small smile. “Just had a nice morning is all.”
Ron looked unconvinced, but went back to his sandwich and files.
“Potter! Why is your clothing strewn across the front hall?”
Draco was answered by a muffled acknowledging sound from inside the flat. The Slytherin sighed as he waded through the dripping jacket and two soaked jumpers, and narrowly missed the muddy trainers, as he stomped into the bedroom.
“Potter, please explain to me why you feel the need to behave like a child. One would think you ought to have learned how to pick up after yourself by now.”
“…was a long day…” Harry mumbled. “Why’nt you come earlier?”
“Because, contrary to what you seem to believe, you are not the centre of the world.”
“What’s got you in such a snit? You were actually nice this morning.”
“I didn’t speak to you this morning, Potter.”
Harry laughed blackly. “Denying you could ever be anything besides a fucking prick, now? Of course you are.”
“I’m not denying anything, Potter. I did not speak with you this morning. Have you had too much to drink or something?”
“You came to the café, Malfoy! You apologised for acting like a prick last night, and you ki—” There was still a small sense of self-preservation left at Harry’s disposal, and it kicked in now. He clamped his jaw shut and avoided mentioning the kiss.
“Potter, I don’t know what you’ve been doing to yourself, but I was not in any cafés this morning. I did not speak to you, nor did I apologise for anything.”
“Prick. I was there. I saw you.”
“Then maybe there’s something wrong with your head. Whoever you saw, it wasn’t me.”
“No,” said a new figure, entering the room. “It was me.” Harry turned to the doorway and saw Draco—another one—standing there. “I’m sorry, Harry. I thought it would make you feel better. I didn’t mean—”
“You’re…you’re the fake one, aren’t you? The dream version?” Harry asked, comprehending.
“Potter? Who are you talking to?” Real-Draco demanded, unfolding his arms.
“You can’t see him? It’s you, over there. Only he’s nicer.”
“Potter, this isn’t amusing. Stop it.”
“I’m not laughing. He’s right there. Look.” Real-Draco turned in the direction of Harry’s pointing finger.
“There’s no one there.”
“He can’t see me,” said Fake-Draco kindly.
Harry paused, unsure of how to continue.
“I’m sorry,” Fake-Draco tried again, “I never meant for it to turn out this badly. I’ll go now.” He slipped back out through the door and disappeared from view.
“Potter, what’s going on?” Real-Draco was wide-eyed in what seemed to be fear. He moved forward as Harry shook his head, and reached out, gripping Harry’s arms tightly.
“Let go, Malfoy, it hurts.”
“No,” Draco whispered fiercely, “No, I have to make you stay.”
The next morning, Harry woke with warm arms around him and a smile on his face. It quickly dissolved when he realised Draco was pulling away brusquely and going about his business alone. They exchanged no words before departing for the day.
“What’s wrong, mate?” Ron asked when Harry got to work.
“Nothing,” Harry replied, as usual. “Just in a bad mood.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Ron asked him the next day. “You’re looking a bit off.”
“Is it so hard to care at all about me?”
“I wouldn’t know, Potter, because I’ve never tried it.”
“He’s lying; he’s just afraid.”
“What are you afraid of, Malfoy?”
“You of all people should know I’m not the least afraid of you.”
“I’m fine, Ron,” answered Harry calmly, “Just tired.”
“You sure, mate?”
“He’s lying, Harry, you have to believe me.”
“Fuck, I can’t do this any more.”
“You—you can’t do this any more? What is this, Potter, some sort of game to satisfy your apparently unquenchable thirst for attention?”
“Stop fucking with me, Malfoy. Just…just go.”
“Fuck you, too.”
“Yeah,” Harry said aloud, forcefully tilting the corners of his lips up. “Fine.”
Hermione Floo-called him a day later.
“Harry, are you all right? Ron says you’ve been tired at work all the time lately.”
“I’m fine, Hermione.”
“Is it…you know? I know you two…you know, school rivals and all, but—if you need to talk about it, I’m here for you. You know that, right?”
“I know. Thanks, but…I think I need some more time to sort it out. I—I keep seeing this nice version of him, and, and—I think I might be going insane, Hermione, but maybe it’s just him, and I think…I think I need to have a little longer to myself. You understand?”
Hermione looked sadly at him. “I do, Harry. Just…come to me when you’re ready, all right?”
“I will. Promise.”
“Who are you talking to?” Harry turned to see Draco enter the living room just as Hermione left the Floo.
“It’s Hermione, Malfoy,” he answered wearily.
“What do your mangy friends want now?” Harry could hear the sneer without turning.
“Why do you even ask if you don’t give a flying fuck about me anyway? Why are you still here?”
“Because he does care, Harry.” Harry didn’t turn at Fake-Draco’s voice either.
“Go away, both of you. If this is some sort of power trip for you, Malfoy, Draco, whoever the hell you are, fine, you’ve won, it’s not amusing any more. Stop it with whatever obscure replication spell you’ve found, stop acting like one of you fucking cares, stop fucking with my head. Just—just leave me the fuck alone, all right?”
“Because I can’t leave…” It was said so quietly that Harry couldn’t be sure if it was the real one or the fake one who said it, or even if he really heard it at all, as both disappeared out the door again.
“I’ll tell you when I’ve figured it out, Ron, but thanks for—for bothering with me all this time.”
Ron beamed his best ‘best-mate’ beam. “‘Course, mate, it’s the least I could do, right?”
The dreams of Draco continued, even though he didn’t see Draco for several days.
It was always in front of the same half-decayed house, surrounded by blackened bracken and floating bits of ash. Fake-Draco embraced him and kissed him and showered him with affection, and Dream-Harry couldn’t help himself liking it.
“He’s not trying to trick you,” Fake-Draco told Harry one night. “I was created entirely by you.”
“He’s not…? It’s not a spell?”
Fake-Draco smiled warmly and shook his head. “No. I’m just a hallucination. I’m just what you want me to be. What you want him to be.”
But talk like this was always followed quickly by more of Fake-Draco’s excessive affection, so Harry always told himself he would deal with it later.
“Ron…how crazy do you think I am for seeing a nice Draco Malfoy who talks to me?”
“Uh…mate, I think you might want to get that checked out.”
“I know, I just…it’s kind of nice?”
“Well, considering the way he’s treated you, I’d agree. But it’s probably a bad thing if you’re hallucinating Draco Malfoys, nice or not.”
“I think I’ll talk to Hermione about it.”
Ron nodded understandingly. “Let me know if you need me for anything.”
“Hermione, I…” He sputtered to a stop, then started up again. “I—I’m seeing things. Well, just one thing, really. It’s—Draco. Malfoy. And, it’s strange because, well, you know how Malfoy’s always been. And this illusion—he’s sweet. Unlike Malfoy ever was.”
“Oh, Harry. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because it was hard. I don’t know. Because I like that this version of Malfoy isn’t an arse.”
“Harry…you know you’ve got to stop this, right? It can’t be good for you.”
“I know.” A memory of an embrace before a decaying house flashes through his mind. “I know.”
“I’m going home, Ron.”
Ron looked up. “You’ve been staying ‘til almost midnight lately. Something come up?”
Much to both Ron’s and his own surprise, Harry smiled slightly. “I’m going to—I talked to Hermione, and I think…I think I have to deal with this. This illusion is all me, you know? It’s me wanting him to be nice to me for once. And I can’t…it’s not fair to me, or to you and Hermione, or to anyone, really.”
“So you’re going to…?”
“I’m going to make it end. The real Draco is who he is, and I can’t change that.”
“Don’t worry, Ron. I’ll tell you if anything happens.”
In the evening, Harry sat on the bed and thought hard of his fantasy Fake-Draco. Thought of the dreams, of the caring, of the—it was hard to say it aloud—the love, of the somehow all-too-familiar image of a decaying house surrounded by singed bracken and heather in the dusk. Thought of the vision that haunted him night after night.
And, as if called, Fake-Draco came. “I am sorry, Harry. I really didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“I know.” Harry tried to smile. “It’s not your fault.”
Fake-Draco observed him for a moment. “You’ve decided, haven’t you?”
“I have,” said Harry, his voice toned in bittersweet, his words separated by a sigh. “This is the end.”
There was a pause. “I see,” answered the figment.
“And even if I would…like it to be the type of relationship I could have with him if he were you, but—this isn’t right, deluding myself with something that’s not real. I’m sorry.” The patient spectre simply nodded.
“I understand, Harry. And I’m glad.” He kissed Harry one last time on the cheek before smiling and turning as he vanished.
“P-potter?” Draco’s voice echoed in the empty house.
There was no reply. Harry sat in the bedroom, eyes closed, trembling slightly, deaf to the sound of his own name. Draco stepped into the chamber and stopped at the door.
“The fake version of you. The one I kept seeing. He’s gone.”
“If you’re going to be insulting and cruel, just leave.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Draco held him. Real-Draco. Held. Him.
Harry didn’t cry. He simply lay quietly on the bed and kept his eyes closed.
“Potter.” Draco’s voice was kinder than he’d ever heard it. “Potter.”
“I can’t do this, Draco. I don’t want to stop, but I can’t do this with you any more. I don’t want you to be this to me. Please. Please, go.”
“P-potter. Harry. I—this isn’t what I wanted either.”
“…Harry. Remember this.”
Harry couldn’t tell if it was a dream, but there wasn’t any bracken or ash, so maybe it was real.
“I have to go, but…I want you to remember this. That it happened.”
Sleep tugged at Harry. Draco’s voice dropped into a whisper.
In the morning, Harry woke alone.
After a few hours, Harry began to feel a sense of dread. He Floo-called Hermione.
“What is it, Harry? It’s barely five in the mor—are you all right?”
Harry sighed. “No.” He swept a hand over his face and rubbed at his temples. “No. It’s—do you know where Draco went?”
“Draco?” The look on Hermione’s face was almost comically odd.
“You…know something, don’t you?”
“I—Harry, what do you mean, Draco?”
“I made the illusion Draco go away yesterday, and—the real one came back, and he was kind to me. He said…”
“Wait. Harry. He—he came back?”
“Oh. Harry, I don’t think—”
“I’m sorry, Hermione, I should’ve told you. I…it was stupid. Draco and I…” Sigh. “Merlin, I don’t know how to describe it. .”
“Just…I need to know. What happened to him. If you know, please tell me.”
Hermione’s voice was quiet. “Harry, Draco’s dead.”
It was Hermione who had to break the silence.
“I’m sorry, Harry. I thought you knew already. Draco went home for something with his family several weeks ago. And then there was a fire…” She hesitated. “…right after you asked me where he was. Malfoy Manor was destroyed, and everyone in it.”
The image of the broken-down house surrounded by dying weeds flashed through his head again.
Real-Draco hadn’t been real at all.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry struggled to say.
“We thought you knew. It was plastered all over the Prophet. Even the Quibbler ran something for it.”
“No, I—I was preoccupied. I’ve not been reading the papers lately. Hermione…I…”
“Oh, Harry,” said Hermione gently. “We thought you were upset over his death, and that’s why you were seeing the illusions. And then you decided to put an end to them, and we felt it was a good thing, so we let you do what you wanted. But Harry, isn’t that a good thing that you’re not seeing either of them any more?”
There was a pause before Harry replied.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
It’s a good thing, Harry kept telling himself. It’s good ‘cause I’m not crazy any more, and I’m not seeing anything I shouldn’t. It’s good. Draco’s gone. They were both illusions.
But it was hard to let go, because the dreams were still there. They were almost like the ones he’d had before, but not quite, because this time it wasn’t his delusion of what he wanted Draco to be. Draco was never sweet, and generally more awkward than anything, but he wasn’t cruel any more.
He simply stood in front of that same familiar burnt-down manor and shuffled from foot to foot as he said over and over, “Don’t forget.”
And Harry couldn’t.
It was a cloudy afternoon, and Harry had promised he’d go to Diagon with Hermione and Ron. The streets were crowded full of children shopping for school supplies, making Harry think of his first time here, when he’d just discovered the magical world, when he’d received his wand, and his first owl, and bought his books and school robes. At Madam Malkin’s, where he’d first met a bratty little blond boy he’d hated at first glance, because Draco had had family and love and the ability to be smug about everything. Because Draco didn’t seem to appreciate that he had what Harry had always wanted, and scorned what little Harry had finally found.
“Oi, Harry, look,” Ron interrupted his thoughts. Harry shook himself and found that they had reached the front of Quality Quidditch, where there was a display on the old Nimbus line, including a brilliant reproduction of the Nimbus 2000. Ron, whose face was pressed against the glass, turned to look at Harry. “Remember this?”
Harry froze, suddenly beginning to recall whispers from a conflicted, quiet voice—Draco’s voice.
“I have to go, but…I want you to remember this. That it happened.”
Ron gave him a look. “You all right, mate?”
Everything began to blur in Harry’s head. Scenes of Draco when he’d been alive, during his strange sort-of fling with Harry. Scenes of Fake-Draco in dreams. Scenes of Real-Draco, who had been so like the actual Draco even though Draco had already been dead then, and who had said at the very end that it was all real. And Harry thought, maybe…
In his dreams that night, the realistic awkward Draco, in front of the charred house and the dead tree, said something different.
“I did,” Harry answered. Because really, what else could he say?
“I have something for you.”
“What?” demanded Harry.
The dream ended.
For six days Harry had the same dream.
On the morning of the seventh, he called into work, went to his closet, pulled out a broom, and flew madly in the direction of Wiltshire.
In the direction of the last anyone had heard of Draco Malfoy.
He arrived at twilight, just like his dreams. In the dim evening light, the blackened bits left over from the manor loomed ominously at the end of the overgrown path. Harry walked forward as if pulled, over the withered bracken, over the dusty rubble.
After Hermione had told him about Draco’s death, Harry had asked after the Malfoys’ final resting place. As it was, very few felt any obligation to the Malfoys, outside of a handful of Draco’s friends and Andromeda Tonks. The Malfoy lands had gone to Andromeda, who approved the burial of her sister’s family in a plot near the ruins of the manor, which had not been cleared.
As Harry neared it, he rather understood. There was an eerie feel about the area.
He half-expected Draco to be standing near the usual leafless tree, surrounded by dying plant life, shuffling awkwardly and looking at the ground.
There was no Draco. Harry refused to admit to being disappointed.
What should he do now, he wondered. There wasn’t much left in the ruins, and Draco wasn’t here like some insane part of him had imagined. Just empty, lifeless debris that he had already seen with startling clarity in his dreams.
He walked to the tree, right near the edge of what had been the walls of the manor, now only obvious by the end of the stone foundation peeking through the burnt earth. Harry closed his eyes and leant back against the tree, remembering all the dreams he’d ever had of Draco. The realistic Draco had always looked down and never straight at him, always in this very spot, as if something on the ground fascinated him.
Almost on impulse, Harry glanced at the ground.
Lying before his feet, quietly among a few desiccated stalks, was a wand.
Harry picked it up. He recalled this wand. Not just in his memories of Draco returning to Harry’s flat and placing the wand on the bedside table or kitchen counter, but also a long time ago, when he had used it in place of his own. He recalled the magical signature, the feeling, the intense power compared to the plain replacement wand he’d first used after breaking his own, the traces of its owner. Springy hawthorn, with unicorn hair.
Draco Malfoy’s wand.
It had not been burnt away in the fire, and had instead fallen beneath the very tree in Harry’s recurring dreams. Neither Andromeda Tonks nor the rescue team had seen it. Instead, it had lain in its place, hidden among the brown withered bracken, waiting for Harry.
That night, Harry slept with Draco’s wand in his hand. For the first time in the whole ordeal, he cried. For his foolishness in caring for Draco or ever starting any sort of relationship, for the illusion he’d created in his despair, and for the other Draco, the one he was beginning to imagine was a ghost. For that last night, when Draco had held him and asked him to remember it was real. Even if Draco hadn’t been kind, he had been caring in his way, and Harry cried for the fact that he somehow knew Draco had been using cruelty as a shield, because that was all Draco had known to do his whole life.
He cried, mostly, for the fact that he would never be able to have Draco come back, now that he knew they had both secretly hated their cold, no-strings relationship.
Eventually, he cried himself to sleep, where Draco appeared in his dream again.
“Take it,” he told Harry, a half-smile touching his lips. “In case you ever need it again.”
Thank you, Harry mouthed, because his chest was too tight for him to speak aloud.
After that, Harry never dreamed of Draco standing in the ruins of Malfoy Manor ever again.