Title: Chasing Ghosts
Summary: The war is over, but the past refuses to be left behind.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Word Count: ~3,200
Author's Notes: Thank you to my betas who shall remain anonymous for now.
The flat was dark when Harry returned home from work.
No answer. Odd, that. Harry couldn't remember that Draco had said he'd be going anywhere today. After toeing off his trainers, Harry walked into the living room. Might as well Firecall Ron a little early tonight, before Draco came back. Maybe it shouldn't still feel strange to chat with Ron while Draco was around, but it did.
Harry jumped when the shadows moved, revealing Draco's still form on the sofa. "God, you nearly gave me a heart attack."
The question was rhetorical, of course. There had to be a reason why Draco was sitting in the dark—had probably been in the same spot for a while, since before the sun went down. The way Draco responded would say more about his state of mind than whichever words he chose to answer. Even a hint of sarcasm would be enough of a reassurance that things weren't all that bad.
"An owl came." A factual statement, nothing more. Draco's eyes dropped to the coffee table, where a neatly rolled-up parchment sat between old issues of the Prophet.
A tight feeling in Harry's chest made it difficult to breathe. "Can I read it?"
Harry immediately recognised Blaise's familiar writing.
You were right—there are indeed a few wizarding graves in the Kingsnorth churchyard. I'm not familiar with most of the magical signatures I picked up, so this will require some more research. There is one signature that I identified immediately because I've been around it for most of my life. It's Pansy's. I'm sorry that I have to tell you this way, but I couldn't stand the thought of telling you in person. It's too overwhelming even though we've known this would happen sooner or later.
I'll stay at The New Flying Horse for a few more days. Perhaps you'd like to visit once you've had some time to think about the news.
There were a few more lines about Blaise's other findings. Harry skimmed them, then set down the letter. He knew there was nothing he could say that Draco might want to hear right now. He'd been in the same situation far too often before.
It didn't matter that Draco had already known Pansy was presumed dead, having been captured during the raid on the field hospital near Wye, at a time when the Death Eaters would let prisoners live only long enough to gather information from them. In Draco's more unguarded moments, Harry had seen the tiny bit of hope he clung to surface, that desperate wish that maybe, just maybe Pansy had survived after all. It had been part of the reason why Draco and Blaise had started trying to locate the graves of all the Slytherins that were missing or presumed dead—if they couldn't find Pansy's, there was a chance that she had fled to the continent. A chance that had now been shattered.
Harry reached out, hoping that this small comfort wouldn't be denied, but Draco turned away from the movement and stood up.
"I have some paperwork to catch up on. Don't wait up for me."
Harry sighed and listened to the footsteps disappearing down the hall, followed by the click of the door to Draco's study.
The evening passed by in a blur filled with familiar activities. Even Draco's absence wasn't all that unusual as he often spent a few hours with his books while Harry watched "mindless Muggle crap" on the telly. But the silence emanating from the study tonight was stifling, drowning out the noise coming from the TV and throwing Harry's thoughts into disarray. He finally turned it off with a flick of his wand.
The Firecall with Ron took his mind off things for a while. Harry let the familiar timbre of Ron's voice wash over him. Prepared for the concerned question about his somber mood, Harry told Ron about the latest setback at the agency, about yet another family unwilling to take in an orphan with Death Eater parents. Ron's genuine indignation and encouragement set Harry's mind at ease about the case—he'd find someone who would give that a child a home, he always did.
On his way to bed, Harry stopped in front of the study. With his palm flat against the door, he said, "I'm going to sleep now. There's take-away in the fridge if you're hungry." He wasn't surprised when he didn't receive an answer. "Good night."
He lingered for another moment. There were things he wanted to say—Please come to bed. Don't lock yourself away from me—but they would do more harm then good, so he swallowed them down and continued down the hall.
Harry woke in the middle of the night, face pressed down into his pillow. He panicked for a sleep-hazy moment about the weight crushing him to the mattress before he realised Draco lay on top of him, clinging tightly. Carefully, Harry rolled onto his back and settled Draco on his chest.
"Wha—I—" Draco muttered.
"Shh, it's nothing, go back to sleep," Harry whispered, stroking down Draco's back.
Chances were that Draco wouldn't remember this in the morning. He'd probably slip out of bed before Harry woke up and pretend he'd slept on the sofa, all in an effort to keep his distance, which was fueled by the ridiculous notion that if he kept Harry away, he wouldn't be able to see Draco's grief. As if they could keep much from each other these days.
As expected, Harry found himself alone in bed the next morning. A terse note on the kitchen table announced, Running errands. Back soon.
What Harry didn't expect was Draco returning in the early afternoon, a strange kind of determination in his eyes. "I'm going to Kingsnorth," he announced, not even bothering to take off his cloak.
"Okay," Harry answered slowly.
"I want—" Draco's voice cracked, and Harry was on his feet immediately, crossing the room. "I want you to come with me."
"Of course. Just let me get my wand, okay?"
Harry sprinted to the bedroom, snatched his wand off the nightstand, and threw on a thick sweatshirt. "Will you Apparate us?" He asked when he stood in front of Draco once again.
Certain that Draco would take his arm, Harry startled when he was pulled into a loose embrace. Corresponding tension rushed through Draco's body and Harry hastened to explain, "I didn't think you'd—"
Grey eyes flickered with confusion. "We always—"
Harry held Draco's gaze. "I know. I just wasn't sure if...if—"
"Hold on," Draco cut in, and the world disappeared around them.
Harry leaned against the wall encircling the small graveyard. Draco had been gone for an hour already. Tall bushes kept the graves out of sight; not that Harry would have watched what Draco was doing. Aside from the occasional breeze rustling through budding leaves, it was perfectly quiet, which led Harry to believe Draco had cast a charm to muffle any noises he might make or words he might speak.
Twirling his wand between his hands, Harry watched the carvings on the handle melt into continuous lines, going round and round the wood. He tried to keep his mind blank, tried to push away any thoughts about that night Pansy was captured, when he himself had thought he might not see the next morning. The taste of smoke still lingered in his mouth, and he could still see how it seeped under the door into his room, curling around the bed where he lay immobilized, nearly every bone in his body shattered and only beginning to heal, how he had gasped for air, bright spots dancing in front of his eyes—
No. No, he wouldn't think about this. It was over.
Harry pushed away from the wall, forcing himself to take a few steps forward to the edge of the road that cut through the small village. He slid his wand into the back pocket of his jeans. In order to keep his mind busy, he silently catalogued his surroundings, a habit that had become second nature.
A creaking sound behind him drew his gaze back to the cemetery, where Draco was stepping through the iron gate that marked the entrance. As he came closer, Harry could see the redness in his eyes. Lest he be tempted to draw Draco into his arms, Harry shoved his hands deep into his pockets.
"Warm day today," Draco muttered as he pulled off his cloak.
"Yeah. Much warmer here than at home."
Draco folded and refolded his cloak. "It's further south."
"Right." Harry cleared his throat. "So, um, should we head back?"
"Let's take a walk." Draco looked into both directions, then settled on the one leading away from the houses towards open fields.
Harry fell into step beside Draco. He would not start a conversation. It was up to Draco to find a beginning, and even if they spent the entire walk without talking, he felt something about Draco's mood had already shifted since last night. The silence between them wasn't quite as deafening as before.
They had been walking for a while when Draco asked, "Have I ever told you about the one time Pansy and I snuck into mum's dressing room to play with her elegant robes?"
Harry almost fell over his own feet in surprise, then shook his head.
So Draco told him the story, and then another one, and another—about childhood games and school pranks, about drifting apart during Sixth Year and finding themselves back together when the war started in earnest. Harry listened, asking the occasional question here and there, and remained completely stunned over the flood of words pouring forth from Draco.
In the middle of a story about how Pansy tricked Crabbe and Goyle into stealing Blaise's diary, Draco suddenly stopped mid-sentence. He gulped for air, and opened his mouth, as if he wanted to continue, but pressed his lips together instead. One hand came up to shield his eyes, as if the sun was suddenly too bright.
Harry stepped closer and risked touching his hand to Draco's shoulder. To his relief, Draco turned slightly towards him.
"It's...it's not your fault, you know," Harry began hesitantly. "That she died."
Draco's eyes darted away. "Please don't say that."
"I've read the reports from that night. The attack took everyone by surprise, and there were only a few nurses and healers there, no Aurors or anyone else trained for battle, and—"
"Everyone involved in the war was trained for battle, one way or another, so don't you dare say there were only nurses and healers there." His voice was low, menacing almost.
One of Harry's hands shot up to push his glasses higher up his nose. "I didn't mean—look, I meant to say that it's truly amazing that so many people survived the raid, that everyone at that hospital gave their all to save—"
Grey eyes snapped back up. "Did you ever find out who saved you?"
"You know that we never found out. The person didn't come forward."
"Right." Uncertainty flickered across Draco's face. "It was me."
Harry blinked. Draco's words tightened around him like a Body Bind, making it difficult to speak. "But—you—why didn't you ever say anything?"
Draco shrugged and cast a glance at the surrounding fields, then turned and walked over to the wooden gate opening onto one of them. He grasped the top beam with both of his hands, leaning on it. His shoulders rose and fell with a few deep breaths.
The wind sweeping over the grass carried muttered words over to Harry, whispers too low for him to decipher. Quick steps took him to Draco's side. "What did you say?"
Looking straight ahead, Draco replied, "I said, maybe I wanted to make sure you chose to be with me just because of who I am, not because of what I did. Without a sense of obligation."
"I can't believe you just said that." Harry let himself fall against the gate, his back against the beams. "Knowing that wouldn't have changed anything."
"You can't know that."
Harry stared at Draco for several moments. He felt a wave of anger forming in his stomach, ready to roll over him. "I bloody well can! When that attack happened, we were—I was already in—I was very sure how I felt about you."
He braced himself for the answer, a cutting remark, surely, because raising his voice wasn't Draco's preferred way of arguing. But all Harry received in response was a whispered "Okay" and Draco's head dropping forward, blond fringe obscuring his face.
The broiling anger in Harry, poised on the cusp of a spectacular crash, tipped backward and folded in on itself, leaving him strangely unsettled. He looked over at Draco. The tightly-clasped hands and squared shoulders spoke volumes about his state of mind.
Harry turned towards him, one arm propped up on the gate. "Draco, I've known for a long time now what you mean to me, and I can't imagine anything that would change that." It felt important to repeat this without anger fueling his words.
"I know." There was a gentleness in Draco's voice that was only allowed to surface on those rare occasions when he was too happy or too sad or too preoccupied to keep it in check.
Obviously, Draco was far from happy now, but Harry was at a loss as to what was weighing so heavily on him, aside from the discovery of Pansy's grave. It wasn't grief that he sensed in Draco now, however.
A few moments passed, then they both spoke at the same time.
"Shall we go home—"
"Harry, there's something else—"
They both fell silent. Harry nodded at Draco, encouraging him to continue.
Drawing himself up to his full height, Draco seemed to be steeling himself for what he was about to say. "That night, I didn't only save you, I also let—I let—" His voice wobbled. "Pansy and I were trying to Apparate as many people out of there as we could. We'd just returned from another trip when three Death Eaters suddenly rounded the corner—they must have breached the wards while we were gone—and they threw Expelliarmus at us. They took a hold of Pansy's wand, so we ran, and I managed to send a few hexes at them, but not enough, and then we came to your room and—and we both knew that I couldn't Apparate three people, so...so..." Draco swallowed.
Realisation hit Harry like a Bludger to the stomach. "You left her behind."
"It wasn't even a choice." Draco sounded bitter.
Harry knew exactly what Draco was going to say—it was the same thing so many people had said to Harry during the war, the same excuse or justification or whatever else they had called it. Yet he couldn't find the strength to tell Draco to stop.
"I mean, you're Harry Potter. How could I not save you?" A raspy laugh escaped Draco's throat.
The words stung, and Harry couldn't bear to listen to any more of them. He drew his wand from his pocket. "I'm going home. I just need to be alone." He didn't wait for Draco's answer before he Disapparated.
Harry had only been in their flat for a few moments before he heard the pop of Draco's Apparition. He walked into the living room, hearing footsteps behind him.
"That's why I never told you," Draco said quietly.
"I understand," Harry said, even though he didn't understand much of anything right now. He looked out the window and only saw blurs of colours in front of him.
He'd known that Draco hadn't told him everything about the war, which was fine because there were things Harry hadn't been able to share, either. Events that were still too painful to talk about years later. But this—this was something that concerned both of them, concerned their relationship, and their life together. The one thing Harry felt he could always count on, the one person he could turn to, and now all that seemed brittle around the edges.
He heard Draco sit down on the sofa.
"I don't regret saving you," Draco began. "I hope you're not thinking that I do. I regret not having had a choice. I know that sounds strange because...Pansy and I knew who needed to be saved, and that she'd do the same thing if I had lost my wand. No blame, no guilt, just the facts of war, right?" He paused. "But I wanted to have that choice, and I wanted to choose you. The entire war, I never had a choice about anything I did. It was always others deciding where I'd go, what I'd do. I just wish I could have made that one decision myself. Bear all the consequences, but knowing I chose you because—because you were important to me and I was too selfish to let you die."
The words slowly sunk into Harry's brain. Their complete significance remained elusive, but the brittle edges he'd felt before knitted themselves back together, became whole again.
He walked over to the sofa and knelt in front of Draco, who had his elbows resting against his knees and his head in hands. Harry reached for Draco's arms, his fingers curling around them, tugging. It had only been a day since they'd last touched each other, but it felt longer, and Harry found himself craving their usual closeness.
Slowly, Draco lowered his hands. They came to rest on Harry's shoulders and wandered to his nape, exerting gentle pressure there. Understanding the unspoken invitation, Harry pushed himself up on his knees and drew Draco into his arms. The slight difference in height between them made the hug a bit awkward, but the only thing that mattered to Harry was to have Draco near him again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Draco's only response was to slide down the sofa into Harry's lap. He pulled back and brought one hand up to Harry's face, thumb trailing along his jaw. "It's not your fault."
Harry knew that protesting against that statement was futile. Draco had told him in no uncertain terms before that Harry wasn't to take on the blame for every single death during the war. It's a war. People die, Draco had said. Harry would never be able to see it in quite such clear-cut terms, but he had learned, with Draco's help, to realise that his stubbornness and his insistence on doing things a certain way had spared many lives, and that that was as important as remembering those who had died. Harry began to see why Draco had been so adamant about the importance of the choices he had made during the war.
Harry caught Draco's hand in his. Their entwined fingers dropped between their bodies. "Thank you for saving me."
A small smile crossed Draco's face, accompanied by an acknowledging nod. He leaned forward, his breath tickling Harry's cheek before their lips met.