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The Auror and the Ghost

Chapter Text

The whole mess starts with Pansy Parkinson because of course, it does.

She stumbles into my office on a Tuesday morning, all perfect makeup and sleek shiny hair, her stiletto heels striking the flagstone floor in sharp, short, deafening taps.

“I’ve been drugged,” she declares, standing in front of my desk with her arms crossed and her manicured fingers pressed tight on to the baby-blue cashmere of her sweater.

She doesn’t say anything else—not hello, or how are you, or I need your help. She doesn’t request a chair or follow up that statement with anything at all. She just says she’s been drugged as the words have been sitting like knives upon her tongue for days and waits.

I gesture towards a chair, she pulls it up and sets her handbag on her lap, smoothing the grey wool of her skirt with her left hand. She still doesn’t say a word. I feel her chestnut eyes trying to bore a hole at the base of my throat.

“Can you tell me why you think that?” I ask, shuffling the case files on my desk in search of a quill.

Up close, I can see the details she’s trying to hide behind her put-together facade—the sharp eyeliner highlights a redness in her eyes that belies too little sleep and too many tears; her hands are flat against the houndstooth fabric of her skirt, pressing just a little too hard onto her thighs, the finger joints just a little too white. Everything about her form is just a little too tense, the shoulders just a little too square underneath the soft pastel knit, her chin just a little too jutted. Whatever it is she thinks happened, she’s not coping very well at all.

“Auror Potter.” She takes a sharp breath in. “I have known I was a lesbian ever since I was thirteen and kissed Millicent on a dare. I have never as much as liked a man for a single second in my entire life. Yet, today, I woke up in the middle of my engagement party to Miles Bletchley.” She says the name like she’s spitting out a slug. For an instant, I think she’s going to start crying. She doesn’t. (She presses her lips tightly together instead.)

“You say you woke up,” I ask. “Can you tell me what you mean by that?”

“I can’t really explain in a way that doesn’t make me sound crazy.” She pauses and laughs, dry and hollow. It sounds like nerves and exhaustion. “And Merlin forbid I sound crazy in front of an Auror, lest he dismisses my case entirely.”

She pauses. Hesitates.

“Look, Potter, do you remember Draco’s funeral?”

I try not to wince at that. I try not to tell her that there are days when Draco’s funeral is all that I can think about. I try not to show that Draco’s death is still etched into every single one of my bones, a terrible sort of tattoo made entirely out of pain and loss. 

(I fail.)

I nod all the same.

“Do you remember who I was with, Potter?”

She doesn’t let me answer, which is a good thing because I don’t want to remember anything about that awful day at all.

(I remember everything: the way the air stuck to my lungs like tar, and the way rain fell straight through my skin and pooled inside my chest, and the way the darkness behind my eyes swallowed the sun until the colours bled out of everything.)

“I was with Luna. We’d been dating for three months when Draco died. She saw me at my worst, Potter—she saw the days I started crying in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t stop until I fell asleep. She was there when I couldn’t get out of bed, and when I didn’t shower for a week, and when I spent hours under scalding water, rubbing at my skin, hoping I could wash the grief away like mud. She held my hand through everything, and she never once told me I was too much. If there’s one thing I can tell you, it is that I decided I’d marry her that day. Right there and then under the pouring rain, I vowed to myself I’d spend the rest of my life with this wonderful woman if she’d have me.”

Pansy’s eyes are bright with tears when she stops speaking. She reaches over my desk and covers my hand with her delicate fingers. Her skin is cold and smooth on mine, and I look up from the notes I wasn’t taking anyway. 

“I don’t even remember leaving her,” Pansy whispers with shiny, round tears rolling down her cheeks, “I loved her so much, and I don’t even remember leaving her, and when I woke up I was going to marry that idiot Bletchley.”

“Do you have any recollection at all of anything prior to that engagement party?” The question is awkward, of course, if only because my voice sounds deafeningly loud in the wake of her pained whisper, but I figure it is the best way to help her stop crying. Pansy’s never liked having people pity her, and I can’t quite bring myself to entertain the emotion anyway.

“I don’t… I don’t and I do at the same time... I remember some of it...” Pansy withdraws her hand from mine and buries her fingers between her knees in a nervous motion. “Have you ever had those dreams that you can’t remember entirely? Like there are entire chunks missing from the story, and it’s right there at the edge of your brain but you can’t seem to ever remember them? That’s how I feel about the last two years.”

“Can you talk me through what you remember?” I ask because her story resonates strangely inside my chest; because every single one of her words awakes something behind my ribs, something terrible and ancient that I didn’t even know was there before it started to stir, and I need to know more.

“I remember Draco’s funeral. I remember coming home with Luna afterwards and I remember two weeks after that, maybe three. I asked Luna to move in with me, and she said yes, and I remember it was the first time I thought maybe I was going to be alright.”

Pansy pauses for an instant and rubs at her cheeks with her hand, smudging the wet traces of her carefully applied makeup. She doesn’t notice, and I don’t tell her.

“I remember going to my parents’ for Sunday dinner. Then, my memories start to fade. I remember my parents’ Equinox ball last summer, Miles had a hand over my shoulders and it was the happiest I have ever felt. I remember shopping inon Diagon Alley—a new dress I think, an awful mess of light pink chiffon I would never normally wear. I remember thinking it was wonderful. I remember the smell of roses in Parkinson Manor Park, and I remember thinking Miles was going to propose. I remember bits and pieces, in no particular order, like puzzle pieces that don’t fit together. And I hate it, Potter. I hate it. I hate not having my memories. I hate that there is a hole in my mind where the last two years should be.”

The anger in her voice sets fire to the terrible, ancient things in my chest. I look down at my quill. I haven’t taken a single note since she started talking about Draco’s funeral. I write memory loss and I ask:

“And if you have, indeed, been drugged, Miss Parkinson, can you think of anyone who could have done it?”

“My father.” Her reply is sharp and stinging like a whip. I write it down too and add a question mark.

“I have no proof, of course,” she continues in a poison-laced voice, “But two years ago, I had a flat and a girlfriend I loved more than anything on earth, and now, I have none of these things. Instead, I have a bedroom at the Manor and am apparently living in bliss at the idea that I am going to marry an absolute cretin—and I promise you, Auror Potter, I would never have agreed to either of these things of my own free will.”

She rummages through her small handbag (smooth charcoal leather,  posh and expensive) until she finds a torn piece of paper that she sets on the desk and pushes towards me.

“One thing I remember is that Father received regular owls from this apothecary. It didn’t strike me as strange at the time, but then again I was being courted by a man and didn’t think it was strange either. It’s not his regular apothecary, though, and I’ve never heard the name before. He still buys his headache potions from the same place he always did, so it’s not that he’s changed shops. It’s not much to go on, and it doesn’t prove anything, but it’s the best I can give you.”

I pick up the receipt: Hawthorne’s Apothecary is written on top in a curly script. Underneath, an amount of galleons is penned in ink. No mention of what the galleons have been exchanged for. I turn it between my fingers for a while, then I spell it attached onto the pitiful notes I’d taken. I look at her and her face is equal parts anger and loss, confusion and resignation. I can’t think of any more questions to ask.

I end up promising Pansy that I’ll look into that apothecary if nothing else. I know I shouldn’t because new cases should be run by my boss, but thinking about Draco’s death has never caused me to make a single good decision in my life so I tell her I’ll see what I can do. She stands up brisk and businesslike, wiping the smudged traces of wet mascara from her cheeks, and she shakes my hand.

“I know you pushed for Draco’s murder to be investigated,” she adds, squeezing my hand, “and I know what it cost you. Just do what you can, Potter. I trust you.”

And then, she’s out of the door, the sound of her heels the only reminder she’d ever been here. I collapse into my chair and don’t move for the rest of the day.

I visit Hawthorne’s Apothecary the very next day. 

I shouldn’t, of course. I should wait a few days, I should clear my head, talk it over with Ron. I should do a whole lot of things that I don’t feel like doing at all, so I don’t do any of them. I just leave my office on my lunch break and walk through the streets of London.

I pretend I don’t know where I’m going. I pretend that a bit of air will do me good. To tell the truth, all the talk of Malfoy’s funeral affects me more than I expected. That’s saying quite a lot, really, since Malfoy’s death has been hanging over my head for the past two years. It’s not even that we were friends, Malfoy and I, not strictly speaking. We were—friendlier. After the war. We spoke to each other when we met at Ministry functions, swapped a couple of awkward platitudes here and there. He used to work as a potion expert for the Aurors, I’d bring him samples to test every now and then, and I’d wish him a good day. It makes no sense that I’d miss him so much, and I know Ron and Hermione think I’m somehow using his death as a shorthand to talk about all the others—Sirius and my parents, Fred and Remus and Tonks. It’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either.

Hawthorne’s Apothecary ends up being a tiny shop in Horizont Alley. It looks respectable enough, from the outside. Although it doesn’t have any windows, the grey-green wood door has been left slightly ajar; it boasts a small wooden sign upon which the name of the shop is written in the same curly script I had noticed on the receipt Pansy gave me. I sneak a glance at the inside of the shop through the glass panelling of the door: it seems empty. Before I can second-guess coming here at all, I push the door and walk in.

The inside of the shop is surprisingly bright, given the lack of windows. I suspect someone with an expert hand at interior design charms has had a hand in that at some point. Other than that, the shop is entirely unremarkable. The hardwood floors are tarnished with time, and pine shelves full of boxes and bottles and jars stretch from floor to ceiling on every wall. I recognise raw ingredients—nothing rare, things like asphodel and dittany, things I remember using in potions class at Hogwarts.

“Can I help you?”

The voice is deep and male. The question startles me. I turn around. Behind the counter, the wizard repeats:

“Sir? Can I help you?”

I walk towards him, not entirely certain what to tell him when he saves me the trouble by recognising me.

“Harry? Harry Potter? I don’t think we’ve seen each other since we left Hogwarts!” He extends his hand towards me, a wide smile spreading across his face. I have no idea who he is.

“You remember me, right? Aaron Woodbridge? Used to play chaser for Ravenclaw when you were in Second Year?”

“Yeah,” I say because I absolutely don’t, and give his hand a firm shake, “I can’t say I expected to find you here! Is this your shop?”

“It is indeed!” He beams with pride. “It’s not as big as I’d like, not yet, but I can sell you some of the finest potions in London! Are you looking for something in particular?”

“I am, actually,” I lie, and it is my first mistake. “I can feel a terrible headache coming on and I really can’t afford to take the time off this afternoon.”

“You have come to the right place, Harry. Come, come, let us go at the back of the shop and I will put together a potion especially for you.”

I follow him behind the counter through a heavy plum curtain and to a cluttered table in a tiny room full of books and paper.

“What would you say your headaches are like, usually? Stabbing? Pounding?” He searches through the shelves on the wall until he finds a book and thumbs the pages as he waits for my answer.

“Pounding?” I say because I figure I have to say something and that’s as good as anything else, really.

“Pounding,” he repeats as he finds the right page and sets the book down on the table. He busies himself with clearing the table to make space for a small silver cauldron; I crane my neck and try to make out the contents of the book. It is some sort of potion recipe. I don’t know what I expected.

We make small talk as he works. I learn he doesn’t have any children although he would want some in the future and that he dedicates all his free time to this shop until he can find a suitable girl to marry and settle down. I hum a vague sort of agreement. For all his commitment to his business, I can’t help but feel slightly ill at ease. It’s not something that I can pinpoint exactly, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to settle down, but he’s using turns of phrases that remind me of how people used to talk before the war and it’s apparently enough to make me feel faintly sick. I tell myself that it’s perhaps just that I am not yet at the point in my life where I can imagine a future that isn’t just another version of the present.

“Tell me how you found my shop again?” He asks, grinding up the thick leaves of some sort of succulent plant into a paste. “Not that many people manage to find it by chance, especially since I can’t afford to have a proper storefront yet”

“Miles,” I blurt out, and this is my second mistake. “Miles Bletchley. We’re… Um. Friends.”

I am a terrible liar. Aaron adds a crimson powder into his cauldron, carefully stirring it in with slow clockwise motions. I feel the mood in the room shift.

“This part requires some concentration,” he warns me as the contents of his cauldron turn bright turmeric yellow. I tell myself his change in demeanour is entirely explained by the apparent difficulty of this step in the brewing process and watch him in silence. 

I try not to think of how distraught Pansy was yesterday because I can’t entirely bring myself to believe this man, however disagreeable I may find him, is the type to be running an illicit potion trade, which means I have no lead on her case. 

I also try not to think of the particular way Draco used to stand hunched over cauldrons in his lab at the ministry when I visited him. 

(I fail on both counts.)

“There you go, Harry,” he finally says, pouring the brightly coloured potion into a cup. “The finest headache potion you will find anywhere in London if I do say so myself.”

He hands me the cup. I hesitate. I wasn’t expecting him to want me to drink anything right there and then.

“It’ll be about twenty minutes before you can feel the effect, you really want to take it at once.” He smiles as one would smile at a scared dog or a fussy child, reassuring and patronising. I take the cup from his fingers. And then, because I can’t think of any excuses, I make my third mistake:

I drink the potion.

As the world fades to black around me, Aaron’s smile is the last thing I see, and it makes me want to be sick.

Chapter Text

Harry’s lying on the ground when he opens his eyes again, the rich-dark earth painting stripes of wet where it comes into contact with the soft naked skin of his hands and wrists and neck. Around him, the purple-fragrant blooms of lavender sway softly in the still, heavy air, caressing his face with their powerful, soothing scent.

He stands up, slowly. Everything is a soft watercolour of muted pastels; lavender fields stretch as far as the eye can see. Calm spills into Harry’s veins like grey-blue ink, soothing and cooling until he feels entirely at peace; time and geography have no currency here. Harry takes off his shoes, lets the soft, vulnerable skin of his feet come into contact the cold earth as he walks, lets the drawn wrap its grey-blue fog around him like gauze.

Harry doesn’t think about leaving this place; he doesn’t think about staying either. He simply breathes, letting the floral-freshness of the humid air cleanses grief and tension out of his lungs and his veins and his heart. And he would keep doing it for entire lifetimes until it was time to finally lay down amongst the rich blooms and let his heart stop beating and melt into the ground, he would—but he doesn’t because, across the fog, a figure is walking towards him.

Harry recognises him at once, and every single drop of blood in his heart and under his skin suddenly boils and boils and burns with the white-hot knowledge that—it can’t be. But it is, it is , Harry’s bones sing as the fog parts and Harry can finally make out the stranger’s face—only it’s not a stranger’s at all. It is Draco’s and the knowledge of it cracks Harry’s ribs in splintered halves like lightning. Fire catches in his stomach and he thinks he’ll suffocate from the smoke in his lungs. In his throat. On his tongue.

Draco walks straight towards him, unhurried and gorgeous, his dark cloak billowing around him. Everything about him is exactly as Harry remembers: the lazy, elegant gait and the starlight hair. The bismuth eyes and the messy, complicated feelings that still pool like quicksilver inside Harry’s chest (that drown his spleen and crush his lungs and fill his throat.)

Draco’s lips keep moving as he walks, stretching around words and sentences. The sounds get lost in the heavy, rich silence that fills Harry’s ears like his ears clotted cream or cotton-wool, and an aching kind of loss radiates in the empty spaces between Harry’s ribs. (It makes Harry want to scream.)

“Draco,” Harry whispers instead. The word is a prayer: deafening and tasting of smoke. 

Draco stops in front of Harry. They’re standing so close now that Harry can smell the musk and spice of Draco’s skin, could touch him if he extended his arm, could fist his hand in the soft wool of Draco’s cape and pull him towards him and burrow his face in the softness of his neck.

“Draco,” Harry whispers again as one would cry at the clouds or scream at the sea, with reckless desperation and boundless pain. (He’s afraid that if he moves, Draco will dissipate into thin air or disappear entirely.)

Draco doesn’t answer, or maybe he does and the silence just swallows up all the words. His lips are still moving, red and soft and mesmerising; Harry feels like he’s drowning in fog and silence and the keen sense of loss and longing that scratches at the bone of his jaw. Time stretches, then, with green eyes staring into grey, but just before it entirely stops:

Draco reaches out his palm


touches Harry.

The skin of his palm is cool and soft and tangible on Harry’s cheek; Harry’s flesh freezes and catches fire all at once. (Frost spreads from the hollow at the base of his throat and onto the skin of his chest. His blood turns into lava, bubbling and hot-thick beneath his skin.)

Harry tries to exhale but his lungs forgot how to breathe at the instant he first caught sight of Draco and his heart doesn’t know how to beat with Draco’s body touching his. He is entirely certain he is going to die this very minute with Draco’s eyes on him, with Draco’s skin on his, with Draco’s beautifully unkissed mouth speaking words he can’t understand. He tries to cover Draco’s hand with his, to touch Draco’s face, to run his fingers through Draco’s hair but his limbs have been turned to stone, heavy and cracked and unmoving. 

“Harry,” Draco says then. His voice tastes thick and sweet like mangoes on Harry’s skin and the low vibration kickstarts Harry’s heart into beating again.

“Harry! Harry, please wake up.”

The voice is not Draco’s; the pitch is off and the accent all wrong. 

I groan. Breathing hurts and there’s a swarm of bees buzzing inside my skull. I ignore the firecracker pain that shoots through my back long enough to realise that I’m lying on a cold, hard surface.

“Merlin, Harry! You idiot! What were you thinking, running off on your own?” Ron’s hands are digging into my shoulders as he yells. I sit up and open my eyes. My entire mouth tastes of bitterness and it’s making my stomach churn.

“I’m sorry,” I try to say but it all comes out wrong, words blurring into each other, as the sinking feeling that something is awfully wrong settles in my gut. I am the same shop I was in just moments ago, with the ingredient shelves and the hardwood floor, only—it is empty. There are no jars on the pine shelves, there are no books or papers or cauldrons. The table has disappeared from the middle of the room, and the chair I sat on. Only the plum curtain still hangs, heavy and dark across the doorway. I can’t make sense of any of it.

“Are you okay, mate?” 

Ron is looking discernibly less angry, now. More worried. I imagine the chill that’s frozen my stomach over shows on my face somehow. I nod weakly and try to manage a smile. (I fail miserably.)

“Do you remember Aaron Woodbridge?” I ask because my brain can’t wrap itself around anything that has happened to me since I drank what I’m beginning to suspect wasn’t a headache-relieving potion at all. “Used to play quidditch for Ravenclaw when we were at Hogwarts or something?”

Ron stares at me like I’ve lost it completely. 

“Mate, we’re getting you back to the office. You’re going to get checked by a healer, and then you’re going to tell me about Wormwood or whatever his name is, and you’re going to tell me the entire story, and you’re going to stop forgetting the excellent reasons I was assigned to be your partner, all of them having to do with not running into danger headfirst and alone.”

I nod. In my state of confused haze, it’s the best I can manage but it seems de placate Ron enough that he claps me on the back and flashes me a small, tight smile. I get up on shaky legs, still not entirely trusting the floor not to cave in under my feet and swallow me whole. 

Ron Apparates us back. 

There’s nothing wrong with me. That’s what the healers say in any case. I let them auscult me, casting diagnostic spells that shimmer all around me in flashes of blue and violet light. I don’t move as they frown at the reading and discuss them in hushed whispers, I don’t argue when they tell me I should have been more careful. I also don’t tell them I’ve taken an unknown potion. And so, they let me go back home, instead of making me spend the evening in St Mungo’s getting yelled at by my boss. 

I promise Ron I’ll fill him in on the case in the morning. I’m tired, I say. I add something about just wanting to go home and have a good night’s sleep. Ron doesn’t argue. I can tell he doesn’t believe me either; it’s just that, in the wake of the fiasco that was Malfoy’s death, he learned not to push me to talk before I’m ready.

I hardly register the walk back home, the streets, the houses. My mind keeps circling back to Draco, who was never really my friend and whom I will never have a chance to see again, and my head is full of heavy, confusing thoughts when I finally stop in front of my door. I insert the key in the lock. The metal is cold and smooth under my fingers like it’s always been, and it still makes all the same muted clicks as it works the pins in the mechanism open. I feel like it shouldn’t—because I saw Draco in the lavender-fields. Because he touched my face and said my name. Because I can’t see him again.

 Somehow, it feels infuriating that everything hasn’t changed entirely. 

I cross the threshold and close the door behind me. “I had the brilliant idea of drinking an unknown potion that made me hallucinate Draco,” I say out loud in the empty hallway, hoping it might exorcise all the unspeakable feelings that have taken residence inside my chest, “it doesn’t mean anything.” 

Only silence answers me and I feel strangely disappointed. 

Despite my best efforts, it soon becomes clear that spending the entire evening awake and not thinking about Draco is more than I can take. I sit down on the sofa with a quidditch magazine: I feel his presence lingering two steps behind me. I shower: his fingers ghost upon my skin. Everything I eat tastes like bitterness and grief; the dream still clings to my skin, lavender and fog and quicksilver eyes curled tightly inside my chest, heavy and pulsating. It’s all that I can think about.

By 7 o’clock, I am utterly convinced that I need to forget the entire day—wrap it up tightly in a cardboard box in my mind, close it up with string and shipping tape and never open it again. 

I climb into bed, ignoring that sunlight is still flooding my bedroom, and fall asleep.


Draco’s voice jerks Harry awake like a hook to the stomach. His eyes spring open as he takes the deep, hissing breaths of a man who almost drowned.

He doesn’t think it strange that he’s already standing. He doesn’t notice that he can’t remember anything that happened before he heard the voice. He only turns around, instinctively, his entire body moving towards the voice, arms stretched out, heart heavy and desperate. 

There’s nothing there, but the smell of brine and the cries of seagulls. (It washes against his skin in waves.)

Harry is standing on a cliff: many meters below his feet, ever-moving waves lap and lick at the jagged rock, their edges lined with white lace. Sea holly bushes stretch their spiny, powder-blue umbels at the sky and wild fennels undulate softly, green-yellow flowers fragrant and vivid against the grey of sea and sky and cliff. The winds are strong here, whispering in Harry’s ears, caressing his face, and playing in his hair. 

Harry’s chest is hollow with a keen sense of loss and absence.

“Harry,” Draco’s voice says again, and Harry drops to his knees, hands gripping tight handfuls of vegetation as if they could turn into Draco, as if it could hold him back—could stop him from disappearing or dying or being only a disembodied voice in his head. When he opens his palms, he finds only the yellow balls of sea wormwood blooms and the pungent fragrance of alexander leaves and the poison-viscous stains of bittersweet fruit upon his skin.

“I’m here,” Harry whispers then, “I’m here.” And the words scatter away on the wind.

“I wish you were here too,” Harry adds in a strangled sort of voice that is more sob than words. A single tear rolls on his cheek, tracing the line of his jaw and falling from his chin and down, down, down into the blue-green sea, saltwater returning to saltwater.

“I am,” Draco’s voice says, and Harry knows without turning that it is true. He can smell musk and spice on the wind, amongst the seaweed and the brine and the waves. (Inside his chest: his heart swells and swells and swells until the tides of his blood are a storm at sea, crashing against his ribs: Wild. Dangerous. Deafening.)

“Come,” Draco says, “let us walk.” Harry turns, and the sight of Draco punches a hole clean through his chest. Draco is standing amongst the thick, red-pink patches of sea-heath and the dry, swaying stalks of coarse beach-grasses, a dark green velvet cloak wrapped around his shoulders and pulled over his head, his silver eyes liquid and bright. (Alive. Alive. Alive)

Draco pushes the hood of his cloak off his head and extends his hand to Harry, in a slow, elegant gesture. In the palm that Draco turns towards the sky, Harry places his own darker fingers.

They walk on a sandy path between the firework-yellow bushes of gorse and the edge of the cliff. Harry has no memories of standing up, nor does he remember any of what happened after he placed his hand in Draco’s, but he can’t bring himself to care, because Draco’s fingers curl around his own, shielding his skin from the cold and wind. Draco’s face is pure and open as he looks over the cliff at the point where sky and sea meet and melt into each other. 

“Draco,” Harry says because the name fills his lungs and his mouth and his heart.

“There’s something I want to show you,” Draco answers without turning his head towards Harry. “Come.”

Harry’s entirely drunk on Draco’s touch and his beauty and the smell of the sea. There is an intimacy to this cliff, and this sea, and this sky. There is a safety to the heavy, thorny bushes of gorse and the purple-pink splashes of cotton thistles. And so Harry follows, his hand nested in Draco’s still, the sound of their steps softened by sand and knotweed underfoot.

Draco appears to know every step, every stone, every tuft of grass. He doesn’t hesitate when he pulls Harry towards a steep, narrow path that snakes between sharp towering rocks and leads them down, down, down, onto a small, secluded beach. Draco laughs when they set foot on the wet sand and runs towards the sea. Harry holds tight onto Draco’s hand. (He holds onto Draco’s laughter tighter still.) He finds himself barefoot in the sea, with the cool, green-grey waves lapping at his ankles. He’s barefoot. He doesn’t remember taking his shoes off. They face the sea in silence for a while.

“I’ve missed you,” Harry says, without turning his head, as if to the sea.

“I know,” Draco replies in a soft, quiet voice. “I know. I’ve missed you too.”

He turns towards Harry, eyes luminous and pained. Harry’s breath catches in his throat. Draco takes Harry’s other hand in his, carefully, and steps closer, water splashing under his feet and around Harry’s ankles, until their chests are so close they’re almost touching. Under Harry’s skin, blood roars in tempestuous waves and he’s entirely certain he will die, a helpless sailor in this storm.

Draco blinks, once then twice, slowly, delicate blond-white eyelashes obscuring the brightness of his eyes, his gaze still fixed on Harry’s face. His hair is long and loose and tickling Harry’s cheek.

“I’d like to kiss you,” he whispers on to Harry’s skin.

“Yes,” Harry exhales, boneless with more emotion than he ever thought possible to feel. “Oh Merlin, yes.” 

Kissing Draco is a lightning storm and a tidal wave all at once, dangerous and awe-inspiring. Every sound, every breath, every sensation is an earthquake unto its own, and Harry moans into Draco’s mouth, alive and passionate and desperate for more. “Oh Merlin, don’t stop,” he pleads against Draco’s teeth and the tenderness of it all makes his head swim. His chest catches fire from all the points of contact with Draco’s body, warm and firm and tangible against him until Harry is entirely certain he needs that touch in the same way he needs air or water. Harry holds on to Draco like he is drowning, kisses Draco again and again and again, whispering his name into his mouth. Draco tightens his embrace, then, letting go of Harry’s hands to hold onto his hair and the back of his neck. 

The movement throws Harry off balance. 

Harry stumbles, falls into the sea. The cold water soaks his skin and hair as his back makes heavy contact with the wet sand beneath him; the world blurs and distorts as the saltwater washes over his face. When he surfaces again, elbows coming into contact with the seafloor as he pushes himself up, Draco’s face is inches above him, their limbs interwoven beneath the green velvet cover of Draco’s coat floating gently on the waves. Suddenly, it feels all wrong.

“You’re dead,” Harry whispers as the realisation turns the air in his lungs into sulfuric acid.

Draco’s cheeks are stained with tears.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers back at Harry. “I’m sorry.”

I wake up in my bed, drenched in sweat and mad with grief. I can barely make it into the bathroom before my stomach is sick, the feeling of Draco’s lips on mine leaving my body like poison. I spend long minutes dry-heaving on the tiled floor, clutching at my chest with desperate hands, my breath catching on my teeth and in my throat.

“Fuck,” I say to the silent darkness of the room before another wave of nausea shakes my cold, clammy body. “Fuck,” I say again because hearing my own voice reassures me because any sound is better than the silence hanging above my head because I need to convince myself that I’m real.

I have no idea what to do now. I don’t know how to be awake or how to be alive in a world where Draco doesn’t hold my hand, and doesn’t breathe into my mouth, and doesn’t kiss my jaw. Draco’s death sits on my lungs heavy and cold like a stone at the bottom of the sea.

I need to go back.

I drag myself back into bed, the sickness roiling in waves at the bottom of my stomach.

I need to go back. I need to talk to him, tell him all the things that have been sitting in the hollow of my throat since he’s been gone. I need to make my peace and finally be over—this. Everything. The fact that I still can’t think about his death without guilt and anger and sadness washing over my skin.

The old Holyhead Harpies shirt I’m wearing is cold and drenched in sweat; I take it off before climbing into bed. Humid frost has settled inside my bones and I shiver under the covers. 

I close my eyes.

It takes me several hours to find sleep again.

Harry finds himself sitting on a warm stone bench under the heat of the summer sun. The smell of roses is overpowering; they hang in heavy clusters from an arch above his head. He stands. He’s in a garden of some kind and it is high summer; around him, the flowerbeds are bursting with deep violet aconites contrasting with the yellow-green of lady’s mantle or dotted with white windflowers and pink lilies. He walks along the gravel path, letting the golden light of late afternoon warm his skin.

“Draco?” He whispers on to a large bush of larkspur (pink and violet and white.)

A woman’s voice answers him. 

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she says.

Harry turns around. The woman is wearing a long, gauzy, white gown that looks like something from another time. She’s barefoot; her long blonde hair is untied and falling to her hips. Her blue eyes are wide and wet as she stares at a cluster of Love-in-the-Mists.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she repeats, her voice broken and panicked.

Her face is familiar to Harry, a distant memory from Hogwarts. She was in his year. Slytherin. A girl with a name like a tree or a plant or a brook. He can’t quite put his finger on it.

When Harry asks who she is and if she’s okay and if he can help, she doesn’t answer. Instead, she grabs his wrist in her slender, cool fingers and stares at his face.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she repeats, insistent and anxious. “I’m not supposed to be here.”

Harry doesn’t know what she means, but before he can ask, she collapses into a sobbing heap at his feet.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she whispers, again and again as she covers her face with her hands.

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

Under Harry’s feet, the gravel path dissipates and he falls into the dark.

Chapter Text

“Are we going to talk about what happened yesterday?” Ron is half sitting on his desk when I arrive into our shared office, nursing a cup of lukewarm tea in his fingers. He doesn’t greet me.

“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, we are.” I take off my cloak and throw it on the back of my chair.

“Pansy came in,” I begin, sitting as Ron waves a quiet warming spell over his tea. “She kept saying she was being drugged.” 

Ron takes a sip of tea and doesn’t look at me. I tap my quill sharply on my desk as if it could release the tension between us.

“By her father,” I add after a while. “Because she’s a lesbian.”

Ron makes a small, unconvinced go on sound. I continue.

“She didn’t have a lot to go on, only that she loved Luna and that she doesn’t remember breaking up with her. And she gave me a receipt from a potion shop her dad received regular owl delivery from.”

I rummage through my desk to find the receipt and slide it towards him. Ron inspects it carefully.

“That address is the empty room we found you in,” he says after flicking through the attached interview notes.

“It wasn’t empty,” I say. Ron raises an eyebrow in my direction. “When I went there. It wasn’t empty. It was an actual potion shop, had the name on the door and everything.”

I can tell Ron doesn’t quite believe me. If I’m honest, I don’t quite believe myself either, not with all the strange dreams I’ve been having lately. I take a deep breath and pinch the bridge of my nose between my fingers.

“Aaron Woodbridge was there,” I continue. “Said it was his shop. I was talking to him, right before... Listen, Ron. We can look him up. Bring him in. See if he ever owned Hawthorne’s potions and ask him where he was that afternoon. Worst case scenario, I hallucinated the entire thing and we drop it. If not, we have a lead.”

“Yeah.” Ron runs his hand through his hair, his teacup forgotten on the corner of his desk. “Yeah, we can do that. What about Pansy? You trust her story?”

“I—yeah. Yeah, I do. She wasn’t faking it, Ron. Either she’s barking mad and escaped from the Janus Thickey ward, or something really happened to her.”

Ron sighs. I know he’s going to let me take the case. Or pretend like it’s a case.

“Look, mate. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ran off without you. I’m sorry I went and passed out in the middle of a potion shop that turned into an empty room at some point while I was out cold.”

A shadow passes across Ron’s face.

“It was a rotten thing to do. It won’t happen again,” I say, hoping it’ll be enough to make the shadow go away. “I promise.”

“It better not.” I feel the pain in Ron’s words. He flashes me a small smile all the same. “Or I swear I will murder you myself, just to finally stop having to wonder when and how it will happen.”

The tension eases a bit after that. Ron fills in the required case paperwork to send to Robard. I try to occupy my mind with a jewel theft case that landed on my desk a while back. (In my mind: Draco’s skin. Draco’s lips. Draco’s breath.)

“You know, I always wondered why Pansy broke up with Luna,” Ron says after a while. He waves his wand over the completed paperwork and it promptly takes flight and flutters out the door. “Ginny and Luna grew really close, after the war. Luna used to spend a lot of time at the burrow, before I moved in with Hermione, drove my mum a little crazy with all her weird ideas.”

I snort at the idea of Molly being told there are imaginary creatures in her hair. Ron smiles, a fond look on his freckled face.

“Do you remember the break-up?”

“Yeah, it was after—” he stops mid-sentence.

“After the funeral,” I cut in to save him from saying the words, “Draco’s funeral.”

“Yeah. After that. Maybe three weeks or a month? She came by the burrow one evening. She was dressed strangely, even for her. I think she had a welly on—just the one. And a nightdress. I didn’t really stare at her for too long, honestly. She kept crying, and I was happy enough to let Ginny deal with that.”

“And she never told you why they broke up?”

“I don’t think so. I didn’t ask, though. It wasn’t really my place to get involved in my sister’s friend’s love life. But I always wondered. They’d both seemed so in love and they had plans to move in together, I think. I remember that because that’s when Hermione and I were looking for a flat. And it just seemed so sudden when they broke up.” Ron lets out a dry, tense laugh. “I think I was just too afraid that the same would happen to me and Mione to really care at the time, you know?”

I don’t, of course. It’s not like I’ve had any relationship worth mentioning in my entire life. Ginny was the longest I ever was with someone but we were too young for it to become really serious and things kind of fizzled out after the war. There’s been no one, since then. (Not until I decided to go and fall in love with a ghost.)

“So Pansy’s story wasn’t entirely fabricated,” I say instead of any of the things that just ran through my head. “She mentioned a lot of those things. The funeral, moving in.”

Ron sits up. I can see I have his attention, now. I can see he’s not just humouring me like he’s done ever since Draco died and turned my world upside down.

“Tell me what really happened in Pansy’s interview,” he demands, opening his notebook and searching around his desk for a quill. “All of it. In detail.”

By the time I finish filling him in, he’s written five pages of illegible notes and sent two requests to our research department: one for Pansy, the other for Aaron Woodbridge. I feel like I’ve gotten a tiny bit closer to finding out the truth.

Sleep eludes me that night.

That is a lie. Let me start again.

I elude sleep that night. I pretend there’s nothing out of the ordinary as I sit in the dark, as I watch the hands on the clock play tag with each other. At two in the morning, I stand up and make myself coffee.

It’s not that I don’t want to see Draco again. It’s not (oh, Merlin, no) that I don’t want to kiss him again. It’s just that can’t stand waking up from these dreams and finding out that he’s dead all over again.

(It’s just that I never knew I wanted this when he was still there, and it’s just that I can’t ever have it now, and the pain of it is tracing fault lines onto my bones.)

So I elude sleep, and I drink coffee in the pitch darkness of night, and I pretend it’s a permanent solution.

“Pansy’s missing,” Ron announces the next morning, holding a thick file the people from research sent over. “Her mother filled in a missing person’s report the day after you saw her. Said she never came home from a shopping errand.”

“I don’t blame her. If her father was drugging her, she’d be pretty stupid to go back.” 

I am nervously rummaging through my desk for no particular reason. I haven’t slept all night. My mouth tastes of caffeine. My hands are shaking with exhaustion and anxiety.

“No trace of mental illnesses in her file, though. No visit to the Janus Thickey ward. No mind healers in recent years. Besides, her mum would probably have thought to mention that kind of thing when she reported her missing.”

“We’ll need to check with Luna. Pansy might try to make contact with her again.” 

I am methodically ripping an old sheet of case notes to shreds and watching the pieces flutter onto the dark wood of my desk. Ron reaches for a quill to make a note, then sits back in his chair.

“What about Aaron Woodbridge ?” I ask because I desperately need him to not be dead or missing or some sort of hallucination.

Ron thumbs through the paper.

“Graduated from Hogwarts,” he reads, “Mastery in potion from someplace in France. Worked in Limoges for a while… Aux mille onguents... His own potion shop...”

Ron mutters under his breath as he goes through the rest of Woodbridge’s file. A weight lifts off my chest at the realisation I may not have imagined everything after all.

“Oh, wait! That’s interesting…” Ron raises his head and looks at me. “Says here he doesn’t work anymore. Something about an injury sustained in a previous job. He’s on ministry benefits from what I can tell.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time someone lied about injuries,” I say, “and ran an undeclared, illegal business on the side.”

“How about we pay him a visit and find out?” Ron suggests, raising an eyebrow at me.

I grin.

The visit to Woodbridge’s place of residence is a disaster. We Apparate mid-afternoon to a location in a nice part of wizarding London, somewhere posh and quiet and within walking distance of his flat. I almost splinch myself with exhaustion. Nausea turns my stomach inside out and I have to lean against a wall and take slow, steady breaths for the better part of a minute to keep my lunch of a sandwich and seven black coffees.

It doesn’t get any better. 

Woodbridge’s flat is in a tall, white-stone building and I suddenly realise it’s not a flat at all, but an entire house, right in the heart of wizarding London. Ron and I look at each other as we double-check we have the right address.

“Never knew you could afford a place like that on Ministry benefits, mate,” I whisper under my breath as I take in the wrought iron and glass awning and the columns on each side of the door.

“You can’t,” Ron replies, a bitter kind of anger pulsating low and heavy in his voice like a black cloud.

I walk up the stairs leading to the front door and I knock on the lacquered wood. Silence answers me. I turn to look at Ron. I knock again, louder.

“You can knock all day, no one’s going to answer,” a voice behind us says. I turn, wand raised. The man is in his early twenties, blond and slim and obviously dressed for garden work of some sort.

“Aurors.” Ron waves his wand. His credentials appear in glowing gold script in the air. “Identify yourself.”

“Oleander Crow. I’m the gardener here.” The man wipes his hands on his battered leather apron. I lower my wand.

“What do you mean no one’s going to answer?” I ask while Ron writes down the man’s name in his notebook.

“The man who used to live here? Put the house up for sale a couple of days ago. I work for Obum & Woolcock real estate—getting the garden nice and trim for the visits.” The man’s accent is neutral and elegant, the accent of someone accustomed to working for people richer than he’ll ever be, but I can hear a trace of something rougher and more Northern dancing at the back of his throat. “I can let you in if you want a look around. They gave me the keys.”

The house is entirely empty. No furniture, no objects. Nothing. Crow doesn’t know when it was put up for sale, and Ron makes a note to check with the agency. We climb up the stairs, open all the doors to the large, sunlit bedrooms, every single one of them empty. Woodbridge has well and truly disappeared. 

Exhaustion is turning the world into a blur of colours and noise by the time we make it back to the office. Ron collapses in his chair. I lean against my desk, too afraid that I’ll fall asleep if I sit.

“That was a right disaster,” I mutter, finding a half-drunk cup of coffee I had abandoned on my desk and spelling it warm. The sudden smell of reheated caffeine makes my stomach quench. I take a sip all the same.

“It was.” 

Ron is filling in the paperwork to request information on Oleander Crow and the agency employing him, even though we both know it’s useless. Woodbridge is gone, and whatever we uncover has very little chance of having anything to do with him. 

“Well, that was our only lead,” he sighs when he’s spelled the forms into paper cranes and sent them floating gently out of the door. He looks at me and I can feel a question in his gaze: what now?

“Can I ask you something a bit strange?” I blurt out because I am struck with the sudden certainty that the blonde girl from my dream is relevant to this case, and also because I have not slept enough to think better of it.

Ron nods.

“There was a girl at Hogwarts. In our year. Pure-blood, I think. Slytherin. Quiet. Pretty in a bland sort of way. Blonde, with blue eyes and a last name like a flower or a forest or something?”

Ron raises an eyebrow. I take another sip of dreadful coffee, in hopes the world around me will solidify and make sense again.

“Look,” I say,” Look. I know it sounds crazy. Call it gut instinct or whatever you will but just trust me on this, okay?” 

“Greengrass,” Ron sighs, “Ginny had a thing with her younger sister Astoria during their last year at Hogwarts. Broke up after a short while, but they liked each other well enough to stay friends and she used to drop by the burrow every now and then.”

“Yeah, that’s the one.” I am more and more certain we need to investigate this. “Daphne, I think her name was? Let’s see if she can come in tomorrow. We need to question her.”

“Do we, now?” Ron is looking thoroughly unimpressed with my sudden stroke of genius.

“Pansy… Um... I think Pansy might have said something. About her. When she came in.” 

I am still a terrible liar.

“Mate, you didn’t even know her name.” Ron looks resigned. I know he doesn’t believe me. I also know he’s going to let me bring her in for questioning tomorrow.

The room is cold and white and Harry feels a shiver running down his spine. It’s not the same dream, he knows it at once, there is no sea here, no sky and no vegetation. Only a white room with no doors or windows. Harry walks to the wall and lets his fingers run over the smooth surface. Anxiety runs up and down his ribs like ants. He needs to get out of here.

“Potter. What the hell are you doing here?”

The voice stops Harry’s heart like a million tiny seizures, it sucks the air clean out of Harry’s lungs until Harry wants to drop to his knees and sob.

He doesn’t.

He turns around instead, and sure enough, Draco is standing there, behind a potion bench and a large bubbling cauldron. His arms are crossed, his brow furrowed.

“Draco?” Harry asks tentatively, not daring to move or breathe because he’s entirely certain that if he does, he will catch fire from the memory of the man’s lips upon his, of the man’s hands upon his skin, of the man’s voice curling inside the shell of his ear.

“Potter, are you quite well?” Draco’s voice is sharp and cold as ice. He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. “Of course, you would show up here. It wasn’t bad enough being stuck inside this room by myself. Of course, you have to be here too!”

The world crumbles around Harry’s ears.

“You might as well sit,” Draco mutters, “you’re not going anywhere soon. No doors on here, though it may have escaped your exceptional powers of observation.”

Harry does not sit. Harry listens to the thunderous roar of blood in his ears, and Harry tries to steady himself, fingers grasping for purchase on the cool whiteness of the walls, and Harry lets darkness swim before his eyes like a plague of locusts, in a million dancing dots.

“You’re dead.” The words are a strangled whisper, but Harry holds onto them like they’re the edge of a cliff and the only thing that keeps him from falling into the vast emptiness below.

“Don’t be an idiot, Potter.” Draco turns around. On the bench, behind him, Harry can see the ingredients laid out neatly, the green of dittany leaves contrasting sharply with the soft indigo of aconite blooms and the vivid violet-red of bitter root flowers. “I’m obviously not dead. I’m just trapped here.”

Silence settles heavy and suffocating between them. Convincing Draco of his untimely death is more than Harry can handle. (Not when the truth of it it still cuts his flesh into ribbons, not when it still stabs sharp needles into his bones and twists his tendons into Gordian knots.) Harry presses his fingers onto his eyelids tightly and watches the spots of colour dancing behind his vision instead.

When he opens his eyes again, Draco is still standing in the same spot, only, instead of glaring at Harry, he’s staring at his fingers in disbelief. His fingers are coated in a thick, viscous, red substance. On the left breast of his white robe, a crimson stain is spreading, lazy and wet and stomach-churning.

Draco lets out a small, terrified whimper.

The whole room smells of copper and war.

Harry collapses on the floor.