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A Cold Spot in Hell

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[Blue twilight turns amber when the sky has gone too long without rain.
- Wildfire by Abbycadabra]

1. Draco appeared in glamours at Harry’s elbow in Celestina’s Sugar Parlour four years after the battle of Hogwarts. He’d said Harry’s name, quietly enough that no one heard. Harry recognized the voice and he recognized the hands.

Draco passed him a piece of paper and Harry was a fool to take it, but he took it.

“The remaining Death Eaters and those who still sympathize with their cause have been organizing for too long and I can no longer claim ignorance. They believe I’m one of them. I am unequivocally not. If you’re against them, I’d like to help you. When the Minister speaks tomorrow, I’ll demonstrate my loyalty. I’ll be wearing a different face and the same red handkerchief.”

The handkerchief flashed against his breast like a rose. In Harry’s hands, the paper lit and burned itself to ash.

37. “Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we actually won,” Ron says, sprawled on Harry’s bed as Harry folds their laundry, the smell of lavender warm in the room. “Like if it was really over.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Harry says, more gruffly than he means to.

2. They went around in circles for days about Draco’s note. Harry spent a weekend slipping out of rooms when one of them started in on it until they cornered him in Grimmauld’s kitchen after breakfast, the dishes still dirty in the sink. Neville wouldn’t look him in the eye as he stood with his arms tightly crossed, Luna sitting blithely on the counter and Ginny in the doorway like she knew she was blocking his exit and was doing it just to force his hand, possibly for nothing more than her own entertainment.

Hermione and Ron were braced shoulder to shoulder by the sink, his arm tucked protectively around her waist as Hermione told Harry for the third time that she thought it was a trap. Harry couldn’t figure out how to believe her. Ron took that tone, somewhere between apologetic and condescending, and told Harry he’d always been weird about Malfoy. Harry didn’t think he’d been weird about Malfoy, he thought he’d always been right. Luna had said that both could be true and if it had been anyone else, Harry would have snapped at them. He kept his mouth in a thin line and felt guilty anyway.

38. Draco never went to Azkaban after the war and not many other people did either. Maybe he should have, although Harry doesn’t know what it would have helped. Even now, Harry doesn’t know what else he expected: maybe for something to change at the Ministry, maybe for someone to take a stand, to be held accountable for what they did. He had believed Voldemort’s death would mean something, if not his own.

A monument appeared in the atrium of the ministry, a replacement for the one that had been destroyed. It was large, impersonal, and covered with names, a lightning strike cascading from the top. He knows Umbridge walks past it on her way to work but he wonders if it bothers her the way everything bothers him, rage unruly and tight under his skin.

3. When the councilman standing behind the Minister at the podium went up in flames, Harry stopped watching the production. He’d seen the man’s face in the Prophet so many times, smiling guilelessly from the front cover, shaking hands over some brand new callousness.

It was a dead giveaway to look away, but Harry couldn’t help it. Screams rose around him like water coursing into a bathtub. Smoke curled upward and he was dimly aware of the horror of others, dimly aware that a bad man burning didn’t register to him as frightening on any real level. No more or less real than Harry’s dreams of violence, the flaming figure struggled against the pyre he had become, the Minister herded to safety, the crowd crushing Harry backwards in their bright wash of terror.

As the brutality unfolded, he watched Draco. The handkerchief was silken violence around Draco’s neck, caught with a pin. He was watching Draco with a different face, staring at the luminous disaster he’d created, eyes limned with a cold and endless fury.

39. In the Wizengamot one afternoon, Hermione breaks down in tears. There are muggleborns that never returned to the wizarding world after the war and so many people don’t think that that’s a problem, certainly not one they should waste resources on. Harry hasn’t been following it very closely. He finds all of this easier if he doesn’t get emotionally invested, if he doesn’t hope except when Hermione brings home a few bottles of wine and tells him there’s something to celebrate.

4. Draco appeared a week later next to Harry when he was out for groceries, saying his name softly as Harry stood over boxes of strawberries. Harry should have jumped but he didn’t. Sometimes he found himself staring at his own palms, wondering if he’d somehow polyjuiced into someone else, wondering if he really recognized his own hands. The backs were better, the familiarity of his own writing scarred on the brown skin, only ever recognizable by the sharp white remainders of wounds.

“You saw,” Draco said quietly, picking up a box of fruit and putting it down again, like any other shopper. He had a different face on, new hair, but familiar hands.

“Yeah,” Harry replied. His hand brushed Draco’s and neither of them startled at the touch. He thought he might have done it on purpose. “How did you do it?”

“Spell I made up,” Draco said. “There’s a metal component they swallow that lives in the stomach. I cast a spell that activates it and then…” The smile wasn’t on Draco’s face but Harry knew what it would look like. A thin-lipped, cruel kind of levity. Harry hadn’t known what to make of him. “Did you like it?”

Harry nodded, first perfunctorily and then like he couldn’t remember how to stop doing it. He had liked it, the clean violence, the flames.

40. The following morning, there’s an article about the tears. It begins: Granger Melts Down: Is the Youngest Member of the Wizengamot Crumbling Under the Pressure? Harry doesn’t read it nor does he care to know what it says, but Hermione doesn’t come down for breakfast and so he takes her oatmeal upstairs and finds her weeping in the linen closet.

“What can I do?” he asks after a long minute, holding the bowl awkwardly in front of him like a limb he’s lost feeling in.

She opens the door and when she sees him holding her breakfast, her face crumples. She sets the bowl on top of a stack of towels and hugs him in the desperate way that sobbing people do. She’s the only one who can do that without him wanting to slough his skin off and he thinks it must be because they have so much practice.

5. An owl delivered a handkerchief to Harry’s window. It was dark blue and on it, was a series of numbers. There was a date, a time, and a set of coordinates. Harry went. It didn’t occur to him not to go.

[So many people.
Have been awful to you.
I’ve given each one.
A number. When you’re ready.
I will ask you to draw me
Their hands.
- Gloves, Kaveh Akbar]

41. At one point or another, Draco could have chosen to be safe. It might have been safer to quietly collude with the Death Eaters with the knowledge that the institutions would always protect them, that no one would ever face consequences, that Malfoys would always be able to pay their way back into the world’s good graces, as easy as pushing a body into a lake, weighing it down again and again no matter how many times it bloated and rose to the surface.

There was probably a time after the war where Draco could have fled the country instead, gone for a small beach house somewhere gray and tended a few chickens, maybe had an herb garden. These are the kinds of things Harry would in theory choose for himself in any other universe.

It’s not a real choice, safety or staying. It’s not a real choice but sometimes Harry wishes Draco had made it, just so someone would.

6. “Blood runs thicker than water,” Harry said, when Draco sat down on the bench in the middle of the night. He had on a face that wasn’t his. His clothes fit him the same way they had in the store: unsure and rumpled even when they were his size. Harry hadn’t remembered his clothes always fitting this way, but that was how they fit him then.

“Fire burns hotter than blood,” Draco replied, his face entirely glamored. It was in this way that they let each other know the ruse wasn’t up.

Harry didn’t look at his face, he looked at his hands. They were awfully clean for an arsonist’s hands.

42. Harry places the small metal piece under his tongue, the decoy. One causes you to go up in smoke for real, one appears that way. Blood runs thicker than water, fire burns hotter than blood.

Draco wants to know what the flames look like. He wants to know if the fake is believable. Harry could have told him that it was, but he wanted to see for himself.

7. “Explain it to me,” Harry said.

“I wanted them to be afraid,” Draco said. “Like I was.”

43. “When did you decide to trust me?” Draco asks.

“Your eyes,” Harry says. “You were as angry as I am.”

Draco casts and Harry feels the flames as cool and bright as forgetting as they swallow him up, curl over his head. Draco is looking at him like a last resort. When the flames die down, Draco is watching the place where he used to be, the empty space where he stood. Harry has seen this expression on his face before, back in sixth year, back on the day of the battle, like he’d lost everything.

Harry spits out the metal, moves quietly, kisses him, doesn’t stop, forgets how.

8. Hermione hadn’t approved of the fire. Hermione had been on the Wizengamot for three years and this was how she wanted to fix things. Harry no longer believed her, but he wanted to. Harry couldn’t tell if Ron believed her or not, but he acted like he did, which was the same thing.

“So you think what he’s doing is wrong?” Harry asked, as they sat at the dinner table in the candlelight, the food mostly gone. He hadn’t wanted to say anything but he was sick of it, everyone pretending they were any better, pretending like any of them planned on doing something more useful, pretending that any of them, if push came to shove, really believed he should stop. Sure it was wrong, so many things were.

Everyone else was long tired of having this conversation with Hermione, who would never be moved, who would never forgive any of them for disagreeing.

“I do,” Hermione said. “Do you think it’s right? To kill someone?”

“I’m not sure I care if I think it’s right,” Harry said. It rattled him, to realize how much he believed this.

[Don’t worry. One kills in dreams
but wakes having not killed.]

44. It occurs to Harry that Draco can die, like Hermione can die, like Ron can die, like Neville and Luna and Ginny can die. He knows other people could die but it always comes to him like that, as a revelation. Draco assures Harry that the Death Eaters don’t suspect him, that they’re too stupid, that he’s too good of a showman or a liar. Harry doesn’t know how comforting this is supposed to be, because he knows that Draco is lying, in some way, about something. It’s never been entirely clear how much danger Draco is in.

9. On the run, trying to torture a muggle family for sport, Bellatrix Lestrange went up like a gust of wind. She went up into the inkblack night like a cackle the second she cast, the soft, brutal animal engulfing her even as the rest of them tried to put her out. There was no stopping the flames. They should have suspected Draco all along, Harry thought. He always loved a spectacle.

45. Draco won’t fake his own death no matter how many times Harry asks him to. Every night, Harry imagines the Death Eaters figuring out exactly where Draco sneaks off to, every night, he imagines him dead, or worse. Draco knows too many things about Harry, he always has. It’s no consolation that no one knows this, that no one would never know to ask Draco about Harry in the first place.

[Tell me we’re dead and I’ll love you even more.
I’m surprised that I say it with feeling.
There’s a thing in my stomach about this. A simple thing. The last rung.
- The Torn Up Road, Richard Siken]

10. Harry wished Ron and Neville wouldn’t read the Prophet. This was one of the few things he and Ginny reliably agreed on.

“Garbage,” she sneered, whenever she caught them with it open at the breakfast table, which was most days.

“Research,” Ron replied, and she did some personal, cruel quirk of distaste just for him.

46. It upsets Harry, in a detached, gnawing way, that Neville holds him at arm’s length after everything.

“You don’t know what it was like,” Neville says, looking guilty for saying it to Harry of all people, the words like the most stubborn apology.

It would be too much work, Harry thinks, to act out indignation, or fury. Too many people have died for Harry to think that any of them can understand anything anymore. He’s never going to try to explain to Neville that Draco is the kindest and most familiar anyone has ever been with his body, that Harry is horrible at being loved and now is no different.

Harry supposes that all of this could be his fault, that he chose Draco and didn’t have to. When it was happening, it didn’t feel like a choice. That had been a relief, the inevitability. If he admitted he had chosen it he would have to feel ashamed. It was easier to accept it, like a drowning, unchosen but welcome.

11. When Voldemort died, everything was supposed to be over, but it wasn’t. Neville had said it, about snakes, that every time you cut off a head two new ones grow in its place.

Harry hadn’t had to kill Voldemort. It was so easy that he was killed by his own curse, that Harry had never needed to decide whether or not he would use Avada Kedavra when it came down to it. Or rather, that Harry had never had to ask whether his use of the killing curse would’ve been right. When he clumsily threw the Cruciatus at Bellatrix in fifth year, she’d told him that for Unforgivables to work you really have to mean them. He didn’t know what it said about him that when he cast Crucio on Amycus Carrow, Amycus hadn’t gotten up afterwards. Even if he couldn’t make himself regret it, even if it had been revenge on behalf of someone he loved.

He suspected it was worse to be a coward who couldn’t do what needed to be done when it needed doing, wanted to believe he could have cast it if it had been necessary, was terrified, in all cases, of being wrong.

47. Draco has a fucked up idea of justice. He crawls into Harry’s bed smelling like smoke. He kisses like pulling a finger too far back. Sometimes when they fuck, all Harry can think about is dying, working his body mechanically, trying not to open his eyes unless he has to. Other times he can’t keep his mouth shut, can’t keep from going completely to pieces, can’t keep from whimpering like a dog or a child. Draco is so gentle with him and he’s so gone for it that the pleasure feels something like shame.

12. Harry and Draco met in odd places. They didn’t need to meet as much as they did. Harry had known this from the beginning and he had a feeling Draco knew, too. Maybe all their friends did. Maybe it had been obvious. They picked inauspicious wooded areas and sat on dry leaves or damp grass and Draco explained himself. He had a quieter voice than Harry remembered, careful with his words, snappish only about himself. Harry had wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to explain, but Harry liked to listen to him talk.

[You were burned, you were about to burn, you were still on fire.
- Straw House, Straw Dog, Richard Siken]

48. “You’re not bad. I know bad people and you’re not bad,” Harry says.

Draco gives him a long look, tilting his long pointed nose up into the cool air. “What if I told you that I know I’m bad?”

“You’re wrong,” Harry says.

Draco cracks one of his tinderbox smiles. “Of course you’d assume you know me better than I know myself.”

Harry scowls. “Maybe I do.”

“You’re wrong,” Draco says. This has been going on for so long already, this unfolding. Harry doesn’t know how many more ways they can find to mean something to each other.

“I’m not.”

“But what if you were?” Draco presses. “What if you’re wrong and I am bad, would you still love me then?”

Harry’s never told him, that he loves him. “Don’t ask stupid questions.”

Something in the way that Draco looks at him makes Harry know it’s the wrong thing to say.

13. “You aren’t hopeful anymore, are you?” Harry asked.

Draco looked at him like he was trying to figure out what answer Harry wanted.

“No,” Draco said finally. “Not particularly.” It was a relief, to hear someone say this. “But what else is there to do?”

[Having not killed is part of waking. Some mornings, though
you lay there pinned under layers of light, fear,]

49. “I would love you if you were a bad person,” Harry admits, later, his mouth pressed to the back of Draco’s neck, darting his tongue out to catch the salt of sweat. “You have to know that. I would love you if you were the worst.”

14. The Quibbler printed the truth and on the radio, Lee and George made tyranny and complacency sound as insignificant and breakable as a finger bone. It was never entirely clear who was listening, if anyone. Months wore on, Hermione sometimes got the votes she needed and she didn’t. The cruelty continued, people died by negligence or malice. Draco entertained the Death Eaters and their sympathizers, the same, at Malfoy Manor, the ones on the Wizengamot, the rest. He fed them, he listened.

At Grimmauld Place, Harry cooked dinner each night, tended the tomatoes, washed their clothes, paired their socks one by one, like any hero would.

50. Draco’s Dark Mark, faded like an old blood blister and churning a persistent yellow and purple bruise, keeps him as safe as it ever has. What he did at the Manor and to his father was reckless and they all knew it. He claimed it bought him more time, that the Death Eaters believed him persecuted as they were, on the run from Azkaban or no longer allowed to exert the same blameless sway over the Ministry. Draco plays it up to them, that they must be coming for him, fakes outrage, fakes fear. Privately, Harry wonders how hard he has to try to be afraid.

“Be careful,” Harry says, as Draco turns to leave, wearing a face that isn’t his face and hands that are his hands.

Before he disapparates, Draco shakes his head.

15. Draco knew better than anyone who in the Ministry was a Death Eater, who thought the Death Eaters had been right in thought but wrong in action, and who would agree to anything if the money was good enough. Listening to him talk, Hermione scribbled a hole in her parchment with the nib of a quill, fury burning a harsh line across her forehead. When she looked at him afterwards, Harry noticed a softening in her expression, almost imperceptible. Draco helped her figure out who she needed to talk to, what she needed to say to push some of her reforms through, even small consolations, and she forgave him.

Ginny said to him one night that she didn’t know who Hermione thought she was kidding and that was when Harry realized who shot all of those holes into the tin cans out by his garden.

“You should vanish the cans,” Harry said. “You never know who could find them.”

“You aren’t going to tell,” she said shrewdly.

“No,” Harry said.

“I can teach you, if you want,” Ginny said.

“That’s okay.”

Ginny looked like she was torn between saying something horrible to him and kissing him on the mouth but she did neither, just dried her hands angrily on the dish towel and stomped upstairs, leaving him alone in the kitchen again. Before he went up to bed he took the towel and refolded it, the cotton damp against his hands.

[One-Act Play In Which We Float Facedown In The Center Of A Lake, A Position Known As The Dead Man’s Float
YOU: Everything that is on fire can’t be saved.
ME: Everything that is saved can’t be set on fire.
- Dalton Day]

51. “Do you ever just want to be normal?” Harry asks.

Draco blinks. “I don’t think that was ever on the table for either of us.”

“I don’t think it’ll ever be over,” Harry says. It was supposed to be and it wasn’t. “I want to give up sometimes.”

“Of course I want to give up,” Draco says. “Of course I do, but we can’t lose.”

“I don’t know how much longer I can do it,” Harry says.

“I always surprise myself,” Draco says.

“I don’t think we can win,” Harry says. He wants Draco to disagree. “I hope we can.”

Draco kisses him on the forehead, on the temple, on the jaw. Every place Draco touches feels like it belonged to a real body, a real person. Harry doesn’t know how to ask him to never remove his hands, so he just holds still and hopes Draco will absentmindedly forget them there. “I don’t hope for anything anymore.”

17. “Blood runs thicker than water,” Harry said, when Draco appeared in the kitchen, where Harry lingered always, in the wooden chair by the little table, waiting for things to come out of the oven.

“Fire burns hotter than blood,” Draco replied, setting his coat on the back of the chair like he lived there, like he was any of them, his glamour dissolving into his face, his hands remaining his hands. He seemed to need to hear it as much as Harry did.

52. “Was it the Fiendfyre?” Harry asks one night, Draco curled to his chest. “Was that where it started?”

“Was it so obvious?”

“You looked so terrified,” Harry says, a hand wrapped around the back of Draco’s neck, the sheet pulled over both of them. Outside, there was no moon.

Draco kisses Harry’s neck, his collarbone, his chest. “Don’t I look terrified now?”

[The face of a lover is an unknown precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.
- Another Country, James Baldwin]

18. They all sat at the circular table. Harry had made dinner. Luna was braiding Ginny’s hair again, their hands moving as swiftly as birds, rings glinting in the orange firelight. Draco and Hermione were arguing and Neville was trying to peace-keep. Ron had already said something stupid and reckless and been shouted down by Ginny and they should have called it off then.

“Please, can we not yell for once-“ Neville said tiredly, and Hermione rounded on him, slamming her hand on the table.

“I’d like to see you yell,” Hermione snapped, and Neville looked like she’d hit him, wilting under it. She turned her gaze to the rest of the table. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who actually gives a fucking shit what happens. What are we even doing? Every god damn day nothing changes. It’s not your arses on the line if the Death Eaters really come back, is it? If muggle borns lose their rights? It’s mine.” She was clutching her arm, her arm with the word scarred across the skin. “Fuck all of you, honestly. Fuck!”

“Hermione,” Harry said. He’d stood up at some point. Everyone watched. He almost never spoke at these things and Hermione was looking at him like she’d already decided she wouldn’t back down. He hadn’t known what to fucking say to her. He didn’t want her to back down. He’d wanted it to end. “Hermione.”

She held his gaze for so long. He watched as she folded the fury inside herself and sat back down at the table, everyone looking so sorry.

53. “I don’t want anyone else to die for me,” Harry admits, the kind of selfish admission he only makes to Luna, who already understands him far more than he’s comfortable with. “And that’s what he’s trying to do, whether he’ll admit it or not. I don’t know, so he feels like he’s finally doing something good. Like he thinks risking his life is the only good thing he can do. God, that’s fucked up right? That’s not true.”

“Do you think that everyone who dies, dies for a reason?” Luna asks, and doesn’t wait for Harry to answer. “I suppose you would, that’s such a part of your personal myth. No one’s death serves any purpose, Harry. It’s no different than pulling Death in Tarot, as likely or unlikely as pulling an ace…” they trail off, their elbow on their desk and their editing forgotten.

“I don’t think when someone dies it has to be for a reason,” Harry says, to say something.

“It makes you nervous, then,” Luna says. “That you think he’d have a good reason to die, so you think he will.”

“No,” Harry says, unconvincingly.

“My mum died when I was a baby,” Luna says. They speak so slowly, each word a new continent. “But it was senseless. Anyway, Draco might think the only good thing he can do is risk his life, but don’t you think that too? Didn’t you?”

[I give everything away and it goes away
into the dusty air,
onto the face of the water
that goes away beyond our seeing.
I give everything away that has been given to me.]

19. “You don’t talk much,” Draco said one day. They were in the kitchen, Harry chopping rosemary from his garden with a steady hand. “You were more talkative in school.”

“Like you’d know,” Harry said mildly, though Draco was right. He had the sense that everyone thought he was a little bit destroyed, which he would mind more if he didn’t privately agree.

“I do,” Draco said, and Harry looked up at him to find his gaze firm and unyielding. He looked gorgeous in the light, somewhere between righteous and defeated.

Harry lost track of what to do with his hands, the knife in his hand, the hands in front of him. Draco’s hands were out of sight. “I guess you would.”

[and woolen blankets.
You know what’s right and what’s wrong,
what you don’t know is what happened
and if you were actually there.]

54. “Blood runs thicker than water,” Harry says, long after it stops being necessary, just to hear Draco say his part back.

20. Draco killed his father. No one begrudged him this. Lucius never pretended to be a good person but the public had never needed that from him. They needed him repentant and redeemed, they needed his money. How many times could Lucius Malfoy be sent to Azkaban and apologize in lump sums before both of these gestures became worthless? What gesture, other than death, from Lucius Malfoy, would not have been worthless?

55. Draco stays the night sometimes, though he used to say it was too dangerous. He’s playing crazy, he says, the Death Eaters who sought his guidance and shelter now growing concerned by the Malfoy boy’s erratic behavior. He says this to Harry like he isn’t the Malfoy boy, like he’s speaking about someone else. This is how he paints it to Harry when he comes skulking into the house, jumping at the slightest noise, distractible to everything but touch.

Harry can’t think about it for too long without wanting to scream, so he does, in the backyard in front of the tomato patch and then feels stupid for doing so. He wants so many things to feel like relief, but none of them do.

The Wizengamot’s official statement on the vigilante killings of former Death Eaters is brief and politely chastizing. Harry watches Draco read it in the Prophet one night, a smile flickering across his face as he reads the Op-Ed that suggests that these acts of arson must be by some misguided and highly dangerous muggle-born seeking revenge in all the wrong ways.

21. After Draco killed his father, he folded and unfolded his handkerchief so many times that Harry began to predict the hand motions that preceded the folding. Harry made him something to eat but he didn’t eat it, just folded and folded. His suit was immaculate and Harry wondered if the emotion he was feeling was closer to regret or vindication. He was afraid to ask. At some point, Draco began crying and Harry put both of his hands over Draco’s and the handkerchief, neither of them unaware of their history.

[That’s why dreams of digging a deep hole with a stolen shovel
are so confusing. That’s why you expect to jerk awake
when you stand in a pile of dry brush
holding a lit match in your hand.
- America Talks to Me Like a Mother, Catie Rosemurgy]

56. “I’m going to need you to stop asking me to be safe,” Draco says, as he puts on his coat the next morning to return to wherever he’s staying now, with some group of Death Eater sympathizers or another. Harry makes an effort not to learn their names. “I don’t know how much longer I can say no to you. Don’t ask me again.”

22. “I can’t believe he did it,” Ginny said, hard mouthed with Harry in the garden, planting. Harry knew she was talking about Lucius.

“Why not?” Harry asked. He looked into Draco’s eyes every time he got the chance and didn’t like what he saw there, sometimes. It didn’t keep him from looking. Dumbledore’s words floated back to him: Draco, Draco, you’re not a killer.

“Kind of fucked up,” Ginny said, avoiding his eyes and dropping three seeds in the dirt, covering them with freckled hands. “Like actually doing it. I don’t know. Wouldn’t you feel complicated about it?”

“Would you feel complicated about killing Lucius?” Harry asked.

“Probably, if I was his spawn,” Ginny said.

Harry thought of the gun Ginny kept in her sock drawer and decided he didn’t really believe her.

57. Harry wants to ask Draco if he’s getting warmer or cooler. They could play twenty questions. Do you think you’re going to die? Do you think you’re going to die in a month? Do you think you’re going to die in a week? Do you think it’s worth it? Do you think I’m worth it? How much would you have to love me to give it up? Sorry, I know that’s not a yes or no question.

23. After Draco killed his father, he got reckless. He burned down the Manor. His mother had been dead for a long time, and he never talked about it. When he returned from this errand he smelled like smoke, even under the clothes, the skin. So much of him was a dead giveaway. Harry couldn’t believe that no one noticed, but no one had ever watched Draco like he had.

“Nothing in that house reminded me of her anymore,” Draco said, like Harry needed to be convinced of something. Harry thought of his own mother, who was too dead to be anything but beyond reproach, who he only ever had eyes to remember by. Draco had his mother’s eyes too, but there were so many other things, before.

[We could just leave quietly
ignoring
the ghosts of our fathers
striding through the mists in their clanking armor,
babbling about justice and the glorious future.
The swans and dolphins will not try to restrain us.
- Plague Poem, Katha Pollit]

58. When Ginny had been in danger and Harry had loved her, he’d sent her away. Draco would never have allowed it. Harry doesn’t know if this makes him feel better or worse.

24. One night, when Harry watched Ginny shoot cans from his bedroom window, he remembered what Dumbledore had said to Draco, that killing is never as easy as the innocent believe. He didn’t remember at which point they stopped being innocent. He thought he’d been grieving it since before he knew it was gone.

59. Draco ties Harry’s wrists back with the handkerchief and kisses him until Harry is a mess of sound and breathing. Harry wants everything to feel like relief. He’s worried this is the closest he’ll ever come, but doesn’t think he can complain.

25. Ginny shot with her right hand because she cast with her left. A wand has a lot of purposes, but a gun is a gun. Harry wondered why everyone he ever loved insisted on being so dangerous, but didn’t really wonder, the kind of wondering that’s knowing, but not wanting to admit that you know.

60. Draco agrees to fake his own death. Harry doesn’t know how it’s gone on this long, feels as if he should have been found out by now, is surprised he hasn’t been. No game can be played forever and besides, Harry can’t go on like this, on the knife’s edge.

“Don’t be cruel,” Draco says, sometimes, when Harry tells him that it’s not worth it anymore, risking his life for negligible information. Harry doesn’t think he’s very good at pleading, because he’s never found his suffering very compelling.

“I don’t ask for anything,” Harry says. His begging sounds like anger, he knows this. “I’m asking for you. You can choose to end it, you can go into hiding. We’ll hide you. You’ll be safe.” It’s not lost on him that Sirius died rather than spend years hidden away in the house of the Blacks, that Harry is always asking the people he loves for the same impossible things.

Draco doesn’t answer, but he kisses Harry’s cheeks, the bridge of his nose, the back of his closed eyelids. Harry can feel him shaking, has felt him shaking since the first time they touched.

26. They were always waiting for something to really happen. Harry didn’t know if the something would be bad or good. Harry wondered if they would know what to do when it came.

Harry remembered, over and over, the night that Neville slit Nagini into pieces, her guts curdling out of her snakeskin. He’d done it wearing one of his sweater-vests, his shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows, his face streaked with ash. How odd.

Harry didn’t know what happened to the clothes he went to battle in. He couldn’t really remember how he’d felt, only the scratch of a tag on the back of his neck, his blue t-shirt dark with sweat and dirt, a stain that covered the entire left sleeve that must have been blood.

Everything had the boring residue of destiny on it. He’d lost track of the amount of times he’d thought that surely it couldn’t get worse, the amount of times he’d thought “I’m not surprised anymore,” which wasn’t the same as really not being surprised. It was quietly admitting that you were still being taken aback by cruelty you wished you could be numb to.

[My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed.
Of iron, if that’s possible.
- Romance Somnambulo, Federico Garcia Lorca]

61. Have you been watching the handkerchief? This is an object lesson. This isn’t a lesson at all. This is a tallying up of every good or bad thing anyone has ever done, but how would that be measured? By how beautiful it was? By how good it felt? By the length of time it would take to be consumed in flame?

27. “You couldn’t be a martyr,” Harry said. They’d eaten and were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, rain coming down relentlessly outside. Draco should have gone home but he hadn’t yet.

“But you could,” said Draco.

“It didn’t stick when I tried,” Harry said, smiled.

Draco smiled, and then the smile became a new expression. “Sometimes I have nightmares about Hagrid carrying you. You can’t imagine what it looked like, how we felt.”

“Sometimes I wonder if I would have been more useful dead,” Harry said, then knew it was the kind of thing he said sometimes, where it was bad. Draco looked at him for ages, but didn’t do the things the rest of them did.

“Not to me,” Draco said.

62. “If you die, who’s going to…” Harry starts, and can’t finish, can’t form the words, because the words are ‘love me.’

Draco tenses underneath him. Harry holds onto his waist and looks up to see him working around lies he can’t bring himself to say, like discs of metal in the mouth.

“How could you let anyone else do it,” Harry babbles, angry and incoherent. “Anyone who wasn’t you.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Draco begins, his voice terrible, clutching Harry to his chest. “If you don’t stop talking like this.”

[I am telling you a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.
- Elegy, Aracelis Girmay]

28. In the forest, they tested the spell. Draco was in his own body and Harry couldn’t stop watching it like a crowd at a magic show, like if he blinked he’ll miss the sleight of hand. In Draco’s back pocket, his handkerchief blazed like a rose. Harry’s was crumpled in the front pocket of his flannel shirt, the silk beginning to wear where he’d worried it.

He didn’t tell Draco that he had it in his hands almost always. Draco knew. Sometimes, Draco looked at him with the fierce and penetrating pity Harry saw in everyone else’s eyes. Sometimes, Draco looked at him like he was the last man on Earth.

“Watch closely,” Draco said, the decoy metal in his hand. Draco slipped it into his mouth. Harry imagined it under his tongue, warming there like a coal. Draco didn’t murmur an incantation. He didn’t go to touch his wand.

63. Harry knows that you should never believe anyone is dead unless you see the body. Draco fakes his own death, in the middle of Diagon Alley on a Tuesday. The blaze swallows him down with crazed precision, bright and alive, just like it’s supposed to. Harry looks into his eyes right until the end. Draco doesn’t scream, doesn’t crumple. It’s dignified.

29. Draco was looking at Harry like he was asking to be looked at in return and Harry could do it, this simple thing, and then the flames began. They started at the back of Draco’s throat and licked outwards to envelop his shoulders, his head, his chest and his hips. Then there were his hands and his shoes and then there was a pyre.

Harry watched him burn. He wondered, if it was really happening, if Draco would have screamed or if he would have borne it silently. When Harry had died the first time he’d done it quietly. He hadn’t thought to scream.

64. As it’s happening, Harry wants to cry out, wants to scream, but it wouldn’t suit.

30. The blaze swallowed Draco down with crazed precision, bright and alive. Harry looked into his eyes right until the end. He didn’t scream, he didn’t crumple. It was dignified.

Draco burned and burned and then there was no more of him. The sharp mouth of the fire drew shadows that danced across the trees and then there was nothing but the afterimage behind Harry’s eyes as they fought to adjust, a rainbow mirage of past light and a thick darkness. There was a pile of ash that crackled and settled with magic.

“Draco?” Harry asked the wood, terror coppery in his mouth. He was ashamed of the fear in his voice, ashamed of the tremor of it. The trees shifted and shimmered in the breeze, the night folded over itself.

“How was it?” Draco asked, a frenzied excitement in his voice. He was invisible, part of the trick, and Harry wanted to cry suddenly. He thought if he asked Draco to show himself he’d resort to begging, wanted to bite his tongue until it bled so he wouldn’t.

“Good,” Harry said, raggedly. “How long do you stay invisible after?”

Draco materialized a few steps away from where he disappeared, spitting the metal into his palm and pocketing it. Draco’s hair was everywhere, pale white and disheveled in the moonlight. His eyes were far wilder. Harry wasn’t sure he’d describe the expression on his face as a smile. He had such a mouth.

65. There’s a small pocket of ash left in the street. Harry doesn’t pocket any of it, doesn’t run his fingers through it. He doesn’t want to believe it’s Draco and so he doesn’t. It’s not Draco, he’d told Harry so. Draco is supposed to appear on Harry’s doorstep, hours later and when he doesn’t, Harry goes out and gardens for hours like a somnambulist, pulling weeds until there are none left.

31. There was something in Draco’s face, something in the tilted moonlight of the expression that told Harry that Draco wanted Harry to kiss him, that Draco wouldn’t do it himself. Harry always walked into the forest to die, this was no different. Draco watched him walk.

66. Harry turns his handkerchief bright red and lays it on his pillow. He doesn’t want to touch it or let it out of his sight. Harry doesn’t know what’s gone wrong and there’s no one left to ask.

33. Draco smelled like ash and cologne and his mouth tasted like smoke. Harry had his hand on Draco’s jaw, felt the prickle of his scruff, the curve of bone under skin. They kissed and their teeth knocked, they were both trying to lead.

67. The red handkerchief lays folded like a spray of blood. The red handkerchief is always reminding Harry of blood. It could have reminded him of other things, like sunsets or flowers, but it never did. It occurs to him, when he finally picks it up, holding it in his hands for long that it becomes the same warmth of the body, that it could remind him of flame.

33. Draco gasped against Harry’s mouth and a wild desire licked up Harry’s throat. The brutal terror was still there as Draco’s hands slid over him, fevered and grasping. Harry was holding on for dear life, Draco was reaching his hands under Harry’s shirt and Harry was coming to pieces. He was realizing where the worst parts are, realizing that after the worst parts the world just goes deeper.

[What fire does not destroy, it hardens.
- Oscar Wilde]

68. So many people have died for Harry that it’s begun to feel like a tired party trick, so predictable that Harry almost can’t believe it. Harry knows that Neville thinks Draco fled, though he hasn’t said anything. Neville has a righteous kind of pity about him now that makes Harry want to hit him.

No one thinks that Draco accidentally switched the real flame with the decoy, but Harry mulls it over some nights, considers it. He doesn’t know if it makes him feel better or worse.

34. “Which do you want?” Luna asked him, as if they were enquiring after his preference for lunch. “Justice or revenge?”

“So it’s an either/or?”

They smiled. “Oh no, Harry, not at all.”

69. “Do you believe they found him out?” Luna asks, sitting on the chair in the kitchen as Harry made a tomato sauce, their feet propped on the middle rung. They have an uncanny ability to ask the questions Harry needs someone to ask him, even though he can never figure out how to answer. Just the idea that they could be asked, instead of hidden, is a relief.
Hermione would only ever say that Draco was gone and Harry yelled at her once to not say gone when she meant dead, before remembering that she also used that verb to talk about her parents, who were also gone, though not dead.

“I hope he left,” Harry says. “I hope he tricked all of us and got away.”

“Do you think that’s what happened?” Luna asks.

All of Harry’s emotions sound like anger when he speaks them. “Don’t be stupid.”

[All things silent in my seeing.
All things believable in their leaving.
Everything I have I give away
and it goes away.
- It Goes Away, Linda Gregg]

35. “Do you remember, when you cursed me, how much water was on the floor? I thought I would float away, if not in the water, then in the blood,” Draco said, a fire going in the fireplace, everyone else long asleep.

70. “Fire burns hotter than blood.”

Ron looks at him, really looks at him, and doesn’t seem to know what he’s seeing. “Water flows faster than fire?”

Harry’s head jerks up, he hadn’t meant to speak. “What?”

“The hand game,” Ron says slowly. “Fire, water, blood, you know?”

The way he says it makes Harry suddenly understand, want to laugh until he cries. “Rock paper scissors,” he says.

“What?” Ron asks. “What are you talking about.”

“Fuck,” Harry says, titlting his head back. “I don’t know. I have no fucking idea.”

36. “I thought I’d killed you,” Harry said. “It was the closest I’d ever come to killing someone. It still is.”

[A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river
but then he’s still left
with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he’s still left with his hands.
- Boot Theory, Richard Siken]

71. After Draco is gone, Harry lies in bed and imagines that night on the astronomy tower. He holds the handkerchief, he breathes; this is all he’s capable of anymore. Beginning in his stomach is a pool of water and every time he inhales, it grows wider.

Harry has never chosen anything but pain always chooses him, never further away than his shadow. He would cry if he thought he could, he would scream if screaming had ever been a relief. Harry always walks into the forest to die, this is no different.

Like considering a memory in a pensieve that should belong to him but doesn’t, Harry is dimly aware that one day he will be able to begin pairing socks again and picking sun hot tomatoes from the vine. Things happen to him, this will happen too.

He pulls the blanket over his head. There’s no moon. He remembers being under the invisibility cloak, believing that that night was the reckoning, believing that a reckoning was possible, that anyone’s death could mean anything other than death. He mouths the words as they trip through his brain and can’t parse meaning from them: you have been trying, with increasing desperation, to kill me all year. Forgive me, Draco, but they have been feeble attempts… so feeble, to be honest, that I wonder whether your heart has been really in it…