Dedication: To Draco Malfoy, who, despite being bat-shit insane, noticed that I needed to say good-bye to my father.
Betas: The stalwart crew. Who will even beta a nearly "G"-rated fic for me. The best, I tell you, they're the best: zeldaohzelda, snottygrrl, silentauror, lizzieomalley, and hijapaloma squared. Because she channels me channeling Draco. No mean feat.
Author's Notes: The beginning of this was written for the Challenge No. 11 and had the title "The Smell of Insanity." You have fifteen minutes to write from a prompt. The prompt for this challenge was "roses." This piece has a "King of Hearts" feel about it. If you haven't seen this movie, you're deprived beyond belief. Young Alan Bates. Young Genievieve Bujold. War. Insanity. It says all I want to say a LOT better. But it doesn't have Draco Malfoy so I win.
The anniversary of his mother's death was on a Thursday this year, which irritated Draco no end. Thursday was such a mundane day; its only claim to fame being that it was the precursor to Friday. Her anniversary should always be on a Sunday; it had a gravitas about it. A stateliness that suited his mother. Not like some stinking, second-rate day like Thursday. Draco would have honored her on a Sunday every year if it hadn't struck him as being slightly mad. A state that he was trying to avoid at all costs. Which was proving a little more difficult than he anticipated.
The post-war years had not been kind. To put it mildly. Having been brought up with the tom-toms of tradition, history, and his place in this history beating in his ears on a constant basis, the silencing, no, the disintegration of those drums left an unbearable void that he was helpless to fill. The Manor destroyed in the war. His friends killed. His parents dead. There was really nothing left.
He hadn't realized it while it was happening, but his virtual incarceration at Spinner's End during the entire war was when the tom-toms fell silent. Not that he knew that, he who had once been under the delusion that he was in the know; his world had disintegrated quite nicely and completely without him. Every fallen friend, every scarred and splintered inch of Malfoy Manor destroyed without his knowledge.
What a mind fuck. Your entire world was being obliterated and you didn't have a clue. You ate breakfast, drinking your weak tea accompanied by stale scones, while your mother was being killed by Voldemort. And you didn't know.
His trial was mercifully short. Pointing a wand at someone and wishing they were dead was, thankfully, not a crime. The bit about the cabinet did raise some issues, but paled in comparison with the more serious crimes committed by others. His age had also worked in his favor. A few people were desperate to pin Dumbledore's death on him, but with Potter's testimony, what could they do?
The die-hard Ministry types contented themselves with sequestering his entire inheritance. They couldn't touch the money in France, so Draco wasn't impoverished; god, how that stuck in the craw of some people, but what did it matter? People were idiots. Didn't they realize the money was pointless? He had nothing left.
While waiting to go mad--Draco had a sneaking suspicion it was really not that far off--he'd rented a small flat in Diagon Alley. Furnishing this flat had a little problematic; no point in buying anything if you were going to go off the deep end. He'd had to sneak into Malfoy Manor in the dead of night to steal the few sticks of furniture the Ministry hadn't destroyed in their zeal to capture his father. Could insanity be that far off when he'd found himself stealing his own bed?
He ignored the small knock on the door. He'd often heard knocking and had decided a long time ago that he wasn't going to mollycoddle his insanity.
Then the knock shouted. "Malfoy, open up."
The knock hadn't started talking until recently.
"Fucking open this door."
Draco always ignored it when the knock started talking.
The door opened.
If Draco hadn't been entirely terrified, he might have given a fleeting nod to how ingenious his craziness was becoming, because there stood Harry Potter clutching a bunch of white long-stemmed roses. Potter was usually the voice behind the knock. That's how Draco knew he was going mad. Since when does Harry Potter (lauded vanquisher of dark lords) drop by--Draco looked at his watch--for tea with Draco Malfoy (disgraced ex-follower of vanquished dark lords). Not in this fucking lifetime.
His madness was exact if nothing else, because Potter was late.
"Sorry. It's today, isn't it?"
Draco nodded. He found that it paid to be nice to these hallucinations.
"When we stormed the Manor, I remember the garden and all those beautiful white roses in the garden black from soot."
Draco nodded again. Not that he'd been there, but he'd seen the strangled remnants of what had been the rose garden. His mother's rose garden.
The hallucination placed the flowers on the table and then made its way over to the couch where Draco was sitting. Draco could smell the heavy, almost overpowering scent of the roses. He inhaled deeply and fought down a childhood memory of his mother standing over a vase, the flash of her diamond rings catching in the reflection of the candle light as she arranged the roses together in a harmonious arc. The hallucination sat down next to Draco and put its arms around him.
Draco liked this part best. It didn't happen often and only with the Potter hallucination. Draco always marveled at how precise insanity was, because he could feel the slight frame of the man holding him. The pressure of a sigh against his ear.
"Don't give up, Malfoy."
The roses sat. And sat. Draco reasoned that if he didn't see them or smell them, then they didn't exist. Then by association, the elaborate hallucination of Potter-cum-florist-delivery-man hugging him, making him a cup of tea, and insisting he eat the soup he'd brought didn't happen either. Unfortunately, Draco wasn't able to stop those imaginary roses from filling the flat with their sensual aroma as they bloomed or the sickly sweet perfume as they died, withering from lack of water.
The odor of the roses was so overpowering that he ended up spending the entire week in his bedroom with the door closed, holding his nose as he Accio-ed crackers from the kitchen when his stomach rumbled.
There seemed to be a host of rules about this insanity business, rules that Draco didn't know, but he was damned sure you didn't put non-existent flowers in water.
Draco was standing at the entrance to his bedroom when the knocking started up again. The smell was gone, but those damn roses were still there. Mocking him. Bleeding fuck, could insanity be any more cunning? The once delicate, pristine petals, so white, so innocent, were now all shriveled and brown at the tips. Just like you'd expect cut roses to look after being out of water for a week. But if he went over there and picked them up to throw them away, throw them away so he wouldn't have to see them, or think he was seeing them rather, it would be a horrible admission that he believed they were real. And if his hand grabbed for them and there was nothing there…Then. Well then. He'd been able to pretend that they didn't smell and that he really wanted to stay in his bedroom day after day, because, well, he did. And that his stomach was too upset for anything more than crackers. Which it was, because those fucking roses were still in his living room.
The knocking became very insistent, but it would go away if he ignored it. Most of his hallucinations were quite compliant. Another one of those rules he was slowly getting the hang of. As luck would have it, the Potter hallucination never played by the rules. In a way this was somewhat comforting, because it did fit with the real Potter. "A method in one's madness" all of a sudden began to make sense.
Draco felt a shimmy in the magic as the wards fell, and the door opened; Potter stepped in. Draco couldn't move because of those damned roses, so he stood there while Potter took in the roses still on the table and him clutching the door jamb so tightly his hand would be sore for days.
He absolutely refused to talk to his hallucinations—that was really beyond the pale—but he wasn't above using them against his insane side. He pointed at the roses and flicked his hand as if to say, "Away."
Unlike the real Potter, the hallucination seemed to be fairly intelligent. With a wave of his wand, the roses disappeared.
Insanity really fucked with your mind. Hallucination Potter had both brains and acumen, something the Hogwarts Potter lacked in spades. Draco seriously doubted that the Hogwarts Potter was able to even to spell "acumen." Draco had never been able to fathom what in the hell made the Hogwarts Potter tick; he seemed an incomprehensible combination of enormous magical power and sheer idiocy. Not like this Potter, who divined...
Potter was staring at him.
He was half-tempted to snarl something. The old Draco Malfoy would have. The half-insane Draco Malfoy could only imagine verbal retorts. The mandate of not talking to hallucinations was one line he was determined not to cross, no matter how tempting.
"You look like you haven't eaten for a week."
Surely a look at the table where the roses had lain there plotting his complete mental collapse would be permissible.
"The roses. Because of the roses you couldn't eat."
Draco shrugged. Shrugging seemed relatively harmless as far as the hallucinations went.
"Fucking hell, Malfoy."
For some odd reason, Potter was fighting back tears. What screwball corner of his mind had conjured that possible scenario?
"Okay, will you eat something for me now? They're gone."
"Will you sit at the table? Wait for me? I'll get you some food." With that, Potter went out the door, closing it behind him. Draco reset the wards, but modified them so that Potter come and go as he pleased. After all, he had gotten rid of the roses. Draco frowned. But then he had brought them.
Draco sat down at the table and was still mulling over this conundrum over when Potter returned.
"You've signatured the wards so I can come in?' Potter sounded unsure and the near tears were back.
Draco really didn't have time for this because he could smell the food, and all of a sudden nothing was more important than eating. He rolled his eyes.
"That expression is almost normal," Potter murmured and began dishing up their meal.
Draco was too hungry to expend much mental energy on whether the food being served by the hallucination was real or not. Last week's cup of tea was real because it was his own tea. But, then again, it'd been made by Potter, so he had his doubts. And the soup last week had made him feel full, as did the stew he was currently trying not to wolf down. He might be mad, but he was determined not to let his manners slide. Protesting that he was closing in on bat-shit insane wouldn't have mollified his mother one bit; she'd never forgive him for slacking off. That she was rotting in a grave in the Manor's despoiled cemetery, unable to comment on the precise angle of his elbow, was immaterial.
Imaginary Potter had also brought lots of rolls with an entire cube of butter. Draco was rather fond of butter. Right then and there he decided that he could live with the Potter hallucination. It seemed benign. Except for the roses bit. Oh, and the fact it was Potter. On balance, however, everything else that his insanity seemed to manufacture about Potter was rather positive. He reached for another roll.
"I got this at the Leaky .Tom's wife puts up a good stew, doesn't she? I'm sorry about the roses. You're really, really thin. I know I'm not one to talk, but, fucking hell, Malfoy. You make me look positively chubby. Do you want some more? I'm not going to finish this. Good. You sure could use it. You never leave your flat, do you? Go outside."
Outside? Draco dropped his knife. Oh fuck, he couldn't breathe. Outside? Outside? He closed his eyes against the total despair that those two tiny syllables entailed. What if he went Outside and there was no Malfoy Manor, even though he knew there was no Malfoy Manor, and his mother wasn't at Madam Malkin's getting fitted for new robes, because she wasn't, and his father wasn't at Gringotts conducting business with that revolting goblin with the gray teeth and a penchant for tacky lime green vests, because he wasn't or…or...
Horrible sounds began bouncing off the walls of the room. Like someone was killing a cat, and if Draco could have spoken he would have yelled, "Fucking hell, will someone put that animal out of his misery." Was Potter was making those awful noises? Part of him was curious, but he didn't dare open his eyes. Because what if he opened his eyes and there was nothing there? Like the Outside. All white, the color of those roses, and nothing else?
The most terrifying aspect of this insanity was a completely twisted version of the old "if a tree fell in a forest..." thing. In Draco's case, it was, "if nobody he had cared about was alive—and they weren't—would there be anything outside?"
He hadn't just woken-up one day and decided it would be a perfect day to go mad. It was a gradual, insidious process, meandering from one simple idea to another until the significance of exactly how crazy he was becoming hit him in the head like a bludger between the eyes. Then it was like he was riding a possessed broom, hanging onto his goddamn sanity for dear life.
First he stopped going out unless it was absolutely necessary. This had both an emotional and practical component to it. Not crazy in the least.
A walk down Diagon Alley conjured up a thousand memories that hurt like a fucking son-of-a-bitch. This post-war world was empty for him. No Pansy to snigger with over the pathetic state of The Weasel's dress robes while eating an ice cream at Fortecue's. His mother wasn't going to slip one of his favorite sweets into his mouth before getting fitted for robes because she didn't want him to dirty his hands. No boasting to Vince and Greg about the new broom his father had given him for his birthday. His father sure as fuck wasn't going to buy him that broom.
Then there was the son-of-that-evil-slime-bag-Death-Eater-Lucius-Malfoy pariah factor to contend with every time he stepped out of his effing flat. Why expose himself to a world that reviled him? Shopkeepers, who pre-war had nearly whored themselves for his father's business, now took great pleasure in snubbing him entirely. He ended up doing nearly all his shopping in Knockturn Alley where his galleons were still good. But Knockturn Alley was a vile place, the desperation and misery so palpable that he could smell it on his robes when he got home. He only went there because he didn't have a choice.
He probably would have continued like this forever if someone hadn't tried to kill him with their bare hands in the alley skirting Fortescue's not six months after his trial. Sins of the father shit. After that he had arranged for the bank to pay his rent and for food to be delivered. Clearly he had no place in this new world order and, even worse, no expectations beyond trying to stay alive. What was the fucking point when you couldn't go out for an ice cream cone because you needed both hands free in case some nut job might try to throttle you to death? He wasn't even worthy of a curse.
He knew exactly when the abstract sense of this world holding nothing for him became a concrete sense of nothing. When outside had finally became the Outside.
Draco had fought this concept for a long time, because he really didn't want to be a prisoner in a flat above a fishmonger's for the rest of his life. Plus, he knew on some level it was the insanity talking. But he was as helpless against the tom-toms of insanity as he had been against the tom-toms of noblesse oblige of his youth. He fought like hell this sense that a world that held nothing for him could actually morph into a very real nothing. It really began to go pear-shaped when he hadn't seen or talked to anyone for over six months, and because he'd ceased to exist for the real world, the real world gradually began ceasing to exist for him. He knew that he should go outside, should just talk to someone, anyone, that something horrible and possibly irreversible was happening but he couldn't move. He'd stand at his windows, watching all the bustle and hustle of the Alley going on below him, but he felt strangely disconnected from it all. Like the people weren't real and the shops a facade. Which frightened the utter shit out of him. He'd better get his arse out the door and make sure they were real. He'd stand at the door, willing himself to turn the handle, just walk out into the hallway, but he couldn't.
The day he closed his curtains was the day that the outside became the Outside.
He was now convinced that his old world had just floated away. Without those people he loved anchoring it, there was nothing out there. By logical extension, if you went into the nothing, you became nothing.
So here he was trapped forever in a flat that when it didn't smell like dead roses reeked of haddock. Being consoled by a hallucination.
Sounded pretty fucking insane to him.
Very fine hair tickled his nose and he sneezed. The sharp edges of the body hugging him seemed Potter-like.
"Bless you." Potter's baritone was low in his ear. He opened his eyes.
Somehow they'd ended up in his bedroom. They were lying on his bed, Potter cradling him, protecting him. Protecting him from the Outside.
The Potter hallucination began Apparating into his flat like clockwork after that. It became rather old hat, actually. He'd show up around six every evening with something to eat. Which Draco really appreciated because it was getting to the point where the thought of eating real crackers made him want to throw up and eating imaginary decent take-away was much more appetizing.
During dinner there was lots of talk. Potter did all the talking—because Draco still hadn't wavered in his resolve not to talk to his hallucinations; therein lay true madness. Since this was his subconscious generating these stories, it gave him a healthy respect for psychosis. Every night his imaginary Potter chattered on about his friends. Or Quidditch. Or the trials and tribulations of being a junior Auror. How Potter thought he'd have been engaged to Ginny Weasley by now, but it hadn't worked out. It was easy and conversational. Not terribly interesting mind you, but clearly Draco's id had had enough excitement to last him a fucking lifetime. He found the mundane comforting. There was no more talk of Outside, for which Draco thanked the insanity gods. Tonight, Potter was all agog about Ron and Hermione getting married. Draco lost a tad of respect for his subconscious, because this was so fucking predictable, but he could play along.
Draco brought two fingers up to his mouth to simulate gagging.
"Yeah, I know you don't like them, but they're my friends, okay?"
Oh god, Draco hated it when the hallucination got like this. All mopey and weepy. He could hear it in Potter's voice. Draco hated weepy and mopey on principle. Because he'd been weepy and mopey for months and nothing had come of it. His parents had still died and all his friends had still been killed. Did he owe it to Potter to look like he cared? Yes, unfortunately. The take-away had been pretty tasty tonight.
He raised his eyebrows. Eyebrow raising was now as innocuous as nodding.
"It this okay, now? Me coming over. Are we friends?"
Draco sat back in his chair. How would a sane person answer that? It might be a stretch to pretend he was sane, but since this was all about pretend, why the fuck not? Can an insane person pretending to be sane have a sane opinion on a hallucination? It only meant a nod after all, but again it seemed like a crossing some sort of Rubicon of the id. Like if he said yes, then it had all sort of implications.
He wasn't really in any state to deal with implications. The "i" in implications was very close to the "o" in Outside. They were separated by only five letters.
Plus it was Potter. But not Potter.
Damn it to hell. The insanity gods were fucking with him again. As soon as he'd decided it was perfectly legitimate to take imaginary food from an imaginary arch enemy, it threw him this curve ball.
He had to look at the facts. This wasn't really Potter because the real Potter wouldn't be feeding him chicken tandoori with something called nan that was very nice when dipped into the little cucumber concoction. The real Potter would have cursed him dead sixty million times by now, instead of trying to fatten him up with nightly take-away.
Draco sighed in relief. This pretending to be sane was working. Facts had been very elusive lately, and it was nice to know that the ability to think in a somewhat logical fashion hadn't completely deserted him. Fuck you, insanity gods. So this was not the real Potter. He knew that now, but for the first time he actually liked the idea. Even if it meant he really was sort of insane. Sometimes, though, the light would hit Potter a certain way, he'd laugh or thread his fingers through his hair, and it really did seem like the real Potter.
But if it was the real Potter...Draco might be crazy, but he didn't really want to be dead, although some days he came close. The real Potter would have killed him by now; the imaginary Potter was nice to him and fed him fish and chips smothered in extra vinegar and tons of salt. Just the way he liked it.
Where did this leave him?
With an imaginary friend who looked like Potter, but was much nicer than the real Potter, who seemed concerned about him, who didn't insult him or try to hex him, and who had a veritable library of take-away menus at his disposal. Most importantly, with a friend who held him on the odd occasion when the Outside started whispering his name.
True, this Potter seemed to have the same annoying friends as the real Potter, but Draco was learning to accept insanity's little vagaries. Potter's utter brilliance in knowing every take-away place within a two-mile radius more than compensated for having Weasley and Granger as friends.
So were they friends? Draco nodded yes. Because it was true.
The one thing Draco was learning to appreciate about this insanity shit was that it freed him from a lot of the sane shit that was really onerous.
Like not liking the real Potter, but being quite free to like the imaginary Potter.
Frankly, he could have done a lot worse in the hallucination department. Granger or Weasley would have been intolerable. Even as a hallucination, The Weasel would have been too stupid to dismantle the wards, but Draco suspected that if an imaginary Potter could dismiss them, then it would have been child's play to an imaginary Granger.
What if MacNair had showed up? Anyone with an axe fetish was persona non gratis in Draco's book, hallucination or no. Or even worse, what if his truly insane Aunt Bella had waltzed in one day. The two of them could have sat around and sniped at each other all afternoon. "I'm crazier." "No, I'm crazier." That was one contest he didn't mind losing, because if anyone reeked of eau de complete whack job, it was her.
The real turning point in his relationship with Potter was the day he discovered he was nearly out of paper.
Potter had been badgering him for weeks asking him what he did all day. Draco never gave him more than a shrug, but this business with the paper was getting dire. He'd made tremendous progress, true, but he was only half-way through Pansy's box and still had his parents to do. He couldn't believe how badly he'd miscalculated on the amount of paper he was going to need, but, then again, he was mad.
So the next time Potter asked him what he did all day—Draco knew that Potter's insatiable curiosity wouldn't let it go, the real Potter and the imaginary Potter did share some traits—Draco led him into the bedroom and opened the closet. Ten large boxes stood stacked against the wall. Every box had a name penned on the front. Greg. Vince. Pansy. Blaise. Millicent. Daphne, Theodore, Snape, Mother. Father. When Draco finished a box, he wrote, "Good-bye" underneath their name.
Draco pulled out three boxes, and then scooped up what was left of his paper. He put them on the bed. He opened Greg's box. It was filled to the top with paper origami cranes. It had taken some work to find boxes that fit one thousand paper cranes perfectly. Fortunately, he could still go outside at that point. The clerks at Flourish and Blotts were quite rude, but eventually came through because the constant presence of Draco Malfoy in their shop was very bad for business. He opened Pansy's box. It was half-full. Then he opened his father's box. It was empty. He pointed at the paper.
"You need more paper?"
Thank god imaginary Potter was so much more on the ball than the real one. Draco nodded. With his finger Potter traced over the "Goodbye" Draco had written on Greg's box.
"I'll get you more paper," he said through tears.
Draco mouthed a thank-you. Imaginary Potter cried a lot.
Draco got his paper. He folded cranes during the day and then ate dinner at night with Potter. It was an oddly satisfying life. Aside from the believing-he-was-crazy part. These little dinner parties had been going on for weeks when on a warm summer night, Potter Apparated in as usual, both arms clutching grocery bags overflowing with food. Draco noted not for the first time how ironic it was that Potter had defeated Voldemort, but seemed completely incapable of going to the store and remembering to use a simple reducing charm.
Before the war this would have annoyed the hell out of him. Now he found it not a little endearing and hoped that one of those bags contained those biscuits he liked.
"Draco," Potter complained. "It's about five thousand fucking degrees in here. I know we can't open the curtains…," last week's disastrous curtain-opening experiment had resulted in Draco shivering and whimpering for hours…, "but do you think you could use a cooling charm? The ice cream is probably already melted…"
"You don't have a wand, do you?"
Scrimgeour had snapped Draco's wand in half himself. The Ministry obviously thought it no more than a symbolic gesture as there was no embargo on his getting another one. He had had the galleons and he used to be able to go outside. In the beginning. It wasn't a picnic, but few things were these days. A wand should have been his first priority in the natural scheme of things. Except. He'd have had to go to Ollivander's, and what if Ollivander had talked about his father? What if Ollivander brought up when Draco got his first wand, and how proud his father had been of him? Lucius Malfoy's normally arrogant demeanor had softened with such pride and love for his only child; even at eleven, Draco had appreciated the deep sentiment. It was his favorite memory of his father.
Draco shook his head.
Potter first cooled the room with a flick of his wand.
"You don't need a wand to cast the wards?"
Draco gave him a look of incredulity. His father had been dead for five years and probably still could cast a ward without a wand.
"Right. Malfoy blah blah blah. Will you let me get you a wand?"
This was along the lines of eating imaginary food and feeling full, but what the hell. Having an imaginary wand was loads better than not having any wand. He could even pretend to do spells and charms.
He nodded, and was totally unprepared for an armful of Potter, who for some reason needed to be cradled.
"How? How could you have been without a wand all this time? You?" Potter murmured into his shoulder.
That "you" nearly broke him. For the first time, Draco cradled Potter. They wrapped their arms around each other and rocked back and forth. He wasn't a pathetic young man who spent a week trapped in his bedroom because he was terrified of a dozen roses. He was a fine wizard, a wizard worthy of a wand.
Potter smoothed his hand over Draco's hair from root to tip. It hadn't been cut it in a very long time. Draco nuzzled Potter's hand. Potter pulled away gently and gave his forehead a kiss. "You hungry? Bangers and mash good?"
Draco nodded. Sometimes this insanity stuff was okay.
"I won't be here for a couple of days. I told you Ron and Hermione are getting married. I'm best man and there's a ton of shit I have to do. You'll be okay?"
Potter didn't sound very sure of it, but Draco decided to put his newly minted pretend skills to the test. He shrugged, with a nonchalance that would have done the old Draco Malfoy proud.
He must have been damned convincing because Potter smiled and said, "Good. You can't believe all the crap Hermione has for me to do. Lists and lists. Apparently, she can't trust Ron with the most basic tasks. And no one wants to give Fred and George anything to do…You might roll your eyes. We seriously thought about stunning them for a week prior to the wedding but Molly wouldn't have any of it. Finally, I had to resort to bloody blackmail. I see by your smile you approve. Devious tosser. Told them I'd tell Molly that it was my money that gave them the start for the business. For some reason that scared the holy shit out of them, and they seem like they're on their best behavior, but no one's fooled. They'll pull something horrible at the last minute…"
Potter chattered on about this and that for another hour until a ferocious yawn stopped him in his tracks.
"Mind if I stay the night since I'm going to be away?"
Draco hadn't realized he'd been holding his shoulders in a tight knot until Potter's suggestion. The knot loosened. He smiled and held out his hand.
They hadn't done this much. Three times at the most. It wasn't sexual. They'd gone to sleep with all their clothes on. Not surprisingly, Potter was a sprawler; he slept with his arms flung wide. Draco waited for Potter to fall asleep first, and then Draco would curl up in the hollow of Potter's armpit, his hands together underneath his cheek like he was praying.
The first time had occurred when the curtain had blown open and the glare of the late afternoon sun had been so bright that only a glimpse of white flashed for half of a second before the curtain flapped shut against the window.
Potter had been chatting up a storm while making dinner, yelling above the din of the running water and pot lids clanging, something about a spell he'd done that had gone wrong. Instead of stunning someone, he'd given them an uncontrollable fit of the giggles. "Imagine me, supposed vanquisher of dark lords incarnate, and I can't even do a simple stunning spell. Lucky I wasn't sacked. Something went wrong with the angle of the spell and here he was, on the ground rolling around…Draco?"
Draco looked at Potter in abject terror. He mouthed, "Outside," and pointed at the curtain. No words came out, but Potter seemed to know what he was saying. He immediately spelled the windows shut and dragged Draco into the bedroom. He held him for hours until the shivering and crying stopped.
"We need to eat. Come on."
They walked into the kitchen hand in hand. Potter couldn't really make dinner without two hands, but as long as Draco kept a hand on Potter's shoulder he could keep it together. He moved his chair smack against Potter's and gripped Potter's knee while they ate. When they had finished, Draco wrote on the tabletop with a trembling forefinger, "Stay. Please."
The first few hours were fine. He had his imaginary wand now, and his pretend cooling charms were working quite well. As a novice psycho, he didn't quite know what homage to make to the insanity gods so that your hallucinations worked with you, not against you, but apparently he was on a roll.
Around dinner time, he ate half a sandwich, and then, remembering his promise to Potter to eat a good dinner, he made the evidence disappear. Fucking hell, this was fun. Being a pretend wizard was almost as much fun as being a real wizard. He even did well when night fell. The dark didn't terrify him. Years of living in a dungeon, he supposed.
He went to bed early and slept great. He took a long shower and had a nice wank. His dick had stopped working for a while. Normally, he'd have been very upset about this, thinking that something was drastically wrong with him. Well, something was drastically wrong with him and not getting erections seemed minor in the grander scheme of things. His dick was now behaving in its more or less usual manner. Part of this insanity dance was the constant questioning of each and every so-called reality, but he thought, fuck it. Even if they were pretend erections, pretend wanking was impossible to tell from real wanking. At least his may-be-pretend erections thought so.
That day was a repeat of the first, and by the late afternoon of the second day, he wondered why he thought Potter's absence would even be an issue.
He was fine. Better than fine. Crazy psycho Death Eater wannabe was hitting on all cylinders. Strike up the band. Raise the flag. Fuck off, insanity gods. Draco Malfoy was only sort of crazy. Maybe it was a vitamin deficiency. Maybe if he ate tons of spinach he'd be able to go Outside. Okay, maybe not go Outside, but say Outside. Like out loud. Without whimpering. Surely he could do that.
But…maybe not today.
For now, he was good. Look. He had pretended to eat breakfast, like really pretended to eat breakfast.
"Oh, I'm eating breakfast now," he had said to an empty room. He had put a plate on the table and cut his non-existent toast into non-existent halves, and then slowly pretended to eat both pieces. His sop to sanity? His cup of tea had been real. So emboldened by knowing the difference between real pretend and fake pretend, he decided to brave the curtains.
In hindsight, this was insane. He'd had a complete meltdown several weeks before when he'd tried this, and Potter had been in the room. But everything had been going so well. And fucking hell, he was a Malfoy. These were just curtains. Only curtains. He'd march right over to them and pull them back and…
Oh fuck, fuck…the light, the potential for nothingness, and even though he could see buildings and maybe a tree or two, it was a mirage to get him out there. He knew it. So it could swallow him. The Outside was a nothingness that was trying to swallow him up and make him nothing too. It wanted to feed on him. The Outside was like a Dementor, but it was everywhere. How could you escape from the Outside?
And what if the Outside decided to come inside?
How would you escape?
You couldn't, you couldn't, you couldn't, you couldn't, you couldn't, you couldn'tyou couldn'tyou couldn'tyou couldn'tyoucouldn'tyou couldn't.
"Draco? Draco? Where the fuck are you? Fuck! The curtains. Where are you?"
Draco now knew all his deals with the insanity gods were so much bollocks. They'd lulled him into a false sense of security. Letting him think he was eating pretend toast. Draco could imagine them sniggering behind their bony, twisted hands. It was one elaborate game. Like this bullshit that Potter was back. Potter was never coming back. They were just trying to lure him out of the bathroom. He wouldn't fall for that. He'd fallen for the toast thing. Nothing was going to make him leave the bathtub.
When he'd wrenched the curtains back, his bravado had only lasted as long as it took for the Outside to whip through the opening. He lurched to the side, plastering his back against the wall to avoid the vee of light. Pushing all of the furniture toward the middle, he inched his way along the perimeter, his back never leaving the wall. Once he had reached the hallway leading to his bedroom and bathroom, he collapsed on his hands and knees, sobbing with relief that he'd made it that far. He wasn't going to hand himself over on a silver platter. The Outside could just come get him. He crawled to the bathroom, climbed into the bathtub, pulled the shower curtain from its rings, wrapped himself up in it, and waited.
Those fucking gods were so goddamn clever. The voice actually sounded concerned, hysterical even. Doors slammed, cupboards were opened and slammed, and the Outside pretending to be Potter kept calling his name. Frantic. Like the Outside cared. Just like what Potter would sound like if Draco went missing. So Draco would come out. Right, so he could be eaten into the nothingness? No fucking way. He was staying right here…
"Draco. Oh god. What are you doing in the bathtub?"
The Outside had come inside. Into the bathroom.
His wand was still in the living room. Probably already eaten up by the nothingness. His new wand. Gone.
"Can you move?"
He didn't reply because no deals anymore. No deals. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'm fucked.
"I'm going to get a couple of pillows and a blanket. We'll sleep in the bathtub, okay?"
This sounded reasonable. It didn't sound like it was trying to take him away. Or eat him.
Magic rustled against the sides of the shower curtain, and Draco felt the bathtub enlarge. Then a blanket was thrown on top of him. His head was lifted up and a pillow shoved underneath. Something began to try to wriggle under plastic. When he started whimpering and crying, it shushed him and repeated over and over, "It's okay, I'm here. It's okay, I'm here." A hand finally found his. Somehow Draco had never envisioned that the Outside would have a hand and wasn't that as evil as all shit? Draco waited. To become nothing. Finally.
But it didn't eat him; it laced its fingers through his fingers and squeezed. And felt exactly like Potter's hand. When it said, "Good night, Draco," it sounded so much like Potter that he squeezed back.
At some point during the night, Draco woke up to find himself lying in the crook of Potter's arm, Potter caressing his head with a gentle hand; he'd magicked away the plastic and had transformed the bathtub into a bed. A weak Lumos lit the room up with a faint glow. Potter dislodged Draco from his armpit and propped himself up on one elbow to study Draco's face. "You tried to open the curtains by yourself?"
"That was brave."
In light of what had transpired, Draco thought it was supremely stupid; he rolled his eyes.
"Come on, by yourself? That was bloody marvelous."
Draco pursed his lips in disgust.
"Yeah, I know, but it was a start."
Draco gave him a look.
"I know what you're thinking. 'Stupid fucking Gryffindor.' Am I right?"
"Why were you so frightened?"
Draco tried not to panic. Tried not to remember the light, the glare. Good things, Draco, he told himself. Think of good things. Like it not being the Outside's hand but Potter's hand all along. How safe and anchored he felt when Potter had squeezed his hand. How he really wasn't alone anymore, even if it was only a very convincing hallucination. Not talking to Potter seemed immaterial now. Hadn't he finally proved to himself beyond all doubt that he was officially crazy? Talking to a hallucination seemed like small potatoes compared to encasing yourself in a shower curtain and hiding in a bathtub. He leaned up and against Potter's ear whispered, "The Outside."
It was another one of those times when Potter needed cradling.
"Okay, you ready?"
Draco nodded. It'd been three weeks since his big whing-ding. Potter had moved in after that. Every day they did this, step by step, with the hope that Draco would eventually be able to pull back the curtains himself and not go utterly bonkers in the process. He stood at the very back of the hallway near the bathroom. He could just see the line where the curtains met. Potter whisked open the curtains and then shut them.
Draco waited. Nothing horrible happened. He took a step forward. Potter did the same thing again; whisked the curtains open, then shut them. Nothing happened and Draco nodded. They did this one step at a time, until Draco was standing at the entrance to the living room. Every day Draco made it a little further before panicking, but he had never made it as far as the door to the living room.
"Big test now. Ready?"
"Yes," Draco whispered. For a couple of weeks now he'd been able to whisper small sentences.
"Ta da!" Potter trilled and whipped back the curtain with an exaggerated flourish that was probably meant to put Draco at ease, but only succeeded in throwing himself off balance. He pulled the curtain with him as he fell on the floor.
Draco froze as the Outside lit up Potter's body from the open curtain.
"NO!" he shouted and whipped out his wand. He pointed it at the window and yelled, "Stupefy!" at the Outside, ran across the living room, grabbed Potter by both wrists and dragged him to the safety of the bathroom, where he slammed the door shut. Before Potter could stand fully upright, he pulled him into the bathtub and raked the shower curtain shut.
Draco backed Potter against the back of the bathtub wall and began running his hands over Potter's face. To make sure he was all there. "Okay? Okay?" he whispered, frantic.
Potter took Draco's hands in his and kissed both of them repeatedly. "Draco," he murmured and started that near-tears thing again. Really, Potter was going to have to start sucking it up. "You hate it when I cry, don't you?" Turning his head to the side, Potter took a moment to pull himself together. Then, with another kiss to Draco's hands, he said in a firm voice. "Thank you for saving me. That was unbelievably brave. Although it's probably raining stunned birds all over Diagon Alley. But it's not real, Draco. Please trust me. It's just sunlight."
"Not sunlight. Real," Draco whispered in protest.
Potter kissed his forehead. "I know you think it's real."
Real. What was real? He had to know. Now. Once and for all.
He brought his hands forward to remove them from Potter's grasp. Then he carded his hands through Potter's hair. It was so soft. Because it resembled a nest of blackened twigs, it gave the illusion of being coarse or wiry, but it wasn't. He ran the tips of his fingertips over the plane of Potter's forehead, his cheeks, the indent of his chin, the rims of his glasses. Over his mouth. He stroked Potter's earlobes with the pads of his thumbs. With both hands, he followed the "L" of Potter neck as it became his shoulders, and then down his biceps to his forearms and wrists, only to capture Potter's hands in his own. "Are you real?" he whispered.
He braced himself. Draco didn't know what to expect. To question his reality seemed like the ultimate rule breaking. Although questioning the reality of the mad was circular at best, wasn't it? To break this rule almost demanded that the insanity gods unleash unholy hell on him. Punish him. No mercy. The curtains would never close. Potter would never come back. The only fitting punishment for such disobedience.
"Yes, Draco. I am real."
Draco still wasn't sure. It sounded like the real Potter. Had it been the real Potter all along? He cocked his head.
"Remember our first Hogsmeade weekend when we were thirteen? You were standing outside the Shrieking Shack with Crabbe and Goyle. I was there, too, but wore an invisibility cloak because that dickhead I have for an uncle wouldn't sign my form, so I wasn't technically allowed to go to Hogsmeade. You were being your usual obnoxious git self, so I heaved a bunch of mud at you. Then when we were sixteen, I nearly gutted you, and that same year I heard you desperately trying to convince yourself to kill Dumbledore in the tower right before Snape did kill him. That real enough?"
Draco nodded. The mud thing cinched it.
Potter kissed him very gently. Not a kiss really, just a brush of lips. Then the apparently-real Potter hugged him tight. What the fuck? The comfort, the sort of comfort he'd been giving and receiving for weeks, nose-dived into hard desire. Draco bucked up against Potter to assuage a sudden heat in his groin. Fuck! That felt real. Especially since it met an answering heat. This real Potter shit wasn't a bad deal after all. He could put up with the crying crap, if it included take-away, cradling, and erections.
"No, not until you're better," Potter whispered.
Draco huffed in protest and brought up a knee to rub it against Potter's erection. Oh yeah, real fucking real. "Better," he whispered back.
Potter pulled away, but belied the rejection with a hand cupped to Draco's cheek.
"Wicked sod. I want you, too, have for months. But not yet. Braving the curtains doesn't mean you're better. You need to be a lot better before we do...stuff." Potter finished awkwardly. "I'm not a healer, Draco. Will you let a healer from St. Mungo's come and see you? Or Madam Pomfrey? You don't have to go there. They'll come here."
Draco nodded. If anyone could beat the shit out of the insanity gods it was Madam Pomfrey.
Saving people was very hard work. Draco didn't know how Potter did it. He slumped against Potter, exhausted. Potter caught him and guided him into bed. They assumed their traditional positions; after Draco had settled into the crook of Potter's arm, Potter began petting his hair in a gesture that could only be interpreted as one of deep affection. He leaned into Potter's hand with a sigh of approval. Before he slid off into sleep, he turned his head on the downstroke and gave Potter's palm a little kiss. Because that was about as real as it gets.