Disclaimer: JK Rowling and the publishers own them, I don't.
Warnings: Psychological trauma, violence, mild substance abuse, sexual content, non-consent due to drugging
Word Count: 20,700. Posted in three parts as Livejournal intended.
Summary: "Draco's a ghost, so Harry doesn't know what his problem is anyway."
Prompt: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
A/N: This was written for the HP Darkfest on Livejournal – please heed the warnings. It's quite different to anything I've written before, so if you're looking for romance/humour/fluff I would give this one a miss. That being said, whilst the journey is dark, the ending is not so much.
This was challenging to write for obvious reasons, but I am quite proud of it. Thank you to the fest and the mods for giving me a chance to spread my wings a little. Worry not if dark!fic isn't your thing - I'll be back with more regular H/D nonsense soon enough.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
- Philip K. Dick.
It starts with a whisper in the night. A twist of words into a flash of all-consuming green. Harry opens his eyes wide in the darkness, holding his breath. He trembles, sweat beading on his forehead. The night holds firm, dark and silent. Long stretches of moonlight stretch across the carpet of his bedroom, breaking the shadows and making him feel exposed.
Nightmares are an inevitability. Nightmares of snakes and green light and the faces of his ruined comrades are the next step of this journey he doesn't even know he's taking. He wakes with screams, with sweat on his brow and the sheets torn between his fingers. There's thunder in his mind as castle walls collapse, toppling like a tower of cards. Lightning bolts flash in time with screams as people fall for the final time.
Everyone has nightmares. He mentions them, and faces and hands grow sympathetic around him. They tell him they know, they understand, and for a while he believes that they really do. Sometimes he can sleep without thunder or lightning, and he believes that everything will be all right.
Until the next night, when the masonry crumbles and the castle walls fall, the sound as deafening as silence.
He feels uneasy in the walls of his own home. They are unfriendly and pale, and see too much of him. The windows are too large, and he spends too much time lingering behind the edge of the curtains watching the street below. Sometimes he runs from the windows of the lounge to the windows in his bedroom, so he can check that there is nobody in the back garden either.
Every door in the house is propped open, stuck to the wall behind it with a strong sticking charm. That way he can see into every room, and can know that there is nothing hiding behind their doors.
He has an obligatory party in his house for the friends that made it; they drink and laugh and smile and are thankful that the war is over. Music is soft in the background. Harry hears the clink of glasses, the murmur of conversation, the rustle of his clothes as he moves and the tap tap tap of footsteps across the stone floor. Harry hates that he doesn't know – can't know – where everyone is in his house at every moment, and he feels tired behind his smiles and the inane conversation that had filled the void where the war used to be.
And he's back in the castle, and the walls are toppling around him, crashing and cracking. Dust fills his eyes and his lungs and brightly coloured lights fly above his head. People are screaming and someone is whispering into his ear, Avada Kedavra,and then a body falls at his feet. Fred stares at him with wide unseeing eyes, and then he starts to laugh. Harry wakes with a jolt and he cries, curling up in a ball at the head of his bed and wishing that everything would feel the way they promised it would now that the war has gone.
They start to bury them far too quickly, although it's taken forever. The new Ministry is buried under paperwork and broken departments and Harry shivers as he thinks of all the dead lying resting in some mortuary somewhere, waiting patiently for the ground to swallow them up, a perfect oblong of six feet deep to hide them away in.
The fifth to disappear is Lavender Brown. Harry is so tired that Ginny has to steady him with a hand on his elbow as he stands and stares at a tree on the far side of the churchyard, watching green leaves slowly fall, spinning to earth one by one. The trees sound just like the ocean, their leaves stirred by the breeze and rustling gently together, sometimes joined by a soft creak of a branch.
Everything is moving on. The world is marching onwards, uncaring of if everyone else is keeping up or not. He can't work out if he feels relieved or panicked, can't work out how he's supposed to feel at this moment in time. Somewhere in his stomach is a restless unease that won't shift, that won't turn into the relief that he yearned for.
And now Lavender is gone and the people around him are murmuring and moving away. The voices wash over him, waves of sound from which he can discern no individual words. The churchyard gate creaks and whines on its rusted hinges and he can hear the soft thump of dirt as it fills a perfect oblong of six feet deep. Despite the overwhelming loneliness of his house, he wants to go back and drink himself to sleep but he's guided to the Burrow instead, invited for tea by someone. He's too tired to remember who. It's too warm; the air is heavy and damp on his skin. The sun burns outside and his friends chat together outside under the last of the summer days, but he hides away, his eyes hurting in the light. People move around the kitchen, quiet noise and footsteps. Their voices are soft and kind but Harry can't hear many words. Cupboard doors gently squeak open and thud shut, and china clinks softly together.
A whistle grows in the back of his mind. A quiet sound to begin, almost unnoticeable. It gets louder, and Harry shuts his eyes, his neck twisting reflexively to the side. There's green behind his closed eyelids and when he opens them the sound is louder, trembling through the air, laced with a whisper and piercing like a blade. The cry of a Horcrux. It grows and grows until it's as loud as the screams of falling schoolchildren, and his eyes widen and his hand twitches atop the tabletop.
The sound dies as Mrs Weasley takes the kettle off of the fire, steam escaping from its spout.
"Milk and sugar, yes, dear?"
"Yes," says Harry as he blinks hard at the kettle. "Please."
The nightmares grow into voices in the dark that follow him out of his sleep and into his house. Harry hears them breathing in the shadows when he wakes after dreams of the Forbidden Forest. He desperately tears the house apart trying to find where they're hiding, but after a while he gives up and thinks that maybe they're hiding somewhere he can't touch.
When he's more tired than usual he thinks he sees things out of the corner of his eye, but when he moves to look at them they disappear, like trying to focus on faint stars in the night sky.
Two weeks since everybody started to forget about Lavender Brown, and Harry stands at his kitchen window, eyes fixed on the narrow alley that runs down the side of the house. He's locked the kitchen door so he knows that he's the only one in the room, and as such he can give the window his undivided attention. The alley remains empty as it has done all day. His stomach rumbles and he sighs. He turns away from the window and then freezes, his body going tense as he hears a shrill whistling floating through the air, faint but real.
He shakes his head but it doesn't go away, and he realises with horror that the sound isn't in his head, it's in his house.
He runs across to the door, swearing as he tries to yank it open, before he pulls his wand out and removes the locking charm. The door crashes against the wall behind it and the whistling grows louder, the sound drifting through the hallway. Desperate, Harry turns his head each way to find the sound and runs after it, stumbling and staggering in fear and haste.
He chases the sound up to the attic, his heart pounding and his mouth dry, but the moment his foot is on the rickety wooden stairs it stops. He grips the banister and slumps against the wall, his knees shaking and his heart fluttering madly inside his ribcage. Leaning heavily against the wall, he swallows thickly, suddenly wishing that he wasn't alone.
Making his feet move, he steps back down into the house. The stairs beneath his feet groan and creak like a forest in high wind, his heart still thuds like the footsteps of soldiers along a bridge.
The whistling starts up again.
His eyes widen behind his glasses and he lurches into action again, stumbling from room to room, panicked and desperate. He feels like he's going to be sick as he follows the sound to his bedroom and he edges in step by step, wishing it would leave him alone.His shaking fingers tighten around the doorknob, cool and smooth under his fingers, as he realises that the noise is in his wardrobe. He steels himself and lets go, stepping closer and closer, the sound growing louder and louder, making him shut his eyes involuntarily, forcing them open long seconds later. He curls his fingers around the handle of the wardrobe, holding his wand tightly in his other hand. He counts silently to three, and then yanks the door open, his wand pointing inside as the mirror hung on the back of the door clatters with the movement.
The whistling stops. All there is in the wardrobe are his clothes, old school books and his tatty old trainers. Harry curses under his breath and turns away, and then screams as the full length mirror shows red hair, freckles and blood, standing just behind him. He panics and smashes the mirror with his fist, cursing and shaking as he wheels around to find the room empty.
He runs. He haphazardly packs a kit bag of clothes, hands shaking violently, pulls the hood of his jacket up over his head and then apparates away from the house. He ends up in Diagon Alley and ducks his face away from the stares of passers by as he swiftly makes his way to the far end. His destination is the Sphinx and Dragon Inn. The side of the building looks down onto Diagon Alley but its front and the entrance lie turned away from the main thoroughfare on a small side street, which means that he can slip in and out unseen if necessary. The sun is setting and the sky is a malevolent orange colour that feels unfriendly and oppressive. It's too warm but Harry shivers anyway, ducking down the small dim side alley and slipping into the Inn.
One hundred galleons and Room Four is his, with a promise of discretion from the innkeeper, and a fake name in the log. Room Four is perfect; on the top floor, up a creaky set of stairs and the lone room on the end of a long, straight corridor. If anyone comes up, he'll hear them on the stairs and then have plenty of time to get to the door before they traverse the corridor. There's only two doors inside the room; the one that leads to the corridor and the one to the small en-suite bathroom. He feels better once he takes the door to the bathroom off of its hinges and slips it under the bed. Now there's only one door and one window to watch.
The taps in the bathroom drip all day and all night, a sound he quickly becomes accustomed to, a soft background soundtrack to his new life in Room Four. The whole room creaks and groans; the dark mahogany furniture is old and tired. The walls are a deep faded red, their former opulence lost over the years. The bedspread is patchwork with a hole in the corner but Harry doesn't care; the bed is comfortable enough for when he manages to sleep anyway. The window looks out onto Diagon Alley, and there are hundreds of people to watch pass by as the day goes on. It makes him slightly nervous, but he can just see the opening to the small side-alley which leads to the door of the Inn, so he knows if anyone might be coming his way.
He has peace, uneasy, sour peace for two days. For two nights he sleeps without thunderstorms, and he spends his day quietly by the window, watching everyone walk past, shopping and carrying on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. Once, he sees a figure halt in the street below his window, wearing a black cloak with the hood pulled up over their face. He tenses, fingers clenching in the material of the curtain and his other hand going for his wand. He's starting to think that there are still Death Eaters out there; he knows that not everything has been made perfect by the fall of Voldemort, and he's waiting, just waiting for them to find him. He lifts his wand, standing tall and straight and tense, and then the figure is joined by a small child and they both proceed along the Alley to Gringotts.
Maybe next time, Harry thinks, lowering his wand.
That night he sleeps restlessly, tossing and turning, his mind fixed on the cloaked figure that had paused beneath the window. He can't trust anyone that he doesn't know. Voldemort came back once, and paranoia starts to grow as he contemplates what will happen if it transpires that he's missed a Horcrux somewhere -
Right on cue, a whistling noise rends through the air. He snaps his eyes open and he sits upright, eyes darting about the room. He screams and chokes, lungs empty of air, and scrambles backwards as he sees Fred stood at the end of his bed, spattered in blood and grinning happily, his fingers between his lips. He pulls them away and the whistling stops.
"Thought you were never going to wake up," he says.
"You – no," Harry manages, now frozen in place with his back pressed painfully against the headboard. "How – you can't be here, you're not real."
He can't process it, can't understand how he's talking to Fred when he knows that they buried him weeks ago. At least he thinks he knows – no, he saw Fred fall in the final battle, he can't be standing here talking to Harry like it's something he does every day. For a desperate moment Harry thinks – hopes – that he's dreaming but somehow he knows he's not. The air is warm and the moonlight that spreads across the bed is perfect and still.
"I don't think," Fred says carelessly, brushing dirt off of his shoulders, "you're in any place to discuss what's real and what's not."
"No," Harry says, and he shuts his eyes and clamps his hands over his ears. "You're not here. You're not. You're dead."
"Yep," Fred says, casual as you please. He rubs his cheek and blood smears across his skin, thick and congealing. "Most definitely."
There's a roaring in Harry's ears and his eyes fight for control as they roll back into his skull. He reaches out desperately for something to hold onto, but the roaring gets louder and everything goes black, sinking into nothingness.
Despite the unwelcome visitor that Harry is sure hasn't gone far, he doesn't want to leave his room. Unfortunately he has to; he has friends that aren't dead that probably want to know thathe'sstill alive. He's invited to the Burrow for dinner and against his instinct he accepts, only because Hermione has promised it will just be the three of them. He leaves only after he checks the window and the door in Room Four, casting warding spells that will warn him if anyone had been up to his room whilst he's gone. Ten more galleons and the innkeeper promises that housekeeping won't try and go in.
There aren't enough galleons in the world to silence Hermione. She greets him first, hugging him tightly as he steps out the floo into the kitchen of the Burrow.
"Where have you been?" she asks, looking him over like she's his Healer. "We've been worried sick!"
Harry gently pushes her back, smiling wanly. She's warm and real under his hands, so very different from the shadowy figure that he's convinced himself he didn't see. "Just stayed at the Leaky for a while," he lies, not quite willing to share the safety of Room Four with anyone. "Needed to get out of my own head for a while, you know?"
"Yes, but please tell us before you just vanish!" She bites her lip and watches as Harry moves away and slips into a chair at the table. Ron barrels in and repeats the sentiments, and Harry lies and reassures him, too. He's tired, almost exhausted, his body and mind strung wired and tense, so he's happy just to sit and listen to Ron and Hermione chatter. In fact, their voices are familiar and soothing and it makes him feel a little bit safe for the first time in days.
They talk about the house they've got their eye on in – of all places – Godric's Hollow. Harry can't understand why they would go back there but they seem happy, so he listens and nods with a smile on his face, thankful that they're close to him. He feels so safe that they manage to persuade him to go outside, a trip to Diagon Alley. Andromeda wants some flowers for Teddy to take to Tonks and underneath the haze that his world has become Harry feels a stir of duty towards his Godson, enough to propel him through the floo after Ron and Hermione.
It's a disaster.
The sun is too bright and there are too many people. The brown cobbles of Diagon Alley shimmer in a soft haze of heat beneath the crowd's feet as they push and press and shout and cry.
"Harry, over here!
"Potter, a quick question?"
They're so bright. Robes and faces of every colour, jostling for space and attention. Ron's cursing and trying to cast another shield charm to push people back. The sunlight glints off of someone's earrings. Blonde hair glows in the sun. Green and red and yellow and orange robes flutter. The sky above is a perfect cornflower blue, endless and unreachable.
They'd managed to buy the flowers, but the three of them together are unmistakable, a beacon to people who still strain to find answers from them, who want to get close, to just be in the presence of the three that defeated the Dark Lord. Harry wishes they would go away. He doesn't have any answers for them.
As chaos reigns around him, Harry stares down at the bright pink blooms in his hands, looks at the yellow stripe running across each petal, right to the very tip. The leaves are deep green but as he stares they grow lighter, brighter, until they are the very same green as a burst of light. The crowd howls like thunder. A tinny whistling grows in his ears and he twitches reflexively. He misses Hermione's look of alarm, and all he can hear is the shrill whistling, louder and louder, drowning out the noise of the crowd as he stares.
He should help. He should fight, stand up for himself and his friends. He can't. He's so tired.
He shuts his eyes for a long moment, and when he opens them the world is grey and the whistling has stopped. His eyes widen as he lifts the flowers in his hands; they too are made up of a monochrome palette, white and black and every grey in between. He looks up at the crowd.
They're all black and white, too. Muted and soft, the riot of colour and the haze of heat gone to nobody-knows-where. Before he can work out what had happened, a hand grabs hold of his wrist and he's yanked almost off his feet as they apparate away. The flowers fall to the cobbles and are trampled beneath the feet of the crowd who still push and shove, frustrated and disappointed that their heroes have abandoned them.
Harry collapses into a kitchen chair back in Grimmauld Place. He rubs his eyes hard and then looks around his kitchen. Everything is still grey. He doesn't panic; instead he's filled with a curious sense of detachment, and bizarrely he also feels something that seems almost like relief. Voices wash over him again and he relaxes, Tonks and Teddy and the flowers already forgotten. He thinks that maybe everything will be all right; without colour to define them the sharp edges of the world have gone, and it jars less against his senses -
A grey figure decorated in silver blood. They're standing in the doorway, and Harry hears a bark-like laugh coming from the room beyond. He stands up sharply, his chair screeching on the floor, and ignores the protests and questions from Hermione and Ron. He's all but forgotten that they're there as he chases the figure from the room, his heart pounding. He freezes in the doorway of the sitting room as he comes across four figures, lined up against the back wall like they're his firing squad.
Panic floods his veins and he screams, wanting them to go away, for this all to stop. Something inside him breaks, and his control abandons him.
"Leave me alone!" he bellows, his voice cracking as he grabs a book from the shelf next to him and hurls it across the room. It sails through the figure that is second from the left and hits the glass-fronted cabinet next to the window which shatters, dropping glass on the carpet. He draws his wand and the mirror above the fireplace smashes, too.
Hermione's shriek sounds petrified, above the sounds of smashing glass and the tinny screeching in his ears. Marching feet tramp past, unerring and resigned to their fate as guardians of the castle. He can feel the night air, cold on his skin and then the scorching heat of flames, licking their way across the wall.
"Leave me alone!" he howls, grabbing his hair and turning away, trying to get away from the black and white people who will soon take to following him everywhere he goes.
Fred laughs, Sirius rolls his eyes, Lavender giggles and Cedric smiles quietly.
He runs. Back to Room Four, hiding away where no-one can follow or find him. He pulls his wand out and mutters several charms to render the room untraceable. No more owls will find him, no more invites to disasters. He collapses onto his bed, face pressed to the scratchy woollen blanket and exhaustion steals him away.
And he's in the Forbidden Forest, and this time he's changed his mind, and he doesn't want to die. He tries to run but branches burst from the ground, winding their way up and around his feet to his knees. He tries to pull himself free, grabbing the wand he'd stolen and trying to sever the branches, succeeding only in cutting his legs. Silver blood falls to the dead leaves and bracken on the floor, and then his mother floats in front of him as Bellatrix shrieks with laughter in the background.
"Just stand still," Lily whispers, grey and sad. "Stand still and it will all be over."
"I don't want to die," Harry says, and then the world goes black.
He opens his eyes, shivering. He's on the floor next to his bed, his cheek pressed to the carpet. Hands grab him and Fred hauls him to his feet, passing him his glasses.
"Calm down," Fred says, his black and white form frowning. He pushes Harry back onto the bed, steadying him. The room is quiet save for the drips of the taps in the bathroom and two sets of quiet breathing.
"You're not going to go away, are you?" Harry asks finally. "You're in my head, or a ghost or something."
"No. I'm not going away," Fred says, turning his head to gaze out of the window. Harry cringes at the sight of his face, all blood-spattered and bruised.
"Why?" Harry asks hoarsely.
Fred shrugs and after a moment, Harry nods, all of a sudden too weary to even worry about people or Death Eaters or even ghosts. He just wants to sleep.Everything has changed since he threw his fit of temper at Grimmauld Place. Now Hermione and Ron look terrified around him, trying to act normal whilst shooting each other meaningful glances, making discreet suggestions about visiting a mind-healer. Harry ignores them, uncaring. He feels like he's crossed from one plane of existence to another, and he's now resigned to the fact that Fred and the others aren't going anywhere. It's weary but resolute, and suddenly Hermione and Ron seem much too far away for him to think about.
"Okay," he says, the words stirring the stale air around him. "Fine. Follow me all you like. Just – no being a dickhead, all right?"
Fred cackles with delighted laughter as Harry rolls back over and goes back to sleep.
"I wish it just wouldn't," Harry says, his voice hoarse. It's been weeks and weeks since the last box went six feet down. Now when he runs through the castle in his nightmares, he trips and falls into his own perfectly oblong six-foot hole. Dirt starts to fall and he wakes screaming as it fills his mouth and eyes and ears.
At the end of his bed, Fred swings back on a chair and grins at him. "Well that's not up to you now, is it, short-arse?"
Fred really isn't so bad, if Harry doesn't focus too much on the fact that he's dead. He comes and goes as he pleases, and normally has something rude or insulting to say. Harry thinks maybe if he plays along, Fred will go away.
At first, he doesn't dare examine the small part of himself that hopes Fred will stay. It grows stronger every day, and soon Harry starts to look forwards to the unexpected visits. Fred understands what it's like. He doesn't mollycoddle or fuss or stare at Harry looking concerned. He just makes bad jokes and throws things at the back of Harry's head when he's not expecting it.
"What are you, a fucking poltergeist?" Harry fumes, rubbing his head and kicking away the book that lies crumpled at his feet.
"Call me Peeves," Fred says solemnly and then grins until Harry cracks and smiles right along with him.
Harry drains his tumbler of firewhiskey and slides it across the bar. The barkeep doesn't say a word, just nods and gives Harry more. The bar is busy enough for Harry to blend in, but not so full that claustrophobia threatens. It's as grey as the rest of the world has remained since that day buying flowers in Diagon.
"You're going to end up stinking drunk, sat all by yourself."
Harry turns to glare balefully at Fred, who has taken it upon himself to occupy the barstool next to Harry's, sprawling back with his elbows on the bar.
"Don't get me wrong," Fred says conversationally as he picks up a drink of his own and takes a sip, setting it back on the bar with a thud. "I think it's great you've managed to get out by yourself. I thought for a while there you were never going to leave that room."
Harry doesn't admit that the only reasons he left were because firstly he'd ran out of alcohol, and secondly the people in the room below his were having a screaming match. The noise and thuds and bangs had sent his nerves on edge, and by that time he'd drunk just about enough to ward off the fear of being attacked if he left the building.
"I was by myself until you turned up," Harry says grumpily. The barkeep looks up, confused.
"Yes, but to everyone else you're alone." Fred grins, and turns his head towards Harry. Harry's stopped cringing at the sight of Fred's face by now, all the silver blood on his grey form. He just sighs and drains his drink.
"Why don't you go and haunt George?" Harry asks, staring out across the wooden surface of the bar. The thin lines of the grain in the wood weave and bend for a moment before settling back into their places, still and silent.
"I'm not haunting you, dummy," Fred says, sounding as exasperated as ever as he twists to face the same way as Harry. "This is completely down to you." He raps his knuckles against Harry's temple and Harry brushes him away with a scowl.
"Not getting easier?" Fred asks, and a drop of blood falls onto the bar. Harry wipes it up with a finger, idly smearing silver between his thumb and forefinger.
"You're still here, aren't you?" Harry asks flatly, and his point is made.
"I suppose I am," Fred says, and then he's gone. Harry sighs and leans on the bar with his forearms. The barkeep slides another glass his way and Harry necks it in one. It tastes like blood, the lingering flavour of silver on his tongue.
Harry has forgotten what colours look like. He can't remember which shades of grey correspond to the colours they once were. He knows Fred's hair used to be ginger but he just can't figure out what it's supposed to look like. The only colour he does remember is a bright vivid green that he'd much rather forget about anyway.
"Keep up, speccy. Someone I want you to see."
Harry wrenches his arm out of Fred's grip, looking cross. "You're not real, stop dragging me places."
"Make me." Fred replies, and saunters off down Knockturn Alley. Harry growls and then follows, ignoring the wide-eyed fearful look thrown his way by Madam Malkin, who is just leaving her shop for the night. He pulls his hood up further so it casts his face in shadow.
The sky above him rumbles, angry and dark as Harry steps onto Knockturn. His eyes take a while to adjust, seeing in the dark isn't an easy business when everything's grey. He's uneasy and angry with himself that he's followed Fred out of Room Four. What was he thinking? There could be countless faces that would recognise his in an instant.
"Fucking ghosts," Harry snarls as Lavender Brown eyes him from a darkened doorway. He averts his eyes. He's become used to most things he sees, but Lavender's mangled throat still makes his stomach turn.
"We're not ghosts," Fred repeats for the thousandth time, right behind him. Blood drips onto the shoulder of Harry's t-shirt and he wipes it away impatiently.
He follows Fred further and further into the maze. Stone walls either side grow higher and higher, towering above him. The stones shift and creak threateningly, moving closer by inches.
He stops outside a doorway and in the blink of his eyes Fred is gone. He is alone. The door is silent and still, and Harry wonders what colour its peeling paint would be if everyone were alive. He reaches out and runs his fingers over the splintered wood, feeling curious over why Fred has led him here.
Taking a deep breath, he pushes the door open, the creak of its hinges immediately swallowed by the noise from within.
It's a bar, a dark, smoky room full of dull pounding music. The air is close; every breath he takes in feels too warm and stale. Countless bottles line the shelves behind the bar, glinting in the dim light. Patrons crowd around tables, heads momentarily lifted and eyes staring at the stranger who has just arrived in their midst. It feels like pollution in here, Harry decides, ignoring the unfriendly stares. Brittle and oppressive. Lazy and jaded.
He hears Fred but doesn't see him. He turns away from the bar and with a shock to his heart he sees a familiar figure stood nearby.
"He grew up all of a sudden, didn't he?"
"Shut up, Fred," Harry says aloud, unable to tear his eyes away from Draco Malfoy. He's tall and far too skinny in his dark trousers and shirt, and he's so pale he's on the same spectrum as the weak autumn sunlight that Harry left behind on Diagon. The music throbs and pounds like industrial machinery, and Harry's heart beats along with it.
What is he doing here? Is he even real? Harry knows that after the war the last of the Malfoys fell like dominoes. Draco certainly looks real to Harry, but then again so does Fred and the rest of them who seem to spend all their time skulking around after Harry in the shadows.
Draco turns towards Harry and as he spots him his eyes widen and Harry's heart stops.
Draco's eyes are violet.
Harry steps forwards without thinking. Spiders skitter away under his feet, running away to hide in the darkest corners of the room. Harry keeps walking as Draco stares at him, his gaze both clouded and sharpened with alcohol. He looks drunk, and he looks scared.
Harry reaches him and Draco watches with wide purple eyes as Harry takes hold of his tie and pulls him sharply forwards, staggering and stumbling. No-one in the bar even looks in his direction as he pulls Draco a bit closer, hungrily staring at those violet eyes. Why can he see them? Why aren't they as grey as the rest of the world?
"Give me a break, Potter," Draco finally says, swaying slightly. "I just buried my mother."
Harry doesn't let go. "And here I was thinking they'd buried you."
Draco laughs. He tips his head back and laughs so hard he nearly falls over. It sounds strange, clashing on Harry's senses like broken glass. He hasn't heard anyone laugh in forever. They weren't supposed to be laughing yet.
"They might have done for all I know."
"Are you dead or drunk?" Harry asks.
Draco steps up close, so close that his nose nearly touches Harry's and all Harry can see is violet.
"A little bit of both."
The clock on the wall ticks far too loudly. Ron and Hermione are out of sight just through the doorway, their whispering voices a rustle like autumn leaves. Ginny kneels at Harry's feet where he sits in an armchair, the cushions deep and soft. Her hand is on his knee and she's grey and sad and silent. A thousand miles away.
"You could come here," she says. Her voice is too light and it's trembling. "Stay with us."
She's trying to sound casual, like it's just a suggestion because they miss Harry being about, rather than an intervention because they all think he's gone around the twist.
"Nah, I'm fine," he says with a smile. "Wouldn't want to intrude. I'm happy staying at Grimmauld Place, you know I am."
She bites her lip and looks away. A memory fights to surface in Harry's mind, a memory of friends and people who can help, who can care for him and make everything all right again -
It's forgotten in the blink of an eye as Harry remembers Draco and his purple eyes. He can't stay at the Burrow. If he stays they'll never let him out back down Knockturn and then he'll never find out why Draco's eyes are fucking purple.
He'll have to give up Room Four.
"I miss you," she says.
Harry shakes his head and puts his hand on hers as he lies to her face. "I'm right here."
Behind her, Fred pulls a face and Harry wants to laugh. He's wanted to laugh ever since Draco broke the taboo. Ginny's face turns worried frown. The whistling starts up again and it gets louder and louder as Harry watches Ginny's mouth move again, not hearing any of her words.
Draco is easy to find.
Violet is easy to find.
Fred cackles when Harry tells him.
"You've completely lost the plot, now, Harry. Ghosts and Malfoys!"
When Harry finds him again, he's drunk and collapsed in a heap in the back of the same bar with the polluted light. There's no industrial music this time of day, just the mutter of conversation, the thuds of glasses being set down atop tables, and Draco's laboured breathing. Harry kicks him and his eyes struggle open, violet in the gloom.
"Oh god. I'm going to be sick. Go away, Potter. I hate you."
He grabs hold of the table next to him and struggles to his knees, breathing hard. His eyes flutter shut and he dips his head low in front of him, swaying slightly. His hair is a mess, and there's dirt on the back of his neck.
"I want to talk to you."
Harry squats down next to him and takes Draco's chin in a tight grip, forcing his face up.
"Please don't hurt me," Draco says, screwing his face up. His breath is heavy and thick with alcohol. Harry debates punching him right in the face. He owes him a broken nose, right? But now Draco's a ghost it seems a bit pointless, and besides, the purple is more important than a petty vendetta.
Behind the bar, a door creaks open and thuds shut. A dry voice cackles with laughter and a glass clinks against another. Harry glances around, hating that he's got his back to the room.
"Come on," he says, letting go of Draco's chin and standing up. "You're coming with me."
"I'm not," Draco says, petulant and tearful. "I'm not, I'm not, I'm not."
"Fine. Stay here and rot," Harry says, and kicks him again for good measure.
Draco bursts into bitter tears and swipes at Harry's legs with his hand, hitting at him ineffectually. "Fine," he manages to choke through his tears. "All right."
Harry grabs him under his arms and heaves him to his feet, pulling an arm over his shoulders. Draco's hands are filthy too.
"You're the most pathetic ghost I've met so far," Harry says.
Draco laughs and cries at the same time, the sound a choked sob. "I know I am."
Harry dumps Draco on the bed in his room in an undignified sprawl of limbs, his elbows and knees bent at awkward angles. The springs in the mattress scream in protest and the wooden legs groan tiredly.
"Welcome to Room Four."
Draco forces himself up until he's almost sitting, his weight resting back on shaky arms. "Are you going to kill me?"
Harry laughs, and wonders if he could kill these ghosts all over again if he tried. He locks the door and checks the window and the bathroom before turning back to Draco who is looking steadily more and more frightened.
"What kind of stupid question is that?" he asks. He sits down on the edge of the bed and reaches out to touch Draco's temple. Draco flinches.
"You're going to – you want to hurt me. Torture me. For what I did."
"By my records, you did fuck all that's worth remembering," Harry snorts. "Except not selling me out in the manor and letting me steal your wand."
"Have you still got it?"
Harry draws it out of his pocket and waves it in Draco's face. His eyes struggle to follow it, his vision blurred by alcohol and then he reaches out to grab it, his fingers closing on air in the space that is left as Harry whips the wand back out of Draco's reach. Quick as a flash, Harry has him flat on his back on the bed, one hand pressed to Draco's chest and the other pointing the wand between his eyes, pressing hard enough to leave a mark on the white skin.
"Play nice," he says, his tone threatening.
Tears leak from Draco's closed eyes, leaving tracks down his face and dampening the blanket beneath his head. Harry's irritated by the tears and wishes Draco would open his bloody eyes. "What do you want with me?"
"I," Harry says and takes the wand away, "just want some company."
Draco's eyes snap open and he frowns. "From me? Are you mad?"
Harry doesn't tell him the real reason he's brought him here. Instead leans over and slaps Draco gently across the cheek, making him flinch again. "Completely and utterly. That a problem?"
Draco eyes him carefully, and then he shakes his head. "Promise you won't hurt me?"
Harry puts the hand holding Draco's wand over his heart. "Cross my heart, hope to die."
"Fuck you," Draco says, his voice trembling. He doesn't dare try and sit up again.
"I promise," Harry says shortly. "All right?"
Draco nods slowly, and his body seems to relax. His fists unclench and his shoulders sink back onto the patchwork blanket. He swallows and Harry watches as his Adam's-apple bobs in his throat before looking hungrily back to Draco's eyes. Draco holds his gaze for a second and then looks away, swallowing thickly again and staring at the ceiling.