The floorboards were cold under his feet, the air felt stagnant, the dust sparkling like molecular looking crystals, floating, up and down, a steady waltz created by the sudden whirlwind from curtains drawn back for the first time in many years.
Uncertainty crawled down his spine, but the decision had already been made and there was nothing he could do about, he was not in a position of choosing whether or not to do this.
Harry reached out, his fingers twitching in an almost-tremble as he reached for the sealed package leaning against the wall.
The paper was brown, rustling under his hesitant fingertips. Better get it over with, he thought to himself as he unwrapped the rectangular package, peeling off the paper to reveal its content.
It was a painting. A portrait.
The young man inside looked ethereal. He stood out sharply against the charcoal background, the way he was placed in a green leather armchair, leaning elegantly but still with his back straight, chin held high, like an ancient marble statue fetched from the deep waters of Greece, a beauty hidden from the eye for hundred of years.
His skin was pale, delicate in a way that reminded Harry of snow in December, light and fragile on the dull grey streets of England. His hair a similar shade as his skin: platinum strands of hair that fell over his forehead, escaping its otherwise neatly combed cousins. Everything was so white, colourless, almost.
A pale hand moved and tugged the hair back to its place and looked up, grey eyes staring into Harry’s - and Harry could hear his breath hitch in the empty room.
It was a portrait. A portrait of Draco Malfoy.
“I was wondering when I would be seeing you, Potter,” the portrait said, his voice sleek, neat, perfectly managed, just like his hair - just like his very being, Harry thought distantly.
“Not an insult?” Harry managed, “that’s an improvement, or possibly I should be alarmed,” he wrinkled his nose, more for show than anything else.
The corner of portrait Malfoy’s lips gave a slight twitch.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“The pleasure? I’m aghast!” Harry said, letting out a snort resembling a laugh, although it sounded strangled, nervous, even.
Harry cleared his throat.
“There’s something bothering you.”
Harry laughed, he didn’t sound any less stiff than before.
“It’s just weird, you’re a painting.”
“I am,” portrait Malfoy replied, “but I’m also me.”
Draco Malfoy had changed after the war. The boy who had proudly followed in his father’s footsteps had turned into someone simultaneously unrecognisable and yet impossibly so very much like himself.
Draco Malfoy was an enigma to Harry Potter. He was still the very same insufferable git he had known back in school, but at the same time someone who had after his parents’ incarceration sold the grounds of his inherited nobel family house: Malfoy Manor, and donated the revenue to charity work. It was said that he had invested the Malfoy fortune in different areas to help the capital grow and let the money go to even more charities and funds and even to the Ministry; for research and politics and whatnot.
Malfoy’s fame had only increased after that. It didn’t mean that people didn’t still throw vegetables at him on the streets, called him names so loudly everyone could hear, but it also meant that the Daily Prophet didn’t only target “Harry Potter” as their favourite headline - and some did think his humanitarian actions weren’t all lies and front.
Harry didn’t know what to think. Could anyone change that much? He had known Malfoy, after all. But then again, Malfoy was not the very same as when Harry had known him. Malfoy from Hogwarts would have flourished in the fame, bloomed like a flower, petals shining, reaching for the sunlight, all perfect teeth glittering towards the lenses, charming and teasing the journalists and reporters - but this Malfoy did not. Instead he withdrew himself, back, again, to the shadows, and eventually the press gave up in pressing him about news and quotes. He never attended any of the parties, not even the ones that celebrated his own donations.
Harry looked at the portrait, the lean figure of Draco Malfoy, perfectly black attire against the even darker background, the unreal porcelain skin and colourless eyes.
What am I doing here, Harry thought to himself. He didn’t know.
Harry bit down on his lower lip until he was drawing blood as he carefully wrapped the paper around the portrait again, covering the familiar yet unfamiliar form from the rest of the world, fingers moving efficiently as he got to work but still light on his touch. In the end it looked almost as when he had first came into the room.
Harry nodded courtly towards the minister as he made his way out in a hurry, his heart beating hard in his chest, breath ragged and his hands clutching the carefully wrapped frame of the portrait of Draco Malfoy and Apparated.
Harry placed the portrait against the wall in his sitting room.
It was as if he hadn’t noticed how very white everything was before then, nor how very empty his flat truly was, with only one sole and rather modest sofa placed in a corner of the room. It was as if he had suddenly been granted vision after placing the brown package on the floor, the only thing contrasting the white of his flat.
The wind rumpled his tangled locks even further, the water rumbling beneath him as the waves lift themselves up against the sky, whipping the hard stone walls in splattering lashes that was slowly willing his clothes to stick to his skin uncomfortably, making him shiver as the air turned it colder still.
Harry closed his eyes, letting the sea roar in his ears, screaming the injustice back at him in a force he didn’t dare let out himself, afraid he wouldn’t be able to pick up the pieces of his shattered self.
Harry hadn’t even noticed when his and Ginny’s relationship had ended. It just had. It had faded away right in front of them, passing like the seasons changed the colour of the leaves and as the wind caught them and had them dancing away - leading them further and further away from each other - it was already too late. A mere memory of what once were, a faint smell of a flower that had bloomed long ago, now the leaves were brown and brittle. They were soon no more.
Maybe it was better that way, Harry had thought.
They hadn’t cried, neither of them had. It was too late for crying and as the winter took over there was no water left to shed. A thin layer of ice, burying whatever was left deep down, hiding it were no one could see.
“When did we stop being a we?” Harry had asked and Ginny had smiled, one of those genuine smiles, those heartwarming familiar ones that Harry had come to call home, that reminded him of hot tea, bare feet running on green summer fields, brown rustic houses and knitted jumpers.
“It was war,” she said instead, ignoring his question, “we found each other in a time when there might not have been a tomorrow.”
“There was a tomorrow.”
“Oh Harry,” her voice was kind, but he could hear the sadness underneath, they all talked like that to him, they still did, even years after it had ended, they still had that look in their eyes, their hands moving tentatively around his edges, as if afraid that he might break, “there still is.”
And as ever, Ginny’s words proved to be right. Harry continued to wake up every morning, he prepared breakfast and he went to work, he played the Boy who Lived and Saviour of the Wizarding World and sometimes Auror Potter even without a certificate, occasionally he met up with friends, talked and laughed. She was right, there was still a tomorrow.
Harry looked at his reflection. The glass dirty, blurring the green eyes that were staring back at him. There were dark pools under his eyes, almost purple by now and it didn’t make any sense to him, because he wasn’t even sleep deprived, he did sleep, even 6 hours a night by now. Just tired, could be work, that’s all.
Harry blinked, breathing heavily through his nose as he reached for the bottle at the farthest corner on the shelf above the sink. It’s soon empty, he noted, but it didn’t prevent him from taking a heavy sip nevertheless, the tiny label in fancy cursive writing stating Sleeping Draught and he took down another bottle, turning it in his hand before raising it to his lips, swallowing a vial of the purple potion: Dreamless Sleep. It’s only a temporary fix - or so he had told himself about every night now for the last couple of years.
“Missed me?” the voice was carried out into the room like a rustling autumn wind into the vacant space.
Harry willed himself to breathe, letting crisp air fill his lungs in a steady rhythm, in, out, in, out, in a repeated pattern. How could it be so difficult, something that used to come to him so naturally, something he relied on in order to keep him alive. Maybe he really was this bad at living, that even the most trivial things was a struggle nowadays. Maybe the look Hermione and Ginny and even Ron was giving him told him exactly what was happening to him - or maybe he just missed war this much, being on the run, having something to do, maybe he was bad at being normal, maybe this was the amount of messed up that he had become, that he simply had to make even the simplest of things into something hard and impossible. Maybe he needed the struggle to survive.
In, out, in, out. It was not an impossible task, Harry had done much worse.
“Don’t tell me you have?” the smooth voice continued, raising at the end of the sentence in a slight mocking, but it was soft in an odd kind of way that was unfamiliar, lacking its usual vitriol.
“Why don’t you spit it out already?” Harry asked, satisfied with how even his voice sounded even though he was still counting his breaths, going over in, out, in, out like a mantra.
“I wouldn’t be left with something like… this,” he gestured in the general direction of the portrait, “if it wasn’t for a reason, Malfoy. I know you, you wouldn’t do anything without a hidden motive.”
Draco Malfoy in the portrait lowered his head, looking somewhere to the left, away from Harry.
“You don’t… know… ” the words came out like a whisper.
“Come again?” Harry waited for the sneer and the insults, but they never came.
You don’t know. What didn’t he know?
The first time Harry saw Malfoy after the trial of the Death Eaters was in a pub. Harry had entered with Ron. After the war had ended everyone had been extremely busy and Harry hadn’t wanted to be of any trouble, he wanted to help out, but realised soon enough that mostly people were simply occupied with grieving. It was messy, and troublesome, and even worse because Harry had known them as well, they were someone’s family, someone’s sister, a brother, a parent, a friend. There weren’t really any time left for superficial endeavours.
Malfoy had been sitting in the farthest corner of the pub, looking like an old monochrome Muggle photograph with his colourless hair, porcelain skin that contrasted his melanoid robes. He looked like something that wasn’t alive, as if he had stopped breathing to exist only as an echo of himself.
Harry had talked to Ron pretending to ignore Malfoy altogether and Malfoy had kept to himself. Harry wasn’t even sure he had been aware of Harry’s presence at all.
“Why don’t you ever drink tea?”
Harry smiled, it felt strained, but curiously not because it was forced, but simply because it felt unusual. When was the last time he had smiled?
“Nevermind,” Malfoy continued, “just thought you were civilised enough to, you know… but I should have known better,” his voice was soft though, kind, reaching with invisible fingers and Harry was letting him, willing to reach out as well.
Night was the only time of the day that Harry spent at home, about the only time he spent any time at home really. Days were spent at other places, sometimes he payed a visit to Ron and Hermione, but mostly he preferred not to - he didn’t want to bother them; they were happy, content, and somehow, even years after everything should have long ended, Harry found himself unable to enjoy the small stupid things in life. Occasionally he would laugh, he would laugh until he was ready to burst, but then the listlessness would settle in again, laying itself like a canvas, slowly collecting dust.
Eventually he would come back again, to his white non personal space, feeling more somber than when he had left. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Harry knew he should talk to them, but he couldn’t make himself. He couldn’t stand the way they would look at him after he had told them: as if he was something fragile, something broken. Them worrying about him was enough, there was no need to confirm their speculations - and what would he tell them anyhow? He wasn’t sure he knew himself.
Only, now, there was no complete blindingly white flat to come home to anymore: there was a black spot in the wall, a black spot displaying neatly combed hair with a colour similar to the rest of his flat. Possibly the painting fitted his home perfectly; colourless, as it was.
Harry hadn’t thought he’d be hanging up a portrait of Draco Malfoy in his flat, but then he had never thought he would ever be owning one either. It seemed stupid not to put it up once he had received it.
The portrait was somehow a steady reminder of how much Malfoy had changed from the time Harry had known him. There were no insults, no mockery, instead it was mostly just quiet, a simple silence. Harry would have imagined it turning more awkward by the minute but somehow the silence was comfortable, never stepping over the thin line of awkwardness. Sometimes Malfoy would say something, but mostly the portrait only talked if and when spoken to.
Portrait Malfoy often wore a similarly listless expression as Harry, vacantly staring at a vague spot at the far left corner. Sometimes he didn’t move for so long Harry forgot he wasn’t a normal Muggle painting, walking past in nothing but undergarment as he walked from his bedroom to the bathroom and back again, languidly brushing his teeth on his way.
Harry caught himself in the middle of a turn back towards his bed to head off to sleep as his eyes got stuck on the grey gaze that met his through the empty space that separated him and the portrait, whose eyes were currently slowly moving down Harry’s body, leaving him acutely aware of his close-to nakedness.
“Disappointed?” Harry asked, trying desperately for nonchalance and if not: a light mood.
Portrait Malfoy cast his eyes down, long silvery eyelashes batting as he worried his lower lip with his teeth. Harry shifted his weight, unsure if he should head for his bedroom and shut the door after him, possibly as quick as possible.
“No,” Malfoy’s voice replied evenly, “I’m surprised.”
“I thought there would be a scar.”
“I have plenty enough,” he said.
“I just thought that… after you were… hit by the Killing Curse… again…”
“You thought I hadn’t died enough times already?” Harry regretted the words as they made their way out through his lips, forcibly pressing them together hard but only once it was already too late.
Malfoy shivered. Harry would have said it was due to the cold, but he was a painting, and it could only have been a reaction to his own words. He felt bad.
“No,” Malfoy said, eyes meeting Harry’s once more, “I was surprised that… even after sacrificing the last thing you got,” my life, Harry thought, “it didn’t leave a mark. After giving up yourself for us-, for everyone. It didn’t leave a mark, as if it never happened in the first place.”
“But you don’t care about that.”
Malfoy’s reply came a beat too late: “No, I really don’t.”
Harry took a few steps closer to the portrait, slowly sinking down on the sofa placed beside it.
No, but you do, he thought in wonder. Why did he? For all that he knew Malfoy would be the last person to care about him, or maybe this was yet another proof of how little Harry actually knew about the colourless man in the portrait.
The silence stretched on and Malfoy didn’t seem like he was going to continue.
“Care to elaborate?” Harry prompted.
“There’s nothing left to be said.”
“There really isn’t.”
“But you do.”
“You cared about that. Me, being hit by Avada Kedavra without it leaving a mark. Why do you care?”
“I said I didn’t.”
“You’re not fooling me, Malfoy.”
Malfoy moved his gaze again, away from Harry and settling once more on that spot to the left. It seemed Harry wouldn’t be able to pull anymore more out of him, not for now at least.
The other times Harry had met Draco Malfoy had all been sporadic, random encounters; one on the street, one in a bookshop. All moments had been fleeting, passing in a hurry, over as soon as he had glimpsed the platinum head in a crowd. Sometimes Harry was sure he had imagined seeing Malfoy, but then again, there weren’t really any other wizards or witches with hair like that, aside from Lucius Malfoy, possibly.
Truth be told, Harry never really took any notice in him anyway. Draco Malfoy wasn’t a part of his life anymore. He wasn’t angry with him, he wasn’t even disappointed.
Harry had been obsessing over Malfoy during his school years, but those years were all over, and there were other things that seemed to occupy his mind and time now.
Draco Malfoy just wasn’t important anymore, he was just another stranger, another old classmate, another leaf in the wind he had once laid his eyes on, just to see it float away again.
Harry looked down at his hands, the noise of the waves silencing his roaming thoughts that stretched out over him like searching hands, eager for touch, scraping his skin harshly wherever it could reach.
No one could have done that. After all this time, and Harry had never considered that an option. He thought of the raised eyebrows, the wrinkled nose, the voice spitting out words as if they tasted sour. Maybe it had always been there, lurking in the shadows, and Harry hadn’t even been bothered to see it. He hadn’t even cared for the pieces he might find, the pieces he might even like.
When Harry had first learned what had happened at the cliff facing the North Sea all he could think was: it should have been me.
Some nights the potions didn’t take and Harry was left staring up at the white ceiling. The wind howling outside his window and his thoughts screaming inside his head. At those nights, Harry went out to the sitting room, his eyes transfixed on the floorboards, bare feet making soft thudding noises as he made his way towards the sofa. He would sit curled up with his legs close to his chest, waiting for the storm to settle, the skies to clear. Sometimes he would gaze towards the portrait on the wall, grey eyes meeting his.
“The storm won’t stop,” he replied weakly.
“What storm?” and then Harry would shake, his body trembling and his teeth clattering as the cold from the windows slipped inside, seeking its way towards him, forcing itself upon him.
They always sat in silence after that, Malfoy waiting until Harry’s body would stop vibrating and the rain would stop pouring. He never said anything about Harry’s inner weather and Harry was grateful for that, he couldn’t stand more sad faces, worried questions, more pity and Malfoy never gave him that, he just sat in his armchair, arms resting against his legs, his gaze mostly somewhere to the far left only to glance at Harry every now and then, and whenever he did and Harry caught him looking, his face would be indifferent, but not unkind.
Harry didn’t know when he had stopped spending time in his bedroom and moved out to the sitting room. He did his work there at times, filling out parchments with black scribblings, the feather dancing not quite so elegantly as one would have hoped over the papers.
“What are you doing?”
“I have a speech.”
“Oh, why am I not surprised?”
“I hate it really,” Harry said, surprised as he admitted to something he hadn’t been able to tell to anyone before, not even Ron or Hermione.
When they had asked him if he was okay with it, he had simply went along with it. What else could he have done?
“Then why do you do it?”
“Who else should do it?”
“Anyone is not Harry Potter.”
Harry swallowed. Sometimes he wishes he could have been Draco Malfoy, choosing to step back into the shadows, doing things, good things, and still keep out of the public, sometimes he wishes it, sometimes - most times.
Harry makes tea, stirring his spoon gently and sitting down on the sofa, lips touching the rim of the cup as he sips at the hot content.
“Thought you didn’t drink tea?”
“Guess you were wrong then.”
“Do you remember everything?”
“I remember you explaining to me that you could tell who the wrong sort are for yourself, thanks.”
“I guess I was wrong.”
Malfoy studied him, silent seconds passing as his grey eyes went all over Harry and he shivered.
“Do you… “ Harry knew it was a dangerous path, but if he had learned something about himself it was that he never seemed to care much for danger, always leaping straight ahead and into it anyway, “do you have… feelings? I mean, or are there just memories?”
Malfoy’s eyebrows twitched, slowly drawing together, making his smooth skin wrinkle at his forehead, until he seemed to realise the face he was making and the blank facade settled back in.
“I do,” he replied, voice even.
“I guess it’s called magic, Potter.”
“Yes, I have memories, yes I can create new ones, yes I do think, and yes I do feel, I have emotions and feelings, even though I’m… not quite human. I’m an echo, Potter, an echo of myself. The magic that allows a portrait to mimic its subject depends on how well the painter knew the subject, usually it’s based on the behaviour of the subject at the time they’re portrayed onto the canvas but, if the artist would, say, personally know the subject at hand, it would allow the portrait to be… more of a mirror than an echo, if you will.”
Harry spends more and more time on the sofa, maybe, he thinks, he never truly appreciated the sitting room until now, but then again, there wasn’t a Draco Malfoy portrait in his sitting room until just a few weeks ago either. Mostly it’s just like before, Malfoy doesn’t say much and neither does Harry, he sips his tea, and sometimes he catches Malfoy’s eyes, misty grey looking into his, until they break away, looking somewhere towards the left corner again. Sometimes they talk, often small trivial conversations of no particular significance, and yet Harry feels as though they’re important, as if his life would somehow be less without them, as if he needs them to make himself go to those galas, hold those speeches, track down those criminals, as if he ever had to go without those useless discussions about the weather and quality tea he wouldn’t be able to function properly.
Every time Harry sits curled up in the sofa at night when the potions can’t help him they’re accompanied by silence, but as the days go by it’s not a heavy cloud in the air between them anymore, but a rather easy, tranquil friend and Harry feels calm, comfortable even, and he welcomes the silence. It’s a quiet understanding between the two of them, that sometimes words can be too much, that sometimes it’s better not to talk - or rather, sometimes it’s easier not to talk, and sometimes all Harry needs is for it to be easy for once; no more battles and no more wars. He thinks Malfoy needs that too, no more choices forced out of his hands, no more fakery and no more lies. They need the quiet, the silence.
At times they do talk, talk about the important things - the real things, the things that actually matter. They don’t exchange very many words about the topics at hand, but they do say one or two things, Harry scratching nervously behind his ear, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, shooting quick glances at Malfoy every now and then and waiting for either of them to say something, anything, continue, or let the difficult things be hidden once more, let the tide come and make them forget for a little longer.
“I was so alone,” Malfoy said eventually, looking down at his hands in his lap.
“I was too,” said Harry.
Malfoy looked up at him then, face unreadable.
“I didn’t think you were.”
“Not technically… I had, I had friends.”
“I felt lonely. I’m not saying it’s worse than actually being alone but-,”
“No, I understand,” Malfoy cut in, visibly swallowing, his Adam’s apple bobbing, “it’s different if you want to be alone, or if you choose it, and it’s also different if you don’t want to be alone but don’t know how to reach out to anyone - but I know that feeling, the feeling when you’re surrounded by people but you’re not there, not really, yeah… I know.”
Harry swallowed too. When you’re surrounded by people.
“You really had no one.”
Malfoy laughed, sounding all but joyous.
“I thought no one could help me.”
No one can help me.
Red, so, so very red. Harry swallowed, forcing the image out of his head.
“I would, had I known,” Harry said, but it wasn’t true, was it?
After all, he had known, he had heard him.
Malfoy laughed again, it sounded ugly, awful and Harry found himself wishing he could turn it into a real laugh, one of those that Malfoy displayed when he joked about the weather, about the boredom of sitting inside a painting all day, about how Harry was always late home, and especially those few times when Harry said something and Malfoy’s face lit up, his eyes crinkling and lips stretching wide showing off those glorious rows of white teeth, the sound of laughter touching Harry’s ears. He wanted to take this laugh, the dry, empty one and throw it away, he never wanted to hear it again.
“You wouldn’t, Potter,” he said, the laughter dying like a flower fading from existence, “you know that you wouldn’t.”
“You don’t know that, you could have-,”
“I could have what? Asked you to help me kill Dumbledore? Asked you to kill the Dark Lord a few years before you did? Apparate me out of my own house where he was sleeping too, tear me from his very hands? What would you have done? Run away with me?,” Malfoy scoffed, but he didn’t sound angry, he sounded flat, defeated - tired, at most, “you think that could have worked? Because I highly doubt it, even if it’s you, Potter.”
Harry bit his lip, feeling the flesh between his teeth.
“Voldemort lived under your roof?”
Malfoy flinched when Harry had said the name, even now, even years later, and Malfoy was still affected by a name - but who was he kidding, he was the one who couldn’t sleep without a fair amount of two potions each night, and even then it could sometimes be close to impossible to stay sound asleep.
“Yes,” Malfoy breathed, swallowing, seemingly trying to steady his voice, “and we let him. I let him. I just let him come and go as he pleased, use our very table as a dinner plate for… his snake. I just let him.”
“You couldn’t have stopped him. Malfoy, you do realise you couldn’t have done anything differently?”
“I could have chosen to do the right thing for once!”
It was the first time Malfoy had raised his voice - the first time the portrait had raised his voice, Malfoy had raised his voice many times at Harry, but this, this portrait Malfoy had never before done so since Harry had gotten him and taken him home.
“You were just a child.”
“So were you!” Malfoy took a deep breath, apparently suddenly aware of the volume he was pushing at, his face slowly turning blank again, managed, controlled, “you were a child too, and you made all the right choices, you always did.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it any differently than you if I was in your place.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“You just… know?”
Harry thought of Snape for a fleeting moment. Maybe it wasn’t so weird that they had both been in Slytherin after all. Maybe Malfoy was braver than he had first thought.
“You’re highly analytical. Think about it.”
“No, I mean it. Think about it. What could you have done differently? If you had done anything differently you would probably be…” Harry felt a tremble starting at his spine, crawling it’s way through his body.
He clenched his hand, breathing through his nose to stop himself from going into hyperventilation.
“I just mean,” he started again when he was sure that his voice wouldn’t break, “you did what you had to do in order to survive and even so, you made maybe seemingly small, but important choices, Draco, if you had told Bellatrix Lestrange that it was me, I was not ready to face him then, there were still several Horcruxes left, Merlin, who knows if I would even be alive? If any of us would?”
Malfoy blinked at him.
“You called me Draco.”
Harry blinked as well.
“Well,” he began, “it’s your name.”
At work Harry had asked questions, questions others hadn’t dared to ask. No one seemed to care, for all they knew, it was just another body, and no one had cared enough to look more into it - but there was something not right about it, there was more to it than that, Harry was certain, but no one listened. No one wanted to listen. He got what he deserved, some would say.
“Do you think we could be friends?”
Harry looked at Draco, slightly taken aback.
“We are friends.”
Draco bit his lower lip, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I mean, the real me, do you think we could have been friends?”
Harry tried to breathe. In, out, in, out, he told himself, as simple as that, nothing out of the ordinary, just normal, common, day-to-day breathing.
“I would like to think we would,” he said eventually.
Draco looked down at his usual spot in the left corner again.
“He needs you, you know.”
Harry just blinked at him, unable to process what Draco, just told him.
“No,” Harry started, swallowing hard.
Draco’s eyes shot up, quicker than Harry had even seen him react before in this portrait life.
Harry shook his head, unable to reply with anything else, his throat suddenly dry.
“No? No as in… we couldn’t be friends?”
“No,” Harry tried again, voice sounding steadier than he felt, “no, you, he, doesn’t need me.”
“You don’t know that,” Draco replied, voice flat, “you don’t know what I, what he needs. If you don’t think I-, he, needs you, you clearly don’t know me at all.”
“Don’t,” he took a deep breath, “don’t you see? He needs you,” Draco’s voice sounded a lot like a plea, a plea for something that made Harry’s heart clench uncomfortably, threading to break like glass held between two rows of teeth, with just the slightest added pressure and the glass would shatter, cutting into him from every direction.
“I need you!” Harry screamed back at the portrait.
He wanted to tear something open, maybe himself, he wanted to scream, shout, but he hadn’t intended to scream at Draco. He didn’t want to scream at him.
“But so does he!” portrait Draco countered, “you, you make me complete. You make me see myself in ways I haven’t seen myself in many, many years. Do you realise what that means to me? You can make me see things differently and… and you see me differently, you don’t see what everyone else see. Merlin, you don’t even see the Mark,” Harry shuddered, because technically he hadn’t seen the Dark Mark, it was always hidden underneath Draco’s long black sleeves, but it was true, the worst thing was that all of what Draco was telling him was true, because Harry didn’t see the Mark because he saw Draco, he saw him.
“We complete each other… Harry?”
The sound Draco’s voice made when he had said his name pushed Harry over the invisible edge, but he couldn’t cry here, not in front of him, not in front of Draco.
“I’m sorry,” he pushed through his teeth and excused himself, starting for the door to his bedroom.
Draco was quiet behind him as he closed the door.
“Talk to me, Harry.”
Harry had tried avoiding Draco for days now, it wouldn’t sufficed in the long run, he knew this much. After long days spent at charities, galas, even chasing and catching illegal dealing with potion ingredients or wicked plots by goblins, Harry wanted nothing but to go back to his flat, only to be able to stare at the colourless walls and empty spaces. It was why he had chosen to paint everything white in the first place. He needed space to rest, let his mind and body ease, calm down and not focus on anything. He couldn’t avoid Draco forever, and somewhere, deep down, he didn’t want to. He just couldn’t face him. That was all.
Harry swallowed and turned, his eyes locking with the grey gaze under long, long white lashes.
“You got my attention,” Harry sighed.
“You’re not though, are you?”
“No, but I am,” Draco continued, a slight twitch on his face that could have been exasperation showing through his otherwise well contained facade and demeanor.
“Yeah, I know. It’s just… you don’t even know what you’re sorry about.”
Draco broke their locked eyes and looked elsewhere, somewhere down in the left corner as Harry had noticed had become a habit of his. When he finally raised his gaze, he had a look on his face that Harry couldn’t quite place.
“So tell me,” he said.
Harry smiled weakly.
“I just… I don’t know if I’m able to say it aloud yet.”
“Will you talk to me about it later?”
“Promise, you will discuss it with me, when you’re ready. I won’t push it, just promise you’ll do it, one day.”
“I think I’ll pitch myself off the Astronomy tower...” had he really said that?
Maybe they had more in common than he cared to admit.
Harry looked down on his hands.
“I shouldn’t rely on you like this,” he heard himself say.
When Malfoy didn’t reply he felt compelled to continue.
“Dumbledore once told me that it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
After another silent pause Harry thought the conversation had died, water swirling down the drain. It was too late. Much like it was too late for everything else.
“He was the greatest sorcerer in the world.”
A tingling of a stream of unidentified emotions run through him. Harry nodded.
“He was,” he said.
After another evening of not being able to fall asleep Harry had stalked out into the sitting room, placing himself on the sofa once again. They hadn’t exchanged any words, silence had been a familiar friend this evening as well until something had propelled Harry to take a closer look at the portrait, Draco’s face as unreadable as ever.
Harry reached out absentmindedly, his hand outstretched towards Draco. He didn’t know what he wanted, but Draco was there, all perfect hair and skin and he was so, so close, but when his finger’s scraped the surface of the painting reality hit him hard, like a Bludger to the stomach.
Draco’s hand raised in a similar manner, his painted fingertips ghosting just behind Harry’s, like a shadow but made of porcelain looking skin.
“I wish I could touch you,” Harry whispered, breath hitching as he heard himself say it.
He could hear Draco’s breath mirroring his.
Something stirred in his lower abdomen and Harry moved his gaze from their hands to look at Draco’s face instead, all white and greys and quite possibly the most beautiful being Harry had ever seen. When had he started to think that of him? Possibly he had always done so. Draco was a beautiful man, there was no denying it - but it was more to it than that, Harry was faintly aware of this but he pushed the thought aside. It wouldn’t do, he wouldn’t have it.
“Come on, do it,” Draco prompted, voice dangerously low, quirking an eyebrow at him in what looked like a challenge.
Harry could do with a challenge.
“Okay,” he breathed rather raggedly, his free hand sliding down in between his legs, gently cupping himself through his trousers.
“Get on the sofa.”
“Bossy,” Harry said but complied, taking a few steps backwards until his legs met the edge and he let himself fall upon it, creating a soft thudding sound that echoed slightly in the otherwise empty room.
Harry kept his eyes on Draco who’s own grey gaze was roaming over Harry in a way that was almost physical, as if there was no space between them, only feather light fingers gliding over Harry, caressing his cheek, sliding down his torso and down further still, teasingly cupping him through his trousers and Harry let out a shuddered breath as his own hand squeezed himself lightly.
“You do realise…” Harry murmured, hesitantly pressing his palm flat against himself and Harry was almost certain he could see Draco’s lips parting ever so slightly, his chest heaving almost unnoticeable in what still was most certainly a harsh intake of air.
“Yes?” Draco asked, his eyes settling where Harry touched himself.
“This is rather weird,” Harry began, moving both his hands to unbuckle his belt nonetheless, zipping down his jeans and pushing them open.
“I can do with weird,” Draco replied, transfixed.
Harry could feel himself growing inside his underwear and slipped a hand down his waistband, shooting unsure glances at Draco, but he didn’t look as if he was judging Harry’s sanity; Draco licked his lips, pink tongue darting out in a quick motion, eyes flickering up to meet Harry’s. No, he didn’t look like he was against any of what was implied to happen, rather he looked as if he wanted it, waiting in anticipation.
Harry bit his lower lip, pushing down his pants and letting his cock free, giving it a few hesitant tugs, pleasure starting to spark from somewhere deep inside of him. It didn’t take him long to bring himself to full hardness, not when seeing the expression on Draco’s face: his tongue continuing to wet his lower lip every now and then, sometimes chewing on it slightly and soon Harry was gasping, uncertain thoughts completely forgotten.
Portrait Draco shifted in his armchair, crossing one leg over the other which suddenly had Harry thinking-
Draco looked as if he had been thrown out of a trance and Harry felt as though he’d do anything to give that back to him but at the same time he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. It sent a few extra sparks down his spine.
“You’re aware that I’m a painting,” Draco began hesitantly, tilting his head, “I wouldn’t be able to sit here in all my naked beauty even if I would want to, not unless the painter had actually seen-”
“Yeah, I get the general idea,” Harry interrupted, slightly out of breath, “but I believe your body is still able to react to stimulation.”
“And what have you thinking that?”
“You said before...” Harry paused his movement, the friction beginning to make it difficult to speak, “the magic inside a magical portrait is meant to mirror real life, that’s why you have the same memories and way of thinking as your other self,” your real self, Harry thought but he doesn’t say it, “meaning your physical body is also meant to mirror reality, touch yourself.”
Draco was quiet for a moment, but then he seemed to have made a decision, placing his right hand on the inside of his thigh, spreading them further apart.
“Yes,” Harry breathed, trying to sound encouraging as he sped up his hand on his own bare erection, sliding his thumb over the head on his way up and smearing the precome over his length on his way down again.
“Fuck,” Draco muttered, stretching out his long, long legs in front of him and starting to stroke the bulge that was only faintly visible due to the complete black trousers.
Harry swallowed hard, his movements was starting to turn more and more erratic as the impending sensation was building up, crawling down his spine and boiling low in his stomach. He had the impulse to shut his eyes tight but decided against it, his gaze instead determined to stay fixed on Draco whose own usually exceptionally large grey eyes were heavily lidded, lips slightly parted and his body slouching far down the armchair as his hands moved frantically up and down his length through his trousers.
“Draco-,” Harry began, he was so close, “oh, God, God, I’m going to-”
“Yes,” Draco’s reply came, sounding out of breath, “come for me, Harry.”
“I want-,” and then he was coming, the rush of it overwhelmingly hot and fast, eyes shutting involuntarily as his hips jerked, his fingers absently stroking the last drops out of himself until he felt as though there was nothing left.
“Do it,” Harry made himself say when his vision cleared and he could see Draco, rutting against himself, his full lips formed in a small o and eyes closed.
“Draco,” he said again, “look at me,” and Draco looked up then, his eyes locked with Harry’s, a few more strokes and his body tensed, only a faint whisper of a moan escaping his lips.
He was beautiful like that. Harry had never thought anyone could look that beautiful when they came - but Draco did. He looked ever so much like a Greek statue, ethereal, his neck a long road of pale smooth skin, chest heaving as he was trying to breathe normally again and Harry wanted to touch him so badly something ached inside of him. He wanted to trace that line of alabaster with his fingers, see if the rest of his body had the same shade, trace that nose that was so, so sharp, those plush pink lips - he wanted to lick them, press his own softly against them, conveying everything he couldn’t put into words in that, a soft sharing of lips, and lose himself to those grey eyes, tangling his fingers in that platinum hair of his, see if it was as soft and delicate as it looked, pressing closed mouth kisses against his temple.
“You’re beautiful,” Harry said, astonished, “you’re too beautiful to be real.”
Draco swallowed and Harry only realised his mistake once it was already done.
“It’s because I’m not,” Draco’s gaze lowered, a faint smile tugging at the corner of his lips, but the look on his face wasn’t happy, it was sad.
“Don’t say that.”
“But it’s true,” Draco’s looked at Harry then, his eyes persistent but Harry didn’t know what it meant.
“You are real, this is you.”
“No, Harry. It’s like you said, I’m a mirror, a mere mirror of reality. I’m nothing more.”
Harry wanted to reach out, wrap his fingers around Draco’s wrist and drag him towards him, placing his arms around him, making him understand that he was everything but nothing. But Harry couldn’t do that, and however much he didn’t want to believe any of Draco’s word he knew they were true. It was just a portrait after all, just a painting, a mirror of the real Draco Malfoy.
“Get rid of me,” Draco’s voice was less small this time, firm even, echoing in a steady tone in the empty room.
Harry wanted to ask him to repeat himself, maybe he had misheard, mistaken those words for something it clearly wasn’t. He swallowed hard, blinking, hoping that his voice wouldn’t fail him.
“You don’t mean that,” he managed at last, sounding raspy and rather weak.
“You know it’s for the best.”
“No, Harry,” and Harry winced, still feeling simultaneously odd and at home with Draco calling him by his first name, “you do realise Dumbledore was right? It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
Harry knew he was right, he just didn’t want to acknowledge it, he couldn’t.
“Who painted you?”
A beginning of a smirk played at the corner of Draco’s lips, but his face didn’t look smug, he looked… sad.
Harry stared at him in disbelief, clenching his jaw. How could he have missed that? Draco was basically an artist, the portrait was perfect, he was perfect - and he could have taken off his clothes, it was childish to even think it, but Harry couldn’t stop the feeling of something that started to creep up his body. Draco could have taken off his clothes but something had stopped him. He had let Harry believe someone else had painted him. Harry shouldn’t have been surprised, not really, he knew it was a treacherous path to walk on. He couldn’t feel things towards him, after all, Draco was only a painting.
That night the storm came for Harry again and he curled up against the pillows on the sofa and looked over at Draco, meeting his grey eyes.
You are more than a mere mirror to me, he thought to himself. He couldn’t bring himself to say it. If he said the words, they might become real.
The following morning Harry started writing a letter.
Dear Ms Narcissa Malfoy, I have in my possession something I think you would like to have.
Harry couldn’t make himself finish it.
“I’ve been thinking,” Harry began, “that maybe you would like to see your mother.”
For a moment Draco’s eyes lit up in a way Harry hadn’t seen them do ever before.
“You would do that for me?”
I would do anything for you.
“Do you think she knows that I’m the one in possession of-,” of you, Harry almost said, “of the portrait of you?”
“I would reckon she’s unaware. Otherwise I don’t think I would have stayed with you this long. She really likes to collect family portraits.”
Harry looked at him then. The question that had nudged him in the shoulder since the first time he had laid eyes on the content inside that sealed brown package pushing forth: “why?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Tradition or something, she can’t possibly like the company, I mean even-”
“No,” Harry interrupted, “I mean, what did you want to do with me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What do you want from me?”
“Excuse me? You must be talking Parseltongue because I for one know that I’m not this stupid.”
Harry took a deep breath, trying to collect himself.
“I mean,” Harry tried again, searching for the right words, “why are you not currently with the other Malfoy family portraits, why are you really here? Why me?”
“You want me to tell the truth?”
“Why would I want you to lie?”
Draco looked down to the left corner again, seemingly unconscious about him wringing his hands in his lap, the crossing of his legs and Harry was certain he had closed himself off and almost starting to head for the door when finally Draco started talking, voice exceptionally clear and steady: “actually, I don’t remember much of that. I know I, he, painted me most probably a few years ago. I know that I was made as a… Merlin, I can’t believe I’m admitting this,” Draco raised his hands to his face, pressing the palms against his eyes for a moment until he continued, letting his hands fall back down in his lap once more, “I was made because I-, because he needs you,” he made a strangled sound that had Harry’s heart feeling suddenly all too heavy in his chest, as if he needed to cut it out in order to stay upright, “for a time, I was in a really dark place,” Draco looked up then, his eyes earnest, “and I need you.”
Harry kept staring at Draco, breathing through his nose as he counted his breaths, fighting the tears that threatened to spill over.
“I will go to you,” Harry swallowed, “the real you, I’ll go to him. I think I need him too.”
“You’ll talk to me about it?”
“You’re sure you’re ready?”
“I will never be ready, not for this.”
“Then why discuss it? You could wait.”
“This can’t wait any longer, and it won’t ever be any less difficult.”
Draco was quiet, probably trying to give him space to begin when he was ready. Harry wished he would be ready for this. He wouldn’t.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“I’m a painting.”
“No-, I mean yes, but… do you know why you’re in my possession?”
Draco was quiet.
“You were given to me,” Harry continued.
“Obviously,” Draco said, but his usual arrogance was nowhere to be found, instead his voice was small, eyes glancing hesitantly over at Harry, “I thought you were the one who didn’t know.”
Harry huffed out a laugh, because partly that was true, but Harry hadn’t been very clear on this subject. It was rather that Harry didn’t know what the reason was behind choosing him - he did very well know why he was currently in possession of such an artifact as this.
The laugh sounded ugly even in his own ears. Terrible. He licked his lips.
“It was in your… in your last will and testament.”
Draco’s face was expressionless, not moving a single muscle. If Harry hadn’t been used to reading Draco by now he’d thought he was indifferent to the statement, but just the sheer notion of him not moving told Harry all he needed.
Then the realisation daunted upon him: Draco didn’t know.
After all this time and Harry had thought Draco had known. When he had told Harry that he, that the real Draco Malfoy needed him, he hadn’t known that Malfoy wasn’t alive anymore. Portrait Draco had thought that he was. He hadn’t tried to tell Harry that he needed to join him, Draco had thought… he had thought that Harry could have helped him.
“You didn’t know,” Harry said out loud, his voice barely a whisper.
Draco was quiet, and for a moment Harry had the eerie feeling that possibly the magic in the portrait had evaporated, leaving an exceptionally normal Muggle painting behind.
“That’s why…” Draco began, words fading, and Harry feared what would come next, he could basically hear the wheels turning inside Draco’s head, putting the pieces together one by one.
Draco cleared his throat, trying again: “you’re giving up?”
Harry couldn’t but stare back at him as he met his colourless eyes. He opened his mouth, meaning for the words to carry out some sort of explanation, an escape, anything, telling him how he hadn’t given up, how he was not giving up, how things would be alright, how it would be okay - but nothing came. Instead he was left with nothing, forced to close his mouth again, feeling more stupid than ever.
“You’re not planning to carry on, are you? That’s… it was not just to pay my mother a visit, was it? You were planning to move me there, permanently, and not because you cared for my relationship with her,” Harry wanted to protest, because it wasn’t as simple as that, but he couldn’t seem to find his voice, “but because you… you didn’t want me to know? Did you plan on telling me at all? I should have known, I should have known…” Draco pushed himself off the green leather chair, starting to pace back and forth around it instead.
Finally he stopped, staring intently at Harry again as he flopped elegantly back down on his armchair, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.
“You fucking git, you-,” Draco gestured with his hand vaguely, “you weren’t planning on telling me. You thought you could just tell me that I’m dead,” Harry winced, “without me realising what you were planning on doing yourself? Fuck you Potter, fuck you!”
Harry couldn’t reply, he didn’t know how to, he didn’t even know if he had any words left at all - maybe he’s said everything he’ll ever say by now anyway? Maybe there’s no need for him to speak ever again, so he lowered his head, ashamed.
“Don’t you dare leave me, Potter!”
Harry tried to swallow, but it was all in vain, his throat thick and as dry as the desert itself - at least he wouldn’t have to fear blinking back tears.
“How can I?” he wanted to scream, but it came out as a whisper.
Harry didn’t stay to see Draco’s expression, he closed the bedroom door after him, curling up on himself in an ocean of white soft duvets. How can I, when you’re the one who left?
It was autumn, a normal rather dull afternoon and Harry was drinking a cup of coffee when the news had reached him.
Draco Malfoy was dead.
How? he had asked. Suicide, they had replied.
On the 5th of October Malfoy had jumped off a cliff.
Harry hadn’t wanted to process it, he hadn’t wanted to taken it in, maybe hadn’t let it in, closing the door before the knowledge of it could truly reach him - but then he hadn’t been able to outrun it anymore, the truth finally locating its way inside.
He had spent a long time doing research, but it all seemed to lead do nothing, Narcissa Malfoy hadn’t let him in when he had for the first time since the skirmish back in 1998 stood in front of the gates to the Manor. No one of Malfoy’s former friends had heard from him or even spent time with him the last year and Harry was left with nothing. Nothing that lead to nowhere. Maybe he wasn’t looking hard enough, maybe he was looking at it from the wrong angle.
In the end Ron and Hermione had talked him out of it, his obsession with Malfoy must come to an end, and reasonably enough it should end when and where Draco Malfoy’s life had ended.
Harry had thought so too, until the minister had come around with a parchment in hand. A parchment that read that Malfoy had left something for Harry in his last will, although it hadn’t come instantly after his death but curiously enough set 6 months later. Harry felt as though he was living 1998 once again, receiving the Golden Snitch without so much as a clue.
“You have to make a promise,” Draco’s voice was stern, but not unkind the way his old self would have said such a thing.
Harry swallowed, thinking for a long time and finally settling with: “how many do I have to make?”
“Just the one.”
Draco nodded, a rather brisk almost courteous movement, as if the conversation wasn’t really between them at all, but someone else, someone he didn’t know all that well.
“Promise me you won’t leave me.”
Harry let out a sigh. This wasn’t the first time they had been over this topic, and the discussion always ended the same way: with silence, only nowadays, it wasn’t as comfortable and familiar as it used to be, it was strained, and it felt unnatural in a way that Draco’s company never had been before, not even when Harry had first hung him on his wall.
“You know I can’t-”
“Promise me that if you… if you,” Draco seemed to find it hard to continue, sifting through the words or possibly unsure whether or not to say whatever it was out loud at all.
His lips pressed together, jaw visibly clenching, nail beds white by the way his long pale fingers clutched around the dark green leather arms.
“Leave,” he finally got out, the word almost jerky.
He looked away, making a face that had Harry thinking Draco was surprised to hear himself say it, as if he had been considering it for some time but never really thought he’d pop the question.
“If you leave,” Draco said again, the words very quiet, barely audible and yet perfectly clear this time, “you won’t be leaving me behind,” Draco's eyes met his and there was pain there, even a tiny flicker of anger, but mostly something similar to desperation, “I can’t stand being left behind, I can’t… I don’t-, I don’t want to.”
Of course, Harry thought, realisation and comprehension coming over him like a pouring rain, slowly soaking him thoroughly, the cold snuggling in all the way to his very bones, and he felt like crying.
Draco was a painting, a magical painting that mirrored real life’s thoughts and feelings. He would be trapped in that frame forever, not being able to go anywhere spare visiting another portrait. More capable than Harry of imitating normal, common, everyday breathing, yet it was of no use for him, Draco would have to stay behind every time, when everyone else was gone, he would be left, again, without a choice, having to accept the brutal reality whether he wanted to or not.
“Don’t,” Draco started again, breathing heavily, as if he found it more difficult than it should be, “don’t leave me behind… if you leave.”
The silence lengthened, but Draco didn’t ask again, and Harry knew he couldn’t deny such a request knowing very well what he himself would have wanted if he was in Draco’s place, he wouldn’t want to live, not after-
“I could have someone paint a portrait of myself,” he said, but it didn’t sound convincing, and neither was Draco who made a noise similar to laughter but all too flat.
“It would be just as dull as every other painting if you don’t paint it yourself,” he replied and Harry knew it was a dead-end.
He wouldn’t be able to paint a self-portrait, not even close to the perfection that Draco had managed. He wasn’t an artist, never had been. It would never work.
Harry closed his eyes, and even though it hurt, he nodded in a silent reply. He wouldn’t be leaving Draco behind.
“Thank you,” Draco’s voice was impossibly small, and Harry looked up at him then.
A single tear reflecting the light inside the painting, looking enamel like, almost invisible on his pale complexion.
It was the first and only time Harry had seen Draco cry, and he wished it could have been different, that they could have met in a different way, and even though Draco was right there, in front of him, he wished he could have had taken a more physical form, one that his fingers could touch, so that he could brush that single tear away from his pale cheek, holding him close to his own beating heart, the two beating in unison, the very proof of how alive he still was - but Harry couldn’t have that, he never would, because this, this here, and now, and in this reality, Harry knew what to do. He had made a promise.
On the 5th of October the sky was dark, and even darker were the waves that were surging towards it, reaching with needing fingers, grasping, unable to touch its destination. Harry wondered if it even knew what it’s reaching for, what it wanted. The water just seemed to need, something, anything.
He clutched the wooden frame hard, his knuckles turning light even in the dark enveloping him, it could have been a snug blanket, calming him, if not for the cold biting at his toes, hands, the top of his head - echoing the water - reaching for anything it could get.
Harry held up the frame in front of him, a bit too big to be convenient, his arms outstretched in an uncomfortable position, but necessary if wanting to come in eye level with the young man inside.
“I guess this is goodbye,” the ethereal complexion said and Harry chewed his lip, “you know I, he, wouldn’t want this for you?”
Harry took a deep breath, blinked several times, forcing away the lump in his throat, quite unsuccessfully.
“He would want you to continue.”
I know, he wanted to reply, but couldn’t make himself say.
“Goodbye, Draco,” was the words that came instead and Harry rested his forehead against the rough surface of the painting, only vaguely able to make out Draco moving forward as well, head held low in a similar manner, as if there was only a thin glass separating them. They were so close, and yet Harry felt as though they were farther away then they had even been.
Harry knew it was useless (what good would it do?) but couldn’t help himself as he gently pressed his lips against the dry paint, just a light close mouthed kiss. This was how close he would ever get.
He had saved Ron, Hermione, Ginny - Merlin, he had saved the whole Wizarding World, possibly the entirety of the world itself and yet he hadn’t been able to save the one person that had come to matter the most.
“I couldn’t save you,” he said, voice breaking, the wind carrying the words away together with the rage of the North Sea that was loud in his ears.
“I never gave you a chance,” Draco replied and Harry bit back a sob, suddenly feeling rather weak he resolved to sitting down on the cold stones, letting the portrait rest against his thighs, legs dangling by the edge and the water soaking his trousers as the waves came crashing against him.
“It was not your fault, Harry, believe me,” and Harry cried, unable contain the droplets any longer, and he wept, the tears hitting close to Draco, smudging a bit of the dark background, slowly making it blurry, “I chose that.”
“I’ve chosen as well.”
“You’re crying Harry, you don’t want to do this. Get rid of me, and get out of here. Remember what Dumbledore said?”
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Harry echoed.
“Do not forget to live, Harry, look at me,” and he did, but Draco was all blurry now, the water from the sea splattering on the painting as the waves hit the stone walls, slowly dampening the canvas together with Harry’s silent tears, it made him soft around the edges.
It suited him somehow, he looked more like the Draco Harry had come to know, without the outlines that were sharp enough to cut. This way he showed a softer side of himself, a side his real outer self had never showed.
“You’re not ready for this, believe me, had I… had I still been alive I would have regretted it, I regret it, and I know he would too.”
“How do you know?”
How do you know I’m not ready? How do you know you regret it?
”I know - because I know you, because I know me, and partly, I am still me,” and Draco’s look softened further still, “you can’t follow me into the sea Harry, do you hear me? It’s not over, you know it’s not.”
“I can’t see a world without you.”
“Harry, there already is.”
The silence stretched out around them, until Harry began again: “when you… when I learned that you had…” he trailed off, not able to make himself say it, somehow it felt as though voicing the words would make it real, definite, settled permanently, “I was jealous,” Harry laughed as he admitted it, because it was stupid, he felt stupid, and completely and utterly ashamed.
This wasn’t something to be jealous of, there was nothing to be jealous of.
“I’m a pathetic.”
“You’re not, Harry, you’re not pathetic. You’re very, very brave, and you’ve always been.”
Harry laughed again, but it sounded like a mirror shattering, breaking to thousands and thousands of pieces. He wouldn’t be able to pick them up, not even if he wanted to, and anyone who would try to help him would cut themselves on the edges. No one can help me, he thought, the memory of Malfoy’s words echoing in his head.
“Listen to me Harry, you’re proving a point to yourself. You’re crying, you’re upset and sad and frightened at how very real this is, how close you are to making a terrible mistake - but it’s not over, things can still turn around.”
Harry shook his head.
“I never came back,” he confessed, something he hadn’t even been able to tell Ron or Hermione, “after the war, I was never the same.”
“No one was - but, Harry, you’re not alone.”
“I got you.”
“I don’t count.”
Harry laughed, but it wasn’t a laugh this time; it was a sob. He let his fingers trace Draco’s chin only to realise he was smudging the painting even further and withdrew his hand in a rush, emotions bottling up and threatening to spill over.
“You’re the only one who counts.”
“Then make me a promise.”
“You said I had already made you my last promise.”
“Listen,” and Harry did, “throw me into the sea, and go home, take a hot bath, put the kettle on and make yourself some tea - I don’t even care if it’s not quality tea - ask your friends over, talk to them, talk about what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, you’re not alone, you can get help.”
No one can help me.
“And I won’t be able to stop you next time but Harry, whatever you do, don’t come looking for me. You have to promise me. Don’t go looking for me.”
Harry swallowed. There was something not right about Draco, but it could be the water that had more or less ruined him by now, slowly but surely taking him away from Harry for good. Harry had got to know him, this part of him, Draco (not Malfoy), all too late. If only he had cared to look in Malfoy’s direction earlier, if only he had been his friend, if only he had been there for him when he had needed someone, if only he had been able to stop him, if only-
Harry cried, and cried, unable to do anything else and Draco waited, letting him destroy him with his own salt water.
At last he nodded, not entirely sure why - maybe because he couldn’t say no, possibly would never be able to say no to Draco.
“Now,” the portrait said, voice soft, and calm, a look on his face that was almost content, satisfied in a way Harry didn’t think he had ever heard or seen him before, “throw me away - but Harry…” and he pressed his hand flat against the invisible wall between them, pressing it against nothing, “goodbye.”
Harry couldn’t even say goodbye back as he made himself stand up again, his legs weak and stiff, and just as he let go of the frame, he could hear Draco scream, but it was not desperate, and it wasn’t scared, it was only three words, three words Harry had never heard Draco say before and had never dared to say himself: “I love you,” and the portrait tumbled down, smashing into the stone walls and the sea swallowed around his pale face, the smile on his lips disappearing forever, taking him further down and farther away.
He was gone, and Harry hadn’t even been able to say thank you, thank you for saving him, thank you for the time they had spent together. He hadn’t been able to say I love you back.
Harry swallowed, turning away, unable to look at cruelty of the North Sea any longer - but there was a figure there, platinum hair harsh against the contrasting dark stones behind them and the dark water crashing at the sides. The head of the figure turned, grey eyes glistering in the moonlight, and they weren’t so grey as Harry had thought; they weren’t colourless at all. They were blue, like the sea.