The haunting began in the ordinary way. One night—and it was, if not a stormy night, at least very dark, with the bite of late October sinking its teeth into all the corners of Grimmauld Place—Harry looked up from his solitary contemplation of the chess board and saw a ghost.
There were two ways to think about ghosts. There was a haunting that was internal, guilt or shame or grief hovering and dogging a person’s every step; and then there were actual, physical hauntings—a blood-spattered Baron from the eleventh century wandering the halls of your boarding school, say, or the little flower-selling girl in the shabby Victorian dress who sat on the back steps of your garden at night. If you thought about it, the second, non-metaphorical variety of ghost was actually the least dangerous. That was what Harry would have said, anyway—until the dark, really-quite-chilly night when he looked up and saw the ghost of Draco Malfoy standing across from him in the parlour of Grimmauld Place.
“Fuck,” Harry yelped, and sent his mug of cocoa spilling onto the rug. His heart staggered around in his chest.
The ghost of Draco Malfoy raised one semi-translucent eyebrow. The clock on the mantle ticked its way beyond midnight and Harry struggled to catch his breath.
“You’re two moves away from losing your king,” the ghost of Draco Malfoy sneered. “Attacking that rook with your bishop was a terrible idea.”
And then the ghost of Malfoy trailed away, out the door and down the hall. When—several long, stunned moments later—Harry went to have a look, the hall was empty.
The next morning, Harry went into the parlour and stared at the brown cocoa stain on his rug. Not quite a dream, then. Could he have hallucinated the ghost of Draco Malfoy? He wasn’t drunk, but he was very tired, and he’d been alone with himself for several weeks now.
Just then his Floo chimed and roared to life.
“Morning, Harry.” Hermione had her new reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. Ron liked to make fun of them, but she seemed to enjoy glaring at people over the tops of the frames.
“Morning, Hermione.” He stepped over the stain and knelt down by the hearth.
Hermione frowned. “You look awful.”
“Thanks,” said Harry. “Is it the joggers? Or the pallor of constant boredom affecting my skin?”
“Perhaps you aren’t getting enough exercise. It’s difficult when we can’t go anywhere, but—”
“I’ll be fine,” Harry said, cutting her off. “What’s the latest?”
Hermione looked a tad annoyed with him, but she went on without commenting. “A rise in the number of people infected over the weekend. St Mungo’s is getting alarmed—they haven’t many empty beds left.”
“How? How is it still spreading?” Harry ran his hands through his hair, tugging on the ends with frustration. “We’ve been keeping apart from each other for weeks.”
“We have, yes. But other people appear to be relaxing their guard and visiting family and close friends.”
A swift rage washed through him. “So we’ve been shut in, isolated and going mad, for nothing.”
“Not nothing. We aren’t ill.” Hermione looked away for a moment, at something Harry couldn’t see. He watched as her mouth, pursed with what he recognised as disapproval, relaxed. “Isolation is hard on everyone, especially after...” She trailed off and looked at Harry again. “Well, after everything. How are you really holding up, Harry?”
He sighed and rubbed at his tired, aching eyes. “I just thought everything was going to be better. After. I thought—Voldemort’s gone, things are going to get better. And they did for a bit, but now this. Barely two years without another full-scale crisis. What good was any of it? All the stuff we went through, and it seems like the wizarding world is ending, anyway.”
“You can’t think like that,” Hermione said. “It mattered—of course it did. This is not the end of the wizarding world—it’s just a problem we have to solve. Actually, all the people in St Mungo’s feel fine again after about a week.”
“And their magic?”
Hermione hesitated. “No. No infected witch or wizard’s magic has come back yet.”
Harry thought about being eleven years old and stepping into Diagon Alley for the first time. The cobblestone streets stuffed with crooked shops and the witches and wizards who had seemed so odd at first, so fantastical. His community, finally.
“Queen to G4,” came Ron’s voice suddenly, and Harry shook himself back to the present. Behind him, he could hear one of the queens on the chess set scraping across the board.
“Alright, mate?” Ron’s face appeared behind Hermione’s, half obscured by her hair.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I’m alright.”
Magical firsts, by categories:
Riding—the Hogwarts Express, a broom, a Thestral, a Hippogriff.
Travelling—by Floo, by Portkey, by Knight Bus, by Apparation.
Receiving—a letter, an owl, a pumpkin pasty, a birthday present, a standard size 9 pewter cauldron, a wand, Hogwarts robes, enough to eat, a Weasley sweater.
A friend. Two friends. A family.
Harry didn’t sit in the parlour that night like he usually did. He told himself he just needed a change of scenery. He was waiting for the kettle to boil and studying a crack in one of the plaster walls when a voice said, “The state of this kitchen is enough to put a wizard off his meal.”
Harry spun around, his spoon clattering to the floor, and there was the ghost of Draco Malfoy floating through the doorframe and into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place.
“Ghosts don’t even eat,” he found himself saying, as if that was the crucial matter at hand.
“Pardon?” asked the ghost of Draco Malfoy.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asked instead.
The ghost of Draco Malfoy floated lightly around the room, peering into picture frames and wiping at some crumbs of toast with his pale, silvery hand. None of the crumbs moved from their place on the wooden table. “Why are any of us anywhere?”
“I live here,” Harry said, each word enunciated with deliberateness.
“I actually belong here,” said the ghost of Draco Malfoy. “Or at least, this is one of the places in which I belong, as it is a Black family house and I am a member of the Black family by blood. You are no Black.”
“I am alive, though.” Harry found that any terror he might have felt before was being pushed out by another feeling—sheer bloody aggravation. “And I can think of more fitting places you belong.”
The ghost of Draco Malfoy made a sniffing sound that Harry interpreted as disdain.
“Actually, how did you die?” Harry asked. “And when? I didn’t hear about it.”
“I don’t know,” the ghost of Draco Malfoy said. He held his hands up in front of his face and looked at Harry through them. “But it turns out your hair is still a complete disaster, even when blurred out by ghost appendages.”
“Right,” said Harry. “Get out. Go haunt someone else. I can’t handle your pointy ghost face around the place with everything else going on. Go on, get the fuck out of my house.”
“I don’t think I will. I think I’ll keep popping up whenever I feel like it. Ruining your evening might be the only satisfaction left for me.” With that, the ghost of Draco Malfoy trailed out of Harry’s kitchen.
“You’re still about to lose this game, you imbecile,” Harry heard from the parlour, and then there was, again, only silence.
Once Harry started making the lists in his head, they took on a life of their own. Part doomsday roll call, part comforting litany of loves—so many magical things to cherish, so many magical things to lose, if magic disappeared.
How would Hogwarts run, without magic? Would King’s Cross still contain Platform 9 3/4, or would there only be platforms 9 and 10? Would the Forbidden Forest, someday soon, be empty of its creatures?
Centaurs, werewolves, unicorns, Thestrals, Bowtruckles, spiders, Hippogriffs, a flying Ford Anglia…
“—and then I gave him the statistical analysis I ran last night, but he just said, ‘I don’t think Arithmancy is going to help us here, Miss Granger.’ But when I corrected him, he still wasn’t interested! ‘This might be helpful for a Muggle disease, but not a magical one,’ he said. As if statistics aren’t always helpful—”
“Uh-huh,” Harry murmured again. “That sounds really frustrating, Hermione. Hey, have you heard anything about Malfoy from the Ministry?”
Hermione frowned and adjusted her glasses. “What? Draco Malfoy?”
“The one and only,” said Harry grimly.
“No. Why should I?”
Harry grimaced. “I dunno, maybe something about—about him being dead?”
“Dead?” Hermione asked incredulously. “Of course not. As if I’d neglect to mention something like that. Anyway, that would be front page in the papers, not Ministry gossip.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But then I remembered that we’re in the middle of a mysterious pandemic that’s draining the wizarding world of its magic, and Malfoy is in Azkaban, and…”
“Yes,” Hermione interrupted. “I see your point. But no, I haven’t heard anything. Why do you ask, Harry?”
“Well…” Harry hesitated, and Hermione’s gaze grew even sharper. “It’s just that—it appears that Draco Malfoy’s ghost is now haunting me?”
There was a very thick silence, and then Hermione took off her glasses. She rubbed very delicately at the bridge of her nose with one finger, and then she put her glasses back on. “Ghosts haunt places, not people.”
“Er…ok, then Malfoy’s ghost is haunting Grimmauld Place?”
“You’re telling me that you have seen the ghost of Draco Malfoy in Grimmauld Place?”
“Yes.” Harry nodded. “Twice, actually.”
“I see,” said Hermione, and she nodded. “I’m going to have to get back to you on this, Harry. It’s going to take me some considerable—”
“Pawn to C2,” called Ron, wandering into view behind Hermione.
“—the logistics of checking Azkaban right now alone—”
“Check!” Ron crowed, and Harry groaned as the pieces on his board were either violently vanquished or began a raucous celebration.
“—who to even begin with—” muttered Hermione as she stood up and walked away.
Ron knelt down and his face filled up the frame of the Floo. “Hey, mate,” he said, grinning. “Alright?”
Harry smiled back, but it hurt. Merlin, did he miss them. He missed their actual physical bodies near his own, and the taps and shoulder bumps, the hands touching his when he was being handed a cup of tea, or pressed against his arm when they were making a point. He’d never realised how many small ways of touching each other they all had between them, or how much he relied on them to feel connected to his own body.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” he told Ron. But for the first time since this whole magical pandemic started, it felt like a lie.
Lumos and Nox
The thing is, if Draco Malfoy died in Azkaban, then—in a certain light—it was kind of Harry’s fault for not doing more to get him out. He’d submitted testimony, right after the war, about Malfoy’s ambivalence at the end—his refusal to identify him at the Manor, the way he’d lowered his wand in front of Dumbledore. But he hadn’t pushed things when the Wizengamot just reduced Malfoy’s sentence to a few years. And he could have, couldn’t he? He was Harry Potter, the boy who defeated Voldemort. Everyone would have listened to him then.
Harry tried to imagine what Malfoy’s life would have been like, in Azkaban after the war. There were no Dementors there, not anymore, but he still would have been alone—and confined—for a long time. Harry thought about the past few months stuck in Grimmauld Place and he shivered. Maybe he deserved to be haunted by Malfoy.
When the sun slipped away behind the skyline and Islington was dark again, Harry went into the parlour and waited.
When the ghost of Draco Malfoy showed up, he just…appeared out of nothing. He didn’t float in through a window or door, he didn’t come down the chimney or climb out of a portrait. One moment the armchair by the window was empty, and the next moment there was a silvery, translucent Malfoy sitting in it.
The ghost of Malfoy blinked, and looked around as though he’d been deep in thought, or reading a book for a long while, and was just coming back to himself.
“Ah. Potter,” the ghost said. “What is the word for the opposite of a pleasant surprise?”
“A torturous inevitability?” For a moment Harry was sure he saw Malfoy’s pale mouth curve up on both ends, but perhaps it was a trick of the light.
“Just so,” agreed the ghost of Malfoy. “I feel I understand the Muggle concept of hell now. What else could explain your conspicuous presence in my afterlife?”
Harry studied the ghost of Draco Malfoy for a moment. He looked much like Harry last remembered Malfoy—thinner and sharper than when he’d been at Hogwarts, with shadows curled up underneath his eyes. He was wearing a plain dark suit and his hair was slightly longer than Harry remembered, almost brushing the tops of his shoulders.
“What happened to you?” Harry asked.
The ghost of Draco Malfoy shifted in the armchair, and his long, pale fingers began to fidget against the green velvet upholstery. “I went to Azkaban, and then…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? You can’t remember?”
“All I know is that I was in my cell, and then I wasn’t anymore.” There is a strangely weighted silence, as if more words waited on the tip of Malfoy’s tongue, but were swallowed down instead.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said without thought, without decision.
“Sorry?” This time Harry wasn’t imagining the faint smile that appeared on the ghost of Malfoy’s lips. “What are you sorry for, Potter?”
“I—I didn’t do all I could to keep you out of Azkaban. I didn’t try very hard. I could have—”
“Everything is always about you, isn’t it, Potter?” Malfoy interrupted. “Have you never considered that not everyone wants you for a saviour?”
“You don’t even know what to do with yourself now, do you?” Malfoy pressed. “Who is Harry Potter, if he isn’t saving the wizarding world? Who would you even be, if you weren’t the Boy Who Lived?”
Harry felt very strange. There was a pressure building in his head, something hard and aching behind his eyes and clutching at his throat. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Perhaps you should figure out what happened to you before you charge in asking questions about me.” With that, the ghost of Draco Malfoy turned his head and faded out of sight.
Mid-afternoon: sunlit-steeped, entire body warm and thrumming along with the world.
Early morning: racing the sun as it rises, surrounded by the waking sounds of birds.
Midnight: clear and cold, warm breath making clouds, a million silver-pricked stars winking down.
Pick-up in the backyard of the Burrow.
Friday nights in the Chudley Cannons’ stadium, Butterbeer on tap and salted chips served in paper cones.
One-on-one, racing to catch the Snitch first.
All the Saturday Hogwarts games.
Drills and practices.
Whacking a Bludger around on Hogsmeade Heath.
Trophies gathering dust in an empty school and the faded memory of a crowd’s roar like the faint sound of a seashell pressed to the ear.
Hermione had clearly been Floo-calling him for a while when Harry finally stumbled downstairs.
“Are you ill?” she demanded when he was kneeling down to talk.
“No,” said Harry, yawning.
“It’s nearly lunch time,” Hermione insisted. “You never have this long of a lie-in.”
Harry shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep last night. I’m fine.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but—reluctantly—dropped it. “I spoke to Jebediah Lockwood, the warden at Azkaban. Malfoy is alive. He went and checked himself, on my insistence.”
“What? But—that doesn’t make sense, Hermione. How can Malfoy be alive and be a ghost?”
“He can’t,” said Hermione. Harry waited, but she didn’t offer any other explanation.
“Hermione,” he said, “I saw him. I saw—I spoke with—the ghost of Draco Malfoy.”
“It’s been a really difficult couple of months,” Hermione said delicately. “Do you think it’s possible—”
“Hermione. I’ve been through worse things than this. You’ve been through them with me, for fuck's sake.”
“Yes, but that’s actually my point. Harry—”
“I am not hallucinating or dreaming or imagining Draco Malfoy’s ghost in my house. I need you to believe me. I need you to take me seriously.”
Hermione took a sudden, shaky breath. “I am taking you seriously. You need to take the stress of all this seriously, especially after what you went through in the war, and before that, too. It might seem like staying at home is a small thing in comparison, but it’s hard to be alone. It’s hard not to know what’s going to happen. We aren’t meant to live like this. We need each other.”
Harry forced his hands to unclench and rolled his shoulders until they loosened. “Alright,” he said. “Alright, I see your point. But I also see and have a conversation with the ghost of Draco Malfoy every night.”
“I believe you,” Hermione said immediately, and Harry felt his body relax the rest of the way. “I need to do some more research. We’ll figure it out, ok?”
“Yeah,” Harry said. He tried to imagine who he might be if Hermione Granger hadn’t fixed herself into his life like a North Star, but no version of himself in that scenario appealed.
“What’d I miss?” Ron’s face joined Hermione’s in the Floo. “Are we still talking about that tosser Malfoy?”
Harry smiled, and it stretched out his mouth and the warm space in his chest that was its own kind of magic. “Apparently,” he answered.
Ron shook his head. “Dead or alive, an eternal pain in the arse.”
Everything just past ordinary.
A one-man tent full of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bath inside. An old boot that whisks you across a continent in seconds. Fizzing Whizbees. Dishes that wash themselves, portraits that move and speak and sing. Handbags holding libraries. Remembralls, Howlers, leaping chocolate frogs.
A stick, a piece of wood with a bit of feather inside, and the tingling, electric feel of something wild and inexplicable flowing through and out of you.
That night, against his better judgement, Harry opened up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Black family cellar. He drank it from an old jam jar instead of the cut-crystal goblets on the Black family shelves. He drank the entire bottle.
Eventually, some version of Draco Malfoy drifted into the kitchen. Harry pushed out the seat across from him with his foot. “Might as well join me,” he said, and after a long minute the ghost-not-ghost of Malfoy did.
“You can’t drink this, so I’m not offering,” Harry told him.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, but he looked wary. “There are an inordinate number of dirty dishes in your sink.”
“Yeah, I’ve been busy. Being haunted is kind of consuming.”
Malfoy studied his ghostly fingers.
“You’re right—I don’t know who I’d be without”—Harry wiggled his hands in the air—“all that. The dying and not-dying. Voldemort. And I don’t know who I am now, after. I don’t know what my place is in the world. I thought I’d have all this…time…to figure it out, but now I’m stuck here in Grimmauld Place, alone. And the world…”
“Is losing its magic.” Malfoy finished. He looked away.
“How’d you know? You’re in Azkaban.”
Malfoy shrugged. “I read some of the Daily Prophets piled up in the parlour.”
“You’re in Azkaban,” Harry repeated. “You’re alive. You didn’t die at all.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “And I keep thinking about it. I keep thinking about how you couldn’t kill Dumbledore, and how scared your mum was that night in the forest. And I keep thinking about how it felt to be locked in the cupboard when I was a kid. To be so alone.”
Malfoy was quiet. The sound of the clock chiming midnight in the hall came and went again. “Why are you telling me this?” he finally asked.
“You’re not really here,” Harry said.
“You’re alive in Azkaban.”
“It is a conundrum,” Malfoy agreed. “But on the whole, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, it is nicer here than in Azkaban. So I think I’ll stay awhile.”
Harry was really quite drunk, and tired as well. He couldn’t think of any argument against this Malfoy staying. There was something fitting about it. There was something familiar and even mildly comforting about the thought of being haunted. Like being lost and then found.
Like never being alone again.
- The ghost-not-ghost of Draco Malfoy rarely left Grimmauld Place anymore. He lingered in all its rooms, criticising the carpets and the wallpaper. He ruined Harry’s chess game by second-guessing every move. He suggested Harry throw every pair of pants he owned into the bin. Sometimes Harry could see him, but sensed Malfoy wasn’t actually there—completely still, his eyes were watching something beyond Harry’s vision. There was a look on Malfoy’s ghost-like face during those moments that Harry couldn’t find words to describe, but disliked seeing. It reminded Harry of the sticky residue his own nightmares left behind. It told him, unequivocally, that Malfoy was not only haunting, but haunted.
- Malfoy, although he couldn’t eat, was deeply interested in food. Every meal, he’d watch Harry lift bites to his mouth—toast and runny eggs at breakfast, pasta in red sauce at dinner—with what Harry could only describe as intense longing. Harry felt slightly guilty, but also more grateful for every single meal he ate. When he was a child, he’d often been hungry. He’d forgotten that, somehow. He’d become used to having enough food, to not having to worry about how he was going to fill his belly. What richness. What pleasure.
- Harry liked to listen to the evening quiz show on the wireless every night. He liked to guess answers to the trivia questions out loud. Malfoy didn’t try to answer them, but he mocked Harry for every wrong answer he gave. After a while, Harry noticed that he was intentionally getting some of his answers wrong, just to hear Malfoy’s inevitably rude, surprisingly funny quips.
- Occasionally Harry misplaced several hours. It was hard to explain how he lost them. He would lie down in his bed, too tired to do any of the things that made up his life: read, listen to music, wash up, make a meal, order in the grocery delivery. He didn’t sleep, but he drifted. They were heavy hours that he lost; they pulled at him, crushed him slowly as they slipped away. Harry would remember all the cracks in the plaster inside the cupboard under the stairs. He would think about the shapes they made when they intersected, and the patterns he’d memorised spidering across the ever-narrowing walls. His breath came to him shallowly, and left again before he could really catch it. But then one day Malfoy followed him into the losing, and sat on the end of Harry’s bed and told all the stories his own mother had whispered to him at night, when he was very young and it was very dark. Harry began to wonder if there weren’t a hundred ways to mother other people. If there wasn’t a way to mother even yourself. He breathed deeply and let it out slow, and Malfoy smiled.
- Every Sunday, Harry read through the section of the Daily Prophet that advertised familiars for adoption. He lingered over the owls. Sometimes he touched a listing until the ink began to bleed out at the words’ edges. But he never sent an inquiry. When Malfoy came to stay, he made Harry read the listings out loud. He insisted that Harry repeat the details to him and carried on a one-sided debate on each owl’s merits. Harry went up to Sirius’ old room and looked at the empty cage and the half-full box of owl treats. He came back downstairs after awhile and Malfoy didn’t say a word about his red, puffy eyes. He thought that next week he might send a few questions through the post.
- Malfoy kept trying to move things. He kept brushing at crumbs in the kitchen and pulling at the window curtains. He would spend an hour at a time concentrating very hard on the tips of his insubstantial fingers. Once Harry saw him pass his hand through the flame of a candle and then hold it there, watching the fire lick through the silver of his palm. Sometimes Harry had a sense that something was almost touching him—on the wrist, the back of the neck, the tangle of his hair. What was the threshold for presence? Was it Malfoy he felt prickling against his skin, or the absence of him?
- Harry liked very hot showers, and he often indulged himself. With magically-heated water, the tap never ran cold, and Harry took his time. Time was what he had in stubborn abundance, after all. Mrs Weasley had sent him several bars of her homemade soap, which filled his bathroom with the smell of honey and rosemary. He stood under the spray of water until his fingertips pruned and his head felt almost dizzy from all the steam. He rolled his ankles and flexed the muscles all up his legs. He stretched out his arms and remembered all the parts of his body. He closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift. When he finally turned the shower off, he used the softest towel he owned to dry off. He let his hands linger where they felt good on his body. And when he opened his eyes, the fog was just beginning to run in streaks down the mirror, and in one of the sharp rivers of glass Malfoy’s face reflected his hunger back to him again.
“I did some research.” Hermione sounded quite cheerful under the circumstances.
“And?” Harry made himself ask. The flagstones in front of the fireplace were cold and hard under his knees, and for some reason he found himself reluctant to hear what she had to say. Like there was a spell over Grimmauld Place that she was about to break.
“It took me awhile, but I came across some very interesting case studies of witches and wizards in isolation for a considerable period of time—for various reasons, from political prisoners, to abuse, to regular incarceration…and even a religiously-motivated, self-imposed isolation. Anyway, under certain conditions, and to varying degrees, isolated magical subjects actually projected their consciousness elsewhere, beyond the physical space of their confinement.”
“Er…” Harry rubbed absently at the back of his head. “What does that mean exactly?”
Hermione leaned closer in the Floo. “It means they left their bodies where they were—in confinement—and just…went out,” she said excitedly. “In terms of what other people experience, there was a range reported from merely hearing the subjects’ voices to seeing them in their entirety.”
“And you think that’s what Malfoy is doing? Leaving his body in Azkaban and…going out?”
Hermione nodded. “It makes sense. And that’s not all. Interviews with the subjects afterward indicate that they can’t just go wherever they want. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be place-based at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“All of the subjects’ projections were tied to another person. So it turns out, although this is not actually the ghost of Draco Malfoy, he is haunting you and not Grimmauld Place.”
Harry was silent. Hermione waited, watching him closely.
“Is Malfoy—the real, physical Malfoy—aware of what his projection is saying and doing?”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “Subjects were able to relate everything that happened away from their confined bodies.”
“I see.” Harry looked up at the ceiling. Above him, the projection of Draco Malfoy’s consciousness was probably still attempting to flip the pages of a novel.
Hermione cleared her throat. “There are a few avenues I’ve found to banish the projections, if you’re interested.”
Harry looked back at her. In the Floo, her hair curled up and around her face and seemed to merge with the sparks and flames of the magical fire. “It’s just better, you know? To be stuck here with someone else.”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “I know.” And Harry didn’t hear suspicion or disapproval in her voice at all—he just heard warmth. And love.
Lessons magic gave him:
How to float a feather.
How to make light from darkness.
Charms for tidying up.
Love can never be forced.
How to Disarm an opponent.
The cost of doing harm.
How to turn a mouse into a teacup.
Kindness has unexpected reverberations.
How to breathe underwater.
Spells wear off.
How to bend time and distance.
How to break a curse.
Joy is powerful.
“Are you alright?” Malfoy looked up from the spoon he’d been trying to pick up from the table. Harry had been watching him for awhile now. “I mean, in Azkaban. Are you really ok?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Malfoy’s face had gone blank and still.
“I know you’re here and also in Azkaban,” Harry said. “I know this is you, without your body. Hermione did some research.”
Malfoy looked away.
“It’s ok,” Harry said. “I don’t mind. I guess—well, I guess I like it, now.”
The spoon refused to move, no matter how Malfoy prodded at it. “I’m alive,” he said finally. “The boredom is the worst part. You get so tired of yourself. And I just don’t see the point of it. I’m not saying I did nothing wrong,” Malfoy went on hastily. “It’s just—what good is me sitting in that cell doing? How am I rectifying anything there?”
“That’s a good point,” Harry agreed. “So…you decided to come here?”
Malfoy snorted. “I wouldn’t say I decided. There was never a point where I consciously chose to somehow leave my body and take a little stroll to Grimmauld Place to see Potter. No, I just…” Malfoy was looking at Harry, but he was looking past Harry, too. It made a shiver run down Harry’s spine. “I was imagining a conversation with you, in my head. And then somehow I was standing in the parlour and you were there on the sofa, sipping something from a mug.”
“Cocoa.” Malfoy focused on Harry again, so he shrugged. “I was having cocoa.”
A ghost of a smile curled up on Malfoy’s mouth.
“Were you insulting my chess skills in your head?” Harry asked.
“Are you going to tell me what you were saying to me in your head, before you projected your consciousness over here?”
Malfoy smiled again. “No.”
Now Harry was smiling, too. “But you must have had so very much to say.”
“Loads,” Malfoy agreed.
Malfoy met his gaze for the first time since Harry had started the conversation. “Now I remember that conversations go very differently when there’s more than one person having them.”
Harry laughed. It felt wonderful—like a light coming on in a dark room. “I’m always much wittier in the conversations I have in my head.”
For a moment, he and Malfoy simply smiled at each other, then Harry sobered. “I thought you were a ghost,” he told Malfoy. “And you’d come because—because I didn’t get you out. I could’ve done more. I should have done more.”
Malfoy stared at him. “You thought I was haunting you for revenge, Potter?”
“Of a sort, I guess.”
Malfoy shook his head. He looked unsettled. “If anyone were seeking revenge, it should be you. I suppose the one thing incarceration provides is ample time to think things over. I can’t—” Malfoy stopped. He seemed to struggle for words. “I can’t believe I was so stupid, for so long. That I did so much harm.”
“I’m sure you were under a lot of pressure, growing up.”
“Sure. Yes.” Malfoy shrugged. “But so what? Lots of people grow up under pressure from their families. It’s not really that unusual. It’s not being locked in a broom cupboard. It’s not exactly a tragedy.”
Harry spoke slowly, pulling the words up, meaning them only as he heard himself voice them. “It’s a small one. Sometimes I think the small tragedies are more dangerous, because they lead to the bigger ones. Malfoy. Draco. What conversation were you having with me?”
Draco’s voice was rough. “I was asking the same question, in lots of different ways.”
“Ask me,” said Harry. “Draco, ask me now.”
Malfoy closed his eyes. Harry counted every breath he took. When Malfoy opened them again Harry swore he could see the very particular storm-grey of his real, tangible irises.
“Do you think it’s possible,” Malfoy asked, “that you could ever forgive me?”
“Yes,” said Harry. “I think I already have.”
A list of moments in which Harry has imagined what Draco Malfoy’s mouth would taste like:
When he wakes in the morning, sleep still clouding his eyes.
Over tea in the afternoon, when the cup’s hot porcelain burns his lips.
Waiting for the takeout to arrive.
Contemplating his next chess move.
Listening to Malfoy complain about the copyeditors at the Daily Prophet.
Attempting the crossword.
When Malfoy takes over the crossword and makes snide remarks about Harry’s education.
Listening to the wireless.
Doing dishes by hand.
In the shower.
After a shower, looking for Malfoy in the mirror.
At night in bed, when he aches and he wants but something stops him from calling out.
It was an ordinary evening when Malfoy made a water glass slide off the table. It shattered on the stone floor, and both of them froze. Slowly, Malfoy reached for a plate. For a few seconds, nothing happened when he prodded it. Harry held his breath. The plate jumped and rattled against the wood. Their eyes met, and Harry exhaled.
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Harry admitted.
Draco’s eyes were very dark. Harry could see the line of his jaw flexing from across the room. When Draco spoke, his voice was low and carried within it a current of something that lit Harry up deep inside his bones. “Maybe anything is possible if you want it bad enough.”
Harry stood on one side of a line he was already leaning over; it was up to him, he knew, to cross it. “What do you want, Draco?”
“To touch you.”
Harry shivered—he could hear the longing in Draco’s voice, and it mirrored his own, echoes feeding off each other. He couldn’t remember deciding to move, and yet there he was, standing right in front of the incorporeal body of Draco Malfoy, which seemed even now to flicker with a tamped-down desire that Harry could almost taste.
“Then touch me.”
Once, when Harry was in primary school, his class went on a field trip to a science museum, and they’d each taken a turn touching a static electricity globe. His classmates had all laughed as their hair began to rise and stand on end, and shocked each other afterwards with their lightly charged fingertips. Harry had been entranced with the feeling of something invisible yet impossible to ignore humming and thrumming below his palm, skittering along the back of his hand and up his arm.
He felt the same way now, as Draco’s not-solid finger traced up his wrist and rested against Harry’s racing pulse. It wasn’t like being touched in any way Harry had experienced before, but there was a force—feral and buzzing—that pressed against his skin, that sparked hot and cold all over his body. It shifted, ebbing and flowing, as Draco’s fingers skimmed up Harry’s arm and rested against the side of Harry’s neck. Harry tipped his head forward, his own hands reaching out, breath uneven, and hungry, absolutely ravenous to touch and taste Malfoy as well. But there was nothing to connect with: his hands passed through Draco’s form as if passing through a cold draft.
“Just—just let me,” said Draco roughly. “Move your hand with mine and let me touch you.”
And he did. He followed the jolting wake of Draco’s almost-there touch all over his own body, and he whispered things into the gap between them. Secret things. Wild things. All the things he wanted to do to Draco, everything he’d imagined. Draco’s pale face turned darker, flushed all over, as Harry went down his list of all the places on Draco’s body that he wanted to touch.
The place where Draco’s hair curled against the back of his neck. The dip just above his mouth. His shoulder. The hard plane of his chest. Lower, where his belly would be soft and ticklish. His wrists and his long fingers. The backs of his knees. Draco’s lips with his lips. His arse. His sides, to pull him closer. Eyelids, the bridge of his nose, the sharp line of his jaw.
In this way they discovered that there was no place, really, that they could not touch and be touched by each other.
Harry liked the way the moonlight filtered through his bedroom curtains and lay gently across the blankets. He liked it even more with Draco beside him.
“I’ve never had anyone stay over,” he said.
Beside him, Draco stirred. “Never?”
“Never really wanted to.”
Draco rolled toward him, and rested his silvered head on his hand. “You sound dangerously close to some sort of declaration, Potter.”
Harry smiled. He felt slow and heavy. Lazy. “You wish, Malfoy. It was good, though, yeah? It was…right.”
Draco was quiet for a moment. “Like I was real,” he said. He sounded very young and slightly lost.
Harry lifted his head off the pillow. “You are real.”
“Am I?” Draco wasn’t looking at Harry anymore. He was staring at a stripe of moonlight cutting through the dark air.
“What do you mean?” asked Harry.
“I’m not going to come back here anymore,” Draco said. His voice was very quiet, but full of steel. “Not like this.”
“But—” Harry struggled around a hard knot in his throat. “But we could—we have all this time to—”
“Not like this,” Draco repeated. And he looked Harry in the eyes. He held them. “I have six more months on my sentence. I want to come to you as a free man, in the flesh, with all my faults and flaws and every true mark on my skin. Do you understand? I want to knock, and I want you to choose to let me in.” He sighed. “I want to feel all of it, for real, and not as an escape for either of us. Tell me you understand.”
Harry closed his eyes. He’d never actually held Draco’s hand, but he knew what it felt like. He remembered its warmth and the exact weight of it wrapped in his. When he opened his eyes, Draco was still there. He would be gone in the morning, Harry knew. Harry knew it like he knew what Draco tasted like, would taste like when he finally pressed his mouth to Harry’s.
“I understand,” Harry said. “And I’ll be right here.”
All the ordinary forms of magic.
A baby smiling at you on the bus. Handwritten letters in your mailbox. The way a flock of birds will turn together mid-flight, a dark cloud shifting its shape against the sky. The easy, comfortable silence between old friends. Cooking a warm meal for someone you love. Protracted, long-distance chess games and daily Floo calls even when you have nothing new to say. The incalculable beauty of badly-knitted sweaters. Stories, stories, stories. The language of trees speaking to each other, the reach of their roots. A hand curling around the back of your neck when you feel lost and lonely. Skin. Skin against skin. Cold noses and flushed cheeks. The dances of bees over their honeycomb. A stubborn cowlick that resists taming. Laughter from the belly. A longing, finally answered.
The everyday, the magic always waiting, always ready, holding a world together.
Six months had turned the world frozen and then melted it into a soft greenness again. Grimmauld Place was shining softly in the late-spring sunlight, scrubbed and polished over the last few weeks. Harry had even bought a new rug for the parlour, though he moved the old one into the kitchen. The cocoa stain had never quite come out. Ron and Hermione had been over last night for the first time since the pandemic. Six doses, once a week, of the new Magical Preservation Potion and people could go out again. Tentatively, joyfully, they gathered.
Harry had just poured hot water in the teapot when he heard the knock at the door. He put the lid on and went to answer it.
Draco Malfoy stood on his stoop—the real, embodied Draco Malfoy. He looked thinner and a little worn. His pale skin wasn’t as smooth and shining in the flesh, and there was something about his eyes that seemed bruised. He desperately needed a haircut.
He was the best thing Harry had ever seen.
“You’re here,” said Harry.
Draco’s eyes darted away and then back again. “In person,” he agreed, and looked down at his feet. A bit of pink crept across his cheeks.
“Did you take your potion?” asked Harry.
Draco nodded. “They gave me my final round this morning.”
“Then come in,” Harry said, and Draco stepped forward. The sun caught in Draco’s hair and set it shining, like the universe poured liquid gold all over him. Harry forgot to move out of the way and Draco bumped into him. Before he could step back, Harry wrapped a hand around the top of Draco’s arm. They were finally touching, and it was ordinary and entirely, predictably magical. Harry couldn’t help the silly smile that stretched across his face. Malfoy was warm now—not cold. He was flesh and solid bones underneath. Malfoy could be touched, and he could touch back. It was a simple miracle that Harry would never again take for granted. He reached out for Draco’s other hand and felt the rough marks along his knuckles. Harry thought about how surprising the world could still be, how it offered up such strange, glittering gifts even amid the worst circumstances. Draco was blinking at him, slightly tremulous.
“Hey,” Harry said. “I’ve got tea ready. Want to hear a ghost story?”
Draco’s fingers wrapped tightly around Harry’s and he smiled back, slow, and then stretching out into forever.
“I’ll go first,” Draco said. “I’ve got a list.”