You get the call at 12.p.m on a Thursday, mid-August, asking you to come into the morgue to identify his body. You try to summon up some sense of shock or grief or even anger, but all you feel is a numb sense of recognition.
You knew it would end this way.
Of course you did.
You give it half an hour, allowing for “travel time”, before you Apparate to a filthy alley-way outside a dingy Muggle building. The inside is dreary, and only made more so by the overly bright, fluorescent lighting. It stinks of death, fear, and grief, accumulated over decades, and inefficiently masked with sterility. It invades your nostrils, but the smell of death no longer makes you flinch.
The bored receptionist doesn’t so much as blink at your name, just gestures vaguely down a corridor, mumbling “Down the hall way, third door on the left, sir.” She doesn’t meet your eyes once, and is presumably immune to the grief she must usually witness in the gaze of the desperately bereaved. She is obviously, petulantly, stubbornly, unwilling to extend anything akin to sympathy and you find you are grateful for it. Your fingers still twitch though, itching to cast an Empathy charm, for those who will follow you. Instead, you simply murmur your thanks, and walk away.
The room they have him in is lined with stainless steel benches, with rows of drawers on the walls. Here and there are smudged fingerprints, and the odious Muggle scent of rot, chemicals and metal makes your head ache. The coroner grasps your hand when you greet him, and you resist the urge to wipe your hand on your trousers when he releases you, firmly reminding yourself there is no such thing as a Muggle taint, despite the man’s sweaty palms. His name is Doctor Belcher, and he apologises for the lack of escorting officer, muttering about short staffing and needing to talk to you, really. His voice is rough, with the harsh quality of a man who spends too much time in bars, inhaling other people’s smoke, and otherwise barely speaking at all. Dead bodies are presumably not the best conversationalists. At least where Muggles are concerned.
Dr.Belcher tells you the body was brought in the day before, matching the description of the missing persons report you had filed 12 days ago. His speech stops and starts, slows and speeds up with no discernible rhythm, making it difficult to decipher his tone. You can’t tell if you are supposed to be impressed by the speed of the investigation and subsequent call, or appalled by the delay. You decide it’s best to keep your face in the precisely neutral, blank mask you perfected a decade ago, when all the endless funerals and trials and ceremonies demanded a reaction you didn’t know how to give.
You do not crack.
You no longer know how.
The coroner seems unsettled by your almost-stony gaze but then, most are. He stutters ineffectually and with a possible hint of apology, before hurrying to a drawer (ice-box metal coffin meat slab to stop him going rot-rot-rotten-s t o p.) and pulling it out. The body is covered in a sheet. You blink, for the first time feeling a flicker of, of-
“If you would, sir. Is this…?”
You walk over to the coroner and the body, each step precisely measured. In the cold, metallic stillness, Dr. Belcher’s wheezing breath sounds unnaturally loud, your own steps ring heavily. You cannot hear your own breath at all. Maybe you aren’t breathing. (Or maybe in your head, you are still at war and any sign of life could mean the end of it, no sound, no sound, no- s t o p.)
The coroner pulls the sheet away with a tenderness you did not expect. You glance briefly at the face revealed, and are surprised to feel your throat tighten, the way it did at the sight of (bushy brown hair, matted with blood, limp broken hands and vacant eyes- s t o p.) Had he meant so much then?
You shift your eyes away, focussing instead on one pale wrist, adorned with a symbol of a snake devouring its own tail, below which twine the words “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”. You told him once he was an arrogant git for getting that done. He told you to sod off.
Peculiarly, your eyes are blurring. You take your glasses off and methodically wipe them on the edge of your crisp, white shirt, forcing away any moisture still prickling. He did not mean so much. To remind yourself why, you turn your once again impassive gaze to his left arm, where that hideous Mark still gleams. At the sight, you blink. The Dark Mark is severed neatly in two, so deeply you can see bone shining through. You stare a moment more, wondering at the precision, the determination to severe one’s arm so precisely, so purposefully, elbow to wrist.
How perfectly resolute he must have been to die.
At the coroner’s small cough, you nod brusquely and look up.
“It’s him. It’s Draco Malfoy.”
Dr. Belcher looks uncomfortable and slightly startled at your resumed impassivity, and perhaps this is why he feels the need to probe.
“Did you know him well, sir?”
“No. Not really,”
(You knew every golden freckle that littered his pale skin.
You knew how to make him moan and writhe desperately beneath you, bringing him right to the brink of pleasure and leave him hanging there, waiting gleefully for him to beg.
You knew how to make him beg, both of you craving it.
You knew what songs made him smile and what smells made him flinch, freezing into himself, refusing to move.
You had spent every morning for six years, bar the last fortnight, with him in bed beside you.
You knew the searing heat of his magic as it brushed against your skin, once as scorching and as wild as Fiendfyre, and now gone cold, nothing but a dusty memory, stale as the inside of a cupboard never meant for habitation.
You knew his secrets and scars, his anger and fear, his contempt and his pity.
You knew his passion. You knew his love.
But you did not know him.
Do not know why he would do this now. After everything.
Why-s t o p)
Dr. Belcher is nosy and persistent, breaking you from your reverie.
“But Mr. Potter, sir- you were listed as his next of kin, you filed the missing persons report…Surely, you must have known him…well?”
You turn cold eyes on the man, suddenly furious and aching.
“A matter of mutual convenience, I assure you. I have identified the body. I assume you have managed to identify the rather obvious cause of death. Is that all for now? I have others to inform.”
You are already turning away, wand hidden in a clenched fist. The man sounds wretched when he calls out. “Sir! There is something else? I was hoping you could help- it’s about the…tattoo?”
Impatient you turn back, snapping: “Which one? He had a rather extensive collection.”
Dr. Belcher gulps, hesitating. “The one he…The one at the wound site. It’s all rather odd, you see. The ink seems to be imprinted right through the layers of flesh, and onto the bone. Possibly even the marrow. It also possesses some kind of chemical residue we are unfamiliar with. Also, the surrounding nerve damage, which spreads into much of the tissue on his arm, suggests this was not merely decorative but may have had additiona-“
You shut the man up with a flick of your wand, now fully drawn and pointing at the man’s rat-like face (rats metal green light choking screams rats rats always saying things doing things you can’t bear to –s t o p.)
Almost lazily, you move your wand in figure 8’s skilfully weaving the enchantments to make him forget. Forget the odd mark and its “chemical” residue, make him forget you, make him forget Draco. Instead, you plant a memory of him drinking tea in his office for the last half hour, throwing it a fantasy of the surly receptionist for authenticity, and to account for any blurriness the afternoon might have in his mind. (Or, as Draco would’ve put it: “Because you, Potter, are an immature prat whose sense of revenge is akin to that of a 13-year old Hufflepuff.”)
With another flick of your wrist, you send the coroner scuttling back to his office, and simultaneously conjure a piece of parchment and a self-inking quill. You scrawl a missive to Ron Weasley, to be sent to him in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It reads simply:
Pick up. D. Malfoy. Muggle morgue, central London. Apparent suicide.
Neither of you are particularly concerned these days with things such as pleasantries or any sentiment. Both of you do your jobs. Neither of you crack.
Another sharp flick of your wand (and it’s not shaking, not shaking like that time you raised red to green, like the time you screamed a spell you didn’t know, like all those times you’ve raised it to kill. It never shook and it won’t start now for him for him for- s t o p.) He never meant that much. You flick your wand and it doesn’t shake. The parchment vanishes, soon to reappear as a memo for Head Auror Weasley.
You think you ought to leave now. You found him. Job done. But some nameless force- not grief, not love, not morbid curiosity- has you stepping closer to the icy, metal slab they laid him down on. He has a lock of white-blonde hair handing over his forehead. You are (such a sentimental fool, honestly Potter), and you can’t help but reach out and smooth it back, remember all the times you’ve done that, the teasing smirk and small sigh he’d send you. You let your fingertips brush against his (clammy, cold, dead dead dead-s t o p.) skin. You refuse to caress it one last time, though. It’s over now, all of it, and doing so would serve no purpose.
You think you ought to say goodbye. But he was not supposed to mean that much, and you’ll be damned if you let him worm his way in now. Trust him to go and kill himself, just to make you admit he was important all along. No. You won’t say goodbye. Instead, you rest your hand against his bony left ankle, where, beneath the sheet, you know is etched an inconspicuous lightning bolt. And for just a moment, the miniature dragon on your right heel seems to ache, and your heart along with it.
He always meant too much.
But the ache fades.
You slip your mask on. He didn’t mean that much. Nothing at all.
(just the world just your world my world-s t o p.)
You turn away. You don’t look back. You walk and you definitely do not look back. The door closes behind you with a quiet click. Your footsteps are steady, your breaths measured. You walk calmly out of the death-hotel, and into the blazing light of day.