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The Haunting of Draco Malfoy

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The Haunting of Draco Malfoy

 

MLE, Auror Department. Casefile #62974/1

Re: Disappearance of Harry J Potter

Investigating Aurors: S. Finnegan & R. Benwick

Date: 12th February, 2003

Mr Harry J Potter was reported missing on the morning of 10th February, by Ms Hermione Granger. Mr Potter was last seen at 22:00 on 8th February, at The Crispy Duck, Chinatown, London, where he ate with Ms Granger and Mr R Weasley. Aurors Benwick and Finnegan examined Mr Potter's residence (12 Grimmauld Place, London)on 10th February.

I, Auror Benwick along with Auror Finnegan, responded to a call from Ms Granger at 10:00 on 10th February, in which she reported that her owls were being returned unanswered and that Mr Potter had missed an appointment with herself and Minister Shacklebolt. Ms Granger was able to give us access to 12 Grimmauld Place at 10:30 the same day. On entering, there was no sign of a disturbance. Mr Potter does not have a house elf, and there were a few signs of recent inhabitation - his bed was unmade and his home was dust-free. There were three notes in the study, sealed to be owled. One was addressed to Ms H Granger and Mr R Weasley, one to Headmistress M McGonagall, and one to Mrs A Tonks. They all contained a similar message, about wanting to 'explore new places.'

It was not possible to confirm if there were any clothes missing, but a travelling trunk containing an Invisibility Cloak was found to be still in his room, and his toothbrush and other washing equipment remained in the bathroom.

Mr Potter's wand was not found at the property.

Mr Potter has not replied to any owls in the four days since his disappearance.

*

HARRY POTTER MISSING

Harry Potter, 23, The Man Who Lived, has not been seen for almost two weeks. A full-scale DMLE search for him is underway. Harry Potter was last seen on 8th February, when he was out for dinner with his close friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley.

"Every effort is being made to locate Mr Potter," Minister Shacklebolt announced last night. "It is still possible that he has gone on a journey by himself, and this is one of several possibilities that we are investigating."

Harry Potter famously defeated Tom Riddle, the self-styled 'Voldemort', in 1998. "If there is any wizard out there capable of looking after himself," said a close family friend, "it is Harry."

*

Draco put down his copy of the Prophet. The news that Harry Potter was missing was strangely unsettling. Whatever their history, Potter was a constant in Draco's life. Normally, a prickle of annoyance would pass through him at any mention of his old school rival, and its absence nagged at him, like unfinished business. He looked down at his breakfast, and mechanically finished the last of his toast.

This morning he was more keen than usual to start his meditative routine. When he had first started his training, this had been the aspect of it which he had scoffed at the most, over drinks with Blaise and Pansy; more than talking to the kind of ghosts which weren't welcome, more than studying the spiritual needs of the recently and not so recently deceased, 'finding his inner peace' had seemed laughable. But now it was the highlight of his day. Everything had changed for him, and this oasis of calm was one of the things which had changed for the better.

His mother's old Morning Room caught the delicate first light of the day, and somehow it didn't seem to matter that half the furniture had gone – the room, with its high ceilings and wide, arched windows, had a grace of its own which didn't require embellishments to make it welcoming.

Draco sat on the soft rug, and arranged his body in a comfortable pose. He lay his hands on his lap, and began the slow breathing which marked the beginning of this meditation. He was aware of the air as it travelled through his body, in and out. He felt it travel down his spine as a golden glow along his legs, out from his toes, and then through his arms and out of his fingers. He was aware of his body, and his thoughts floated away until he was in a pattern of calm, just being in the moment.

When he finished, he opened his eyes and let them rest on the light filling the room, as he readjusted to his surroundings. And then he saw him: Harry Potter standing next to his mother's armchair, watching him. Draco blinked, and Potter was gone. He blinked a few more times, but nothing changed. He was alone in the room.

*

The back room of the Leaky was noisy, and it took Draco a minute to locate Luna. She was waiting for him at a small table, which was wobbling in quite an alarming manner, but Draco smiled as he watched her cast a discreet charm to steady it. He hadn't been in here on a Friday night for quite some time, and he'd forgotten just how busy it could get. As he made his way over to Luna, the glasses of wine in his hand came close to being spilled as he was jostled – whether accidentally or by someone who recognised him, he didn't know. There was a reason he preferred staying at the Manor, but he'd promised Luna he'd meet her here: it was after all, a special occasion of sorts.

As he got nearer to the table, he saw that Luna wore her customary look of happy distraction as she played with the blue pin they wore to signal their profession: Peacebringers. She smiled when she saw him, and he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before handing over her glass.

"Sorry that took so long," he said. "There were a lot of people at the bar." He settled down opposite her, "I have no idea what you see in this place."

She shrugged. "After the day I've had, I needed to see other people."

"Tough job?" he asked.

"Just long, and a little tiring," she said. "Nothing that a drink won't fix." Draco nodded. He knew just what she meant. He smiled to himself at just how differently his life had turned out from the neat path his parents had mapped out for him in his youth.

When, a few days after the death of his father – only five months into his incarceration in Azkaban – the ghost of Lucius had appeared at their dining room table, words of hatred dripping from his lips, any mourning, however confused or ambiguous on Draco's behalf, was cut short. His mother had become so brittle that Draco had feared to touch her in case she shattered, and it had become a matter of some urgency to find a way to move Lucius on.

A Peacebringer, Melissa, had come to the Manor. Like her namesake, the bee, she was small and purposeful; she had moved in a centre of calm, which considering the foulness of his father's ghost, and the thinly veiled cracks forming in his mother's ability to cope with the world, was quite an achievement. It was unnerving at first, to see the tiny woman sitting with Lucius, but somehow through her discussions with him and some complicated spell-work, she had calmed his diatribe, and within three days he was able to say farewell to his family before blinking out of existence for the final time. By the time Melissa had left the Manor, Draco knew what he wanted to do with his life.

He looked up at Luna and smiled.

"To us," Luna said, raising her glass in the air, "for completing our first year as Peacebringers." Draco clinked his glass against hers, then winced as the vinegary wine filled his mouth. Luna made a face as she drank hers. "Oh, this stuff's foul, isn't it?" she said.

"Standard fare for somewhere like this though," muttered Draco.

Luna put her glass down with a sharp glance at him, and a little sigh, and began to tell him about what happened when the ghosts of two lifelong rivals became trapped in the same room.

"Mostly, it was just very noisy. And it took a lot to get them to listen," she said, and picked up her glass for another sip. She winced. "This hasn't got any better, has it?" she asked, and Draco took a other drink. It was still awful.

"No, it hasn't," he said, pushing his glass away with distaste.

"Much as I'd like a drink, I don't think I can stomach any more of that. You," she prodded his arm, "Mr wine snob Malfoy, have ruined me for wine."

A more unlikely friendship he couldn't have imagined, but once Draco had willingly signed up to attend classes on 'Spirits in Nature: the whispers of trees', as well as 'Pathways to Haunting: the hold of the living over the dead' and 'How to Listen, how to Hear', he had learned to embrace a more... flexible way of seeing the world. When you were deep in discussion with a ghost whose views on life were largely determined by the woodworm and Boggarts she'd lived with for the past two hundred years, Luna's sideways view of the world began to seem more normal. Three years on, she probably sounded the same to those who didn't know her that well, but much of what she said actually made sense to Draco now. It might confuse his friends from school, but it wasn't that she was any less odd, it was more that he had moved closer to her way of seeing the world.

"Come on, let's just go," Draco said. "There's no reason we have to stay here, and I'm sure that there's a dusty bottle with our names on it in the arse end of the wine cellar at the Manor." Luna hesitated for a moment then laughed, her bright tinkle cheering Draco up as it always did, and he held out a hand to her.

"Only one?" she asked, then took his hand, and together they went to find the nearest Floo.

*

The flames rose in dancing plumes in the fireplace. There had indeed been more than one dusty bottle in the wine cellar, and Draco and Luna had moved into that quiet part of the evening, their bodies and tongues loosened by wine, but enough at ease that they didn't need to talk.

A large part of their training had involved working out what haunted their lives, and finding a way of letting go. After the war, the scores of new ghosts across Britain – another part of Riddle's legacy – hadn't been the only thing to haunt the lives of many witches and wizards. Somehow, and Draco was still grateful for this, he had managed to fall into the one profession where they really did learn to let go of the past.

He had faced his fears, his regrets: his parents, the acid seam of hatred which had run through his teens, including the acts of cruelty, the taking of the Mark. It had been painful, but he could now accept that it was his past and had helped make him who he was today. And then he had simply taken one step forward into his life, then another, concentrating on his actions now, rather than then.

Draco and Luna worked together, first to make peace with each other, and then with being at the Manor. It was just a collection of rooms, of empty spaces now, his mother having relocated to Switzerland, and much of the furniture sold to free funds. Somehow Draco held onto the moments of happiness from his childhood, their echo, rather than the memory of the dark times which had followed. He had a feeling that Luna held onto her new memories of their friendship, and the thought left him with a feeling of warmth, albeit one edged in sadness; he realised, now, just how empty most of the friendships of his youth had been.

In the warmth of the room and the quiet of the moment, he thought back over his vision of Potter that morning. Had it been a trick of the mind, open and susceptible post-meditation, merely reminding him of his earlier thoughts about Potter? Or had it been— his gut tightened at the thought that Potter might be dead, that it might have been his ghost. And for a second his mind couldn't go any further. He took a deep breath: no one knew what had happened to Potter, there was no need to jump to conclusions. But he did keep returning to the question: where was Potter?

"I know that I'm not exactly one of his friends, Luna," Draco said, breaking their companionable silence. "But there's something a bit... disturbing, about the thought of Harry Potter being missing."

Luna put down her glass, and clasped her hands together. Resting her chin on them, she bent her head for a moment before responding. Draco recognised this as a gesture she made when she wanted to think properly about something. Before she could say anything though, Draco made a sudden decision to tell her the rest, too.

"This morning, for a second, I thought I saw him. He was standing by a chair, I blinked, and then he was gone."

"A ghost?" asked Luna, her voice sharp. Draco shook his head. Luna sat back again, but didn't take her eyes off him.

"I don't think so. But... I'm not sure," he said. His shoulders slumped as he looked at his hands and sighed. When he glanced back up, Luna was gazing at him, her chin on her knuckles again. "I– I'm not sure I did see him, to be honest. It was such a fleeting... vision. I'd been reading about his disappearance, and I'd just been meditating." Draco shrugged.

"It was probably a moment of suggestibility, when your mind was still open from the mediation," said Luna, sounding relieved. "It's rare, to experience it with your training, but maybe this is a special case; you've known Harry for years, and he did always get under your skin, didn't he?"

"When we were boys, yes. I haven't really spoken to him for years though," said Draco. "But you're right, it was probably nothing." He wanted to believe the words, but he couldn't quite speak them with the conviction he needed. If Potter hadn't been missing, perhaps it would have been easier to dismiss what he'd seen that morning.

"He's probably off saving someone," said Luna. "I think he misses doing that."

"Saving people? Really?"

"Oh yes, I think it used to be like a compulsion for him. But he hasn't had much opportunity since the war. To be honest, the last few times I've seen him he's seemed a little... sad." Luna stopped, and looked away and flushed. "And maybe I've had enough to drink: it's probably none of my business," she said.

Draco smiled. Luna was always so conscientious as a friend. "Time to go home?" he asked, and a few minutes later he escorted her back to the Floo. Once she had gone, the Manor seemed devoid of life.

As he made his way to bed that night Draco decided that Luna was probably right, and he resolved to put all thoughts of Potter out of his head.

*

Draco's next job was for a witch with the ghost of a Muggle man haunting her garden shed. There were quite a few of these Muggle ghosts causing difficulties in the wizarding world now, the spirits of those killed by Death Eaters. Something about being killed by magic seemed to trap them where they shouldn't be; not always, but often enough for the numbers of Peacebringers to have tripled since the war ended. They shouldn't have been ghosts at all, but none were able to break free without help.

For some reason, and despite his lack of experience with Muggles and his own Dark Mark – coerced though it had been – Draco seemed to have an affinity with these confused souls. He felt sad for them, but he also liked them: they didn't seem to have quite the same political views about what they were called or whether they should stay around that many Wizarding ghosts displayed. Nor did they recognise him, or his name. Mostly they were angry and lost, traumatised by the nature of their departure from life.

"So, Luke, is it? Do you know what happened to you?" asked Draco. He was perched on the edge of an old tea chest, which had obviously seen better days. The shed smelled of damp and mildew, the air inside heavy with it. It was raining outside, and Draco had been forced to put a Silencing Charm up, as the beat of rain on the asphalt roof threatened to drown out Luke's quiet voice. Fortunately it was one of the spells he had mastered wandlessly. "He can't stay there," Mrs Prout had told him over stewed tea in her kitchen, "I've got dahlias to pot and he screeches every time I get my wand out." Draco caught himself before his attention wandered again, and made an effort to banish all thought of Mrs Prout from his mind, concentrating instead on listening to Luke's response.

"One minute I'm minding my own business, walking back from the corner shop, and the next minute my milk and bread are on the pavement, and I'm hanging upside down in the air," said Luke. He looked up at Draco, a grisly selection of gardening implements visible through his head. "I just knew– I knew that this would be the end. And then they got out their sticks and..."

Draco sat still, and waited while Luke put his head in his hands. Rushing him would only make this take longer.

"They cut me, and oh, God, it hurt! But after a while, I began to feel faint, and then the world began to fade, until everything just... stopped." He took a deep, empty, silent breath, his chest rising with the unnecessary, but probably still, comforting gesture. "I didn't know what to expect death to be like, but to be honest I'd never thought it would be this," he said, gesturing at the shed. "And all I can think about is my little girl, and my girlfriend, and my mum and dad." His hands moved over each other, worrying away and never settling.

"Would you like to know what happened?" asked Draco, and Luke's hands stilled as he looked up. "To you, and to your family after you died?"

"Oh yes, yes please!" said Luke. He wrapped his arms around himself and nodded.

"As I think you've worked out, you were attacked by magic. Just the other side of the fence behind this shed, as it happens. I– I come from a family of wizards myself, and you were very unfortunate to have been caught up in a wizarding war. The ones who attacked you were what I believe you would call, er, the 'baddies'—" Draco looked up to check that he'd used the correct word, and Luke was nodding so he thought he probably had, "—and they hurt a lot of innocent people. There were other witches and wizards trying to stop them, and protect M– people like you. The war is over now, and the Dark wizards are dead or in prison." Draco stopped there, checking again how Luke was taking it.

"Why?" he whispered. "Why do that to a stranger? Why take them away from their family?"

Draco sighed. "It happens in your world, too," he said. "But that never makes it ok. Who knows why it happens: fear of the unknown, stupid old stories, one madman's quest for power?"

"Maybe a bit of everything you said."

"Maybe."

They sat together in silence. The rain was still falling, lines of water blurring the dirty window facing the garden. A spider quietly got on with the business of weaving its web in one corner, and Draco watched as it hung from a fine thread, then moved along the delicate network of silk as it spun its geometric trap.

Luke's voice drew his attention again. It was soft, but cracking at the edges as he asked, "And my girl? My family?"

Draco sighed and pulled a newspaper cutting out of his pocket. 'Local Man Killed as Tree Comes Down in High Winds'. He put it on the shelf next to Luke, then stood back so he could read it in peace.

"They think it was an accident?" Luke asked.

"Yes. And it has been hard for them, but they find comfort in knowing that you didn't suffer for long, and that you had lived a good life, even though it was cut short. They– they still miss you, but I think they are beginning to move on. Your daughter is ten now, she is tall and swims for the county, and your girlfriend finished her training, and is working now. They visit your parents almost every weekend. It's been five years since you died," Draco added quietly.

"Five years! It feels like... less. Like it was yesterday."

"Time passes in a different way."

"So am I stuck here, then? Forever?" asked Luke, looking around him into the gloom.

"Not if you don't want to be. I can help you... move on."

"Move on? Where to?"

"I don't know, exactly," said Draco. "But it's got to be better than this."

"It could be... nothing. Couldn't it?" asked Luke. Draco shrugged. Who was he to answer that? So he said the only thing he could.

"There's only one way to find out. This is my job, you know. I'm a Peacebringer. I like to believe that that whatever you move onto, that's what you find: peace." Luke glanced over at the newspaper cutting again, then back at Draco. He closed his eyes, and there was a moment of absolute quiet, during which Draco could see Luke struggle for a moment, a range of emotions chasing across his face, before his body slumped slightly and his face relaxed as he let go. He opened his eyes and nodded at Draco.

"Ok," he said. "How do we do this?"

Draco explained that it would involve a little magic, but that the main thing was for Luke to stay calm. He talked Luke through a method to clear his mind, and as they sat there, Luke with his eyes closed and his hands resting by his side, Draco brought his wand out, and began the complicated spell which would help release him. It was actually three or four spells woven together, and would only work if the ghost was willing to move on. The shed was lit up with a golden light, which grew so bright that Draco had to fight the urge to close his eyes, and continued speaking the words of the spells and moving his wand until the light faded, and he was alone. "Goodbye," he whispered into the silence. The spider's web, now complete, swayed slightly as the air in the room settled.

An hour later, Draco walked to a low-rise block of flats just around the corner. The rain was still falling, and he was rapidly becoming soaked, but he didn't want to do any magic in a Muggle area and besides, he knew that he would be home soon enough. He stopped when he saw the tall girl through the window, holding her new baby brother and smiling up at her mother. Life didn't stand still; it really did just keep moving on.

He walked away, thinking about peace and hot baths, and the skill with which the spider had spun her web, even as the remnant of hundreds of other webs had stretched across the corners of the room.

*

The rain didn't stop over the next few days, and Draco felt drained by the endless washing away of everything. The world seemed muted, but then it always took him a while to recover from a job; he'd spend a couple of days with the strange feeling that there was an echo of the departed ghost lingering in his life. In a way he was haunted by them, by the memory of their personalities, and the knowledge that their conversation with him had been their last. It was why it was so important to maintain balance and calm in his own life.

He was drinking a cup of tea in a corner of the Manor's library. There weren't many rooms still furnished at the Manor, but this was one of them: normally Draco enjoyed spending time here, relaxing, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. The light from the window beside him was dim, and he had lit a fire against the February chill. He was reading a book about ancient waterways, which was written in elegant English and which had absolutely nothing to do with ghosts or the wizarding world. His father would have been horrified to see the Muggle books now littering his library, even faded old Penguin paperbacks like this one. The book soothed Draco, and he felt content.

Slowly, Draco became aware of movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked up, expecting to see Spinks or Spungen, the only two house elves left at the Manor, but instead, there was Harry Potter, standing by the window. He looked like he always had: a little scruffy, but happy enough in himself. The only difference was a softness to his edges and a slight transparency about him. Draco was used to seeing ghosts – which were after all a normal part of the wizarding world, whatever the ones he met through work were like – but Potter didn't quite look like a ghost. There was too much... colour, too much life about him.

"Potter?" he called out, and Potter turned his head, looked straight at him, and vanished.

The crackle of the fire and the drumming of raindrops on the windows of the room were again his only company. Draco looked down, and saw that he was gripping his book so tightly that one of the pages was about to rip. His heart was racing, and he could feel his chest trembling. Draco forced his hands to relax, and took a deep breath to try to steady himself; he had not imagined it, this time he was sure.

His mind tried to catch up with what he had seen, his book forgotten on his lap. A ghost or a vision? A spell or a potion? The thoughts tumbled through his mind, leaving him confused and uncertain.

He closed his eyes and ran through ten steps to calm; sometimes he needed to go deep within himself to cut out the thoughts cluttering his head. When he opened his eyes, he wasn't sure if it was five minutes or an hour later, but he felt centred again. He decided to keep an eye out for Potter: he might not see him again, but if he did, he could perhaps gather more information and work out what was going on. There was no harm in a little research, too.

Draco did not pick up his book again, but instead sat back and listened to the rain and the crackle of the fire, as he tried to plan out what to do next. After a while, he stood, and began pulling out any books he knew to contain descriptions of ghosts and spirits, along with some rather specialised Potions books the Aurors had missed. It was, after all, a big library.

While he was arranging them neatly by topic and in order of their probable usefulness, Draco was brought short by the reappearance of Potter. A small gasp escaped him. This time he was close to Potter, who then moved, passing by in a silent rush, the air still and undisturbed. Draco turned round to watch as he made his way to the fireplace, then began pacing up and down, to the window and back.

"Potter?" asked Draco, his voice a little shaky with surprise. But the pacing just continued, up and down. Draco took a steadying breath, and tried again. "Potter—"

This time, Potter stopped. He looked at Draco, his eyes resting on him, piercing him with their intensity. And then, like the sharp edges of light and shade disappearing into blankness when a cloud passes in front of the sun, Potter was gone. Draco sat for a moment, shaking with the quickness of it all. He took two, three deep breaths, then searched out some parchment, ink and a quill, and began to make notes. He wrote down when he'd seen Potter, approximately how long for, and what had happened. Draco found an element of calm in making systematic records: he always had. When he had finished, he stared down at the flow of lines, past the time it took for the ink to dry. They were a neat record of dry facts and observations, and writing them down was supposed to help order his thoughts, but to him it just looked like a list of questions.

With a sigh, Draco picked up the first book, Ghosts of the British Isles, and began to look for answers. Why was Potter appearing to him? What was this vision of Potter? Soon more words had joined his neatly recorded observations, and yet Draco couldn't quite shake the feeling that they also looked more like questions than answers, as they merely opened up further areas to investigate. Why couldn't Potter speak? How much could he see or understand of where he was? Why was he appearing at the Manor, of all places?

When he went to bed that night, Draco found it hard to get to sleep, as the questions pulsed through his mind. Why? Why him, why now? What had happened to Potter? And why did it give rise to this feeling of deep unease, why did it matter so much to him?

*

MLE, Auror Department. Casefile #62974/1

Re: Disappearance of Harry J Potter

Date: 15th February, 2003

Investigating Aurors: &

Full description of contents of Harry Potter's study:

The room is at the rear, on the upper ground floor of 12 Grimmauld Place. It contains bookshelves, an armchair and sofa, a large desk and chair. The room appeared undisturbed when examined, except for the fireplace which showed signs of a recent fire, including some ashes from paper, and the desk. On the desk were: three sealed notes, addressed to Hermione Granger & Ron Weasley, Minerva McGonagall and Andromeda Tonks; three books on magic (Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charms, Sites of Historical Sorcery, Hidden Desires and Lost Magic); a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard; one wizarding map of the UK, highlighting sites of magical interest, a dozen rolls of parchment (blank), quills and ink.

[...]

Trace spells completed:

Tracing Charm: unable to locate Harry Potter within Apparating distance.

Apparition test: evidence of recent activity, in study, hallway, and kitchen. Consistent with normal levels in a wizarding home.

Dark magic trace (Moody grade 5):[objects] some background traces, consistent with an old wizarding house which has housed dark artefacts at some point in the past 1-10 years. Several stronger focal points, in (empty) display cabinets and on the desk. No dark artefacts found at the house - Mr Potter is known to have inherited several with the house, but has spent the past five years disposing of them with Ministry help. A full list of all artefacts kept by the Ministry show that all are accounted for. [spells] The presence of Dark artefacts in the recent past contaminated the area, but there were no clear signs of separate Dark magic.

Test for Unforgiveable Curses: none detected

[...]

Statement from Ronald Weasley:

'Harry seemed fine when we saw him. He was in a good mood actually – he's been a bit... moody recently. Quiet, since he left the Aurors. I really thought he'd turned things around. I can't see why he would just leave, when he'd just started seeing his friends again.'

*

When Draco woke the next morning, his mind was filled with a drowsy pleasantness. He lay there, aware of the heaviness of his limbs, the heat and relaxation that only sleep could bring. Finally he stretched, then opened his eyes to greet the day. He couldn't help but cry out, a sound of surprise rather than fear, at the sight of Potter at the end of his bed, staring at him. His body was slow to catch up, refusing to tense; it was so warm in his bed, so comfortable, that he thought that maybe he was actually still asleep, and that this was just some strange dream. He closed his eyes, searching for that peaceful feeling, the bliss of denial, before opening them again. He sighed: Potter was still there.

As he forced himself to look, he was struck, yet again, at how Potter appeared, full of the colours of life. His skin looked almost touchable, and Draco could make out the differences in both the shade of the blue and the weave of the t-shirt just visible at his neck, from that of his jumper.

Pulling himself up to sitting, Draco quickly ran through his options. He could get out of bed, cross the room, get up close; he could try talking; or he could call for the house elves. He sighed. What he really wanted to do was to shut his eyes tight and go back to sleep, but he knew it wasn't an option. Not for a grown man, not for a Peacebringer.

"Potter," he said, in the gentlest voice he could muster. Even so, it cracked slightly, just because it was the first thing he'd said that morning. "Are you ok?" he asked, and Potter seemed to waver where he stood. "Where are you?" Draco asked, even though he thought it unlikely that Potter would be able to answer. He wasn't surprised then, when Potter just stared back, unmoving. "Why are you here?" he asked, but this time Potter looked away.

Silence fell, like a dead weight, in the room. Draco was used to protracted moments of quiet, but he found this one difficult to tolerate; it had invaded his room, his private moment between sleep and waking. The way he coped with his line of work, beyond the rhetoric about 'helping people', was the calm he maintained in his own life. No one else was supposed to be here.

He cleared his throat, just to make a sound. Potter's shoulders shifted subtly for a moment, but then instead of turning back towards Draco, he lifted his head up and walked away, until he reached the door, which he just walked straight through.

Draco let out a breath he hadn't realised that he was holding in, and stared at the door. Whether or not Potter was on the other side of it, he had to do something about this; Potter couldn't keep popping up like this. He stretched again, and resolved to contact one of his former teachers for some advice, and, if needed, the Aurors assigned with investigating Potter's disappearance – he had recognised the name of one of them in the Prophet. Feeling a little more settled now that he'd made a plan, Draco slipped out of bed to begin his morning routine of shower, breakfast and meditation.

*

Under the regard of fierce amber eyes, Draco stepped back. His message asking for advice from Steve, the centaur who had been his mentor during training, was secure. Ptolemy ruffled his feathers once, the tufts above his eyes bobbing slightly, then he took off with a few powerful beats of his wings. Watching the huge bird as it swooped off was one of the few things which could still bring back a strong sense of Draco's parents: this living creature who had been his main connection to them for his years at school. There was also, Draco thought with a wry smile, something about the snooty look the owl would fix him with that always made him think of his father.

As he made his way down from the Manor's Owlery, Draco was already running through which books he wanted to check next. He was hoping that Steve could tell him more about what it meant, the brightness of colour and the silence, but in the meantime, he could look for answers himself.

Impatient for answers and in need of someone to talk to, Draco knelt at the library's fireplace and spoke to Luna, who cheerfully announced that it would just be easier for her to come through the Floo.

He could see the moment when she caught full sight of him. As she stepped into the room, the bright smile on her face faded, and a rare frown tugged at her brow. Whatever words she had been going to say fell away unsaid. Moving quickly to stand close by, she held his hands and regarded him with wide eyes.

"Are you ok, Draco?" she asked, gently, the look of concern in her eyes clear to see. "You seem a little... anxious."

"I'm fine," he said. "I just don't understand why I keep seeing Potter, and none of this makes sense to me."

"There's plenty in life that doesn't make sense, you know that just as well as I do, Draco."

"I know," he said, and sighed, turning away slightly. Luna stepped back, but didn't take her eyes off him. "We've explored so many mysteries, and I know how many questions without answers there are out there. But... they tend to be things which are at least familiar. We don't really know where a ghost goes if they choose to move on, but we know when they will be able to, how to help them, what it looks and feels like when it happens." Luna nodded. "But this... this is all unknown. And it's happening here, in my home, in my

Iife."

Luna smiled. "Sometimes things happen in our lives too. Right now, I think what we need is tea."

"Why of course," said Draco, and he gestured for her to sit on one of the low squashy chairs by the fire. He called for Spinks, asked for tea, then joined Luna by the fire and told her all about the more recent visits from Potter.

"You know, Draco, Harry's friends are beside themselves with worry. You should talk to them."

"And say what, exactly? That I am seeing visions of Potter, but that he's not a ghost, well, I don't think he is, but I don't actually know where he is or what happened to him?"

"Yes, that's exactly what you should tell them. And the Aurors too."

"I just... let me see what Steve has to say first."

Luna gave him a long look, then sighed. "Ok, but you have to talk to them today."

"I will, I promise. Now, will you help me search through these books?"

"Of course I will. But not until I've had my tea," Luna said, shooting him an affectionate smile.

Two hours later, Draco pushed Curious Charms back in disgust. He was getting nowhere, and he hadn't heard back from his old mentor either. He glanced over at the window for what must have been the hundredth time that hour, but it was still empty. Draco sat back in his chair. Why was he so frustrated? He had spent countless hours researching in the past. Never though, he realised, with this sense of urgency. And he had always known that the answer was there, somewhere in his books, but this time, no matter how hard he looked, he couldn't find anything remotely useful or relevant.

"Steve's probably on a job, Draco. He'll get back to you when he can," Luna said from her armchair perch in the corner. He jumped a little; he had been so focused on his research that he had forgotten that she was still there. Luna had taken her shoes off, and her feet were tucked up under her. She had a copy of Ghosts and Unbeing: a Second Existence open on her lap, and was idly rolling an empty tea cup round in her hands. Draco nodded, but felt a flash of irritation at her attempt to soothe him. "You need to take a break. Come on, let's go see your Great Aunt Cassiopeia, she's always good for a laugh."

Luna and Draco had once spent a whole day going through the Manor, talking to the portraits. She had her favourites now, and sometimes Draco would walk into a room to find Luna sitting on the floor, chatting away to some eighteenth-century Malfoy. Most of them disapproved of him, of course, but they all seemed to like her. Draco sighed. Luna was right: it would be better to get up and moving, and distract himself from all of this for a while. She smiled, put the book and the cup to one side, and rose to her feet. Not bothering to put her shoes back on, Luna crossed the room and rested her hands on Draco's shoulders.

"You're so tense," she said. "Sitting hunched over this desk does you no favours," she added, and then she began to knead at his back. It felt wonderful, and Draco leant back into her hands. They met the resistance of knotted muscle, smoothing and pushing down until he felt his back begin to relax. Massages from Luna were rare but wonderful and always welcome; they were also the only time he regretted not being straight, as his body stirred lazily under her touch. Draco made an embarrassingly loud groan, but Luna ignored him and continued anyway.

And then he saw Potter, leaning on the side of the desk, watching them. His eyes were burning bright, and Draco felt somehow as if he was the one trespassing on something important. This time, Luna's hands stopped moving as Draco tensed and pulled back.

"He's here again," Draco whispered.

"Where?" Luna asked.

"Right here, next to me, on my right. Leaning against the desk." He felt, rather than saw, as Luna shifted her body to look. Potter looked slowly over at Luna. His eyes seemed to rest on Luna's hands, still resting on Draco's shoulders, and suddenly Draco felt heat rise in his cheeks at just how close she was standing to him. Potter's eyes travelled back to him, and they seemed soft, full of a sort of sad fondness, which Draco had never seen before.

"Has he gone?" she asked quietly.

"No, he's still here," said Draco.

"I can't see anything," Luna said. "As far as I can see, there's no one there." Potter's face flickered with sadness, and he looked lost. Luna stepped back, and Draco turned in his chair to face her, although he still kept half an eye on Potter. He was looking around, as if searching for someone. His other friends, Draco guessed.

"They're not here, sorry," he said, and Potter seemed to bow his head slightly, in disappointment. Whether at Draco's words or the obvious absence of his friends, Draco couldn't tell.

"Draco," said Luna. "This makes things more... complicated, if I can't see what you see."

"Do you believe me?" Draco asked, the words escaping him before he could stop himself. It was important to him, what Luna thought. If she believed him, it would be enough for him to know that he would be able to find a way out of this.

"I believe that you see Harry, but I don't know what it means," she answered. "We've both seen all kinds of things in our lives, I know, and some of them defy explanation. I—" she stopped, and frowned, shaking her head in frustration. "I want to help you work out what this means. And I want to find out what's happened to Harry. You're both my friends." She reached out and rested her hand on his shoulder. "We'll work this out," she said, giving him a small smile. Draco smiled back and squeezed her hand, before turning back to Potter who was staring at them blankly.

"Oh, for goodness– we're just friends!" he said, suddenly worried that Potter might get the wrong idea about his friendship with Luna. His reaction puzzled him: since when did he care? People often made the assumption about the two of them, and neither he nor Luna usually bothered to correct them; it didn't matter what other people thought. Draco looked for some sign of recognition or acknowledgement on Potter's face, and an expression of surprise, or perhaps even understanding might have flickered across his features, but then he faded from sight.

"That's a bit confusing, you talking to both of us at once, Draco," Luna said, her eyebrows raised at his words. She didn't say anything about it, but he could see her storing it up for future reference.

"It's okay," he said, waving his arm into the empty air beside him. "He's gone." She looked disappointed, but then Draco saw her face light up with curiosity. He sensed a question coming: Luna loved asking questions.

"What does it look like, when he goes?" asked Luna, and soon they were deep in discussion as he drew on every example he could think of to explain how both how Potter had looked, and disappeared.

They only stopped when they heard a faint tapping at the window. Draco let in a rather bedraggled looking Ptolemy, who dropped a sealed letter on his lap, then lurched to stand on the back of a chair. Draco fed him some owl snacks before opening his letter. He quickly scanned through the note, then threw it down in frustration.

"Nothing! He doesn't have any answers for me," he said.

"May I?" asked Luna, her hand already hovering above the note. Draco nodded his assent, and she picked it up. He watched her, lost for what else to do. Her brow furrowed as she read, and he saw her eyes pass over some sections more than once. "This is more than nothing. He tells you that it is highly unlikely to be a ghost, but not impossible. Other likely options are that either you or Harry have been cursed or poisoned."

"Exactly, that's nothing more than the options I've already considered!" Draco said, a little more loudly than he intended. Luna looked shocked.

"You've considered that you might be cursed or poisoned?"

Seeing the look of horror on her face served to deflate Draco a little. "Yes, yes I have. And now that we know that you can't see him... I have to consider the possibility that I am merely seeing him. That he isn't here."

"Oh Draco," she said. "Just... just remember that there is probably a reason, for all of this, and that we'll figure it out." She stopped talking, and Draco suspected that she was thinking about Nargles and Wrackspurts; he knew that just as he had grown more open to unusual ideas, she had begun to feel ambiguous about the veracity of her earlier beliefs. The implication being, that perhaps this was his equivalent.

They spent another hour looking through his books, but got no further. After lunch Draco poured himself a double firewhisky, although Luna declined to join him, and he welcomed the burn in his mouth as a momentary distraction. He wrote a letter, outlining his experiences so far, and including the vague and general conclusions he, Luna and Steve had so far reached, and addressed it to the Auror division. While Luna read it through, he wrote another to Weasley and Granger. Draco stared at the words on the parchment, and remembered the three Gryffindors, always together, their exploits told over and over again to children across the land, and he screwed up the letter and tossed it into the wastepaper basket. Some things needed to be said face to face.

"Luna," he said, and she looked up. "Can you– I want to speak to Weasley and Granger, can you fire call them for me?" he asked, and surprise crossed her face, but she nodded straight away.

Of course he should have known – or maybe he had, deep down – that they would want to step through the Floo and interrogate him in person.

Weasley came through first. Draco hadn't really seen him since school and was surprised to see how tall he was, how broad across the shoulders he had grown.

"Malfoy, what do you know about where Harry is?" Weasley asked, stepping forward until he stood uncomfortably close. For a second, Draco wondered what Potter would think if he appeared right now and saw another of his friends almost pressed up against him. The thought departed as quickly as it had arrived, but left the trace of a smile on Draco's lips. "This isn't anything to smile about, you prick," growled Weasley, but then he was being pulled back by his girlfriend, who looked at the two of them before placing herself between them. She tilted her chin up in challenge and they both backed away a little.

"I haven't come here to call you names, Draco, I've come to find out what you know. Luna says you want to talk to us about Harry," she said, in a calm enough voice, but Draco could clearly hear the steel in it too. "Look, we're worried about our friend. What can you tell us?"

Draco was not intimidated by either of them, taking confidence in the knowledge that they were in his home, on his invite. He motioned for them to come sit by the fire, and once they were settled he told his tale. Hearing the words come out of his mouth they sounded pitiful, and internally he cringed at just how vague they were. Both Weasley and Granger wore frowns as they listened, but at least they stayed quiet until he had finished, for which he was grateful.

"So you see Harry, but he doesn't quite look like a ghost and is silent, and you're not sure why you're seeing him or even if it actually is him; if it weren't for the fact that he's actually missing you probably wouldn't be talking to anyone else about this, right?" Granger surmised, and Draco hung his head at the accuracy of her words. "Honestly, you're just as bad as he is," she added, and Draco looked over at Weasley to see how he reacted to the comparison. But Granger shook her head when she saw him looking. "No, not him. Harry. You're as bad as Harry."

Draco's mouth hung open at that, and Weasley snorted with laughter.

"You're right, 'Mione! Stupid stubborn gits, the both of them," he said, then turned to Draco, his expression changing abruptly, his face settling into serious lines. "Harry's taking a year's break from teaching, or so he says, and I won't lie, he's been in a strange old mood so far. But he changed recently, getting this gleam in his eye, except that he wouldn't talk about why. And now he's missing. If any of what you say is true, I really don't know what to make of it. But you've got to tell Seamus and the other Aurors investigating it."

"I know—" Draco started, but then Luna came to sit at his side, and handed the letter he had just penned to Weasley. "I'm sending that, as soon as we're done with it." Granger leant in to read it too. Weasley finished first, and looked up, seemingly a little mollified.

"It looks like everything is in there." He rubbed a hand across his face. "I wish they would let me be on the investigating team! I hate being on the edges like this," he added quietly.

"Draco and I have been trying to research what might have happened," said Luna.

"Not that we've found anything though," said Draco, his frustration rising again. Luna placed her hand on Draco's and gave a little squeeze. He gave her a quick look of thanks, and turned back to the others. Weasley looked between the two of them, and Draco could see him working through the options, but no questions were asked nor explanations proffered. Luna, Draco knew, was either blissfully unaware of whatever assumptions her friends were making, or just didn't care at all. Her ability to ignore or accept what other people might class as social awkwardness was one of the reasons Draco liked her.

"Do you think I might be able to look over what you've found so far?" asked Granger after a moment, her eyes darting over to the desk with its pile of books and parchment.

Draco and Luna led them through their research, and their conclusions, limited though they were. After a while, Draco called Spungen, to ask for more refreshments. Granger had tensed up as Draco first called the house elf, her face displaying thinly veiled disdain; Draco had forgotten about her crusade to end house elf servitude. When Spungen appeared though, she actually dropped the parchment she was holding in surprise. As the house elf Disapparated, she turned to Draco.

"You have an emancipated house elf?" she demanded. Draco smiled.

"Two actually. The Ministry took the rest, I don't know where they are now. But they left me Spinks and Spungen, due to the size of the Manor. I– I didn't know if they would want to be here, if they had a choice. When I started training as a Peacebringer, it was the sort of thing I spent time worrying about. So I gave them the choice by giving them clothes. They weren't happy," he laughed darkly at the memory of their rage at the rejection, "but I explained they could stay, and that is what they chose to do. I pay them, and they have holiday time now."

"Which they spend cleaning," said Luna.

"Yes, well, if that's what they want to do," said Draco with a shrug. He focused back on Granger. "I'm not my father, you know." She nodded slowly, and picked up the parchment again, but every now and then Draco would find her looking at him.

Some time later, after the letter to the Aurors had been sent off, and when every question had been exhausted with answers still scarce almost to the point of non-existence, Draco bid his guests farewell, with promises to exchange information or any future discoveries. As he stepped back from the fireplace his body sagged, as the day caught up with him. He put out an arm and steadied himself against a bookshelf. Something made him look up, but Potter was nowhere to be seen. With a sigh, Draco went to tidy up the books and notes, and then made his way to bed.

Everything else would have to wait until the morning. He recognised the signs of mental fatigue, and he needed sleep. Lying in bed, Draco closed his eyes and visualised each of his worries and strangely disturbing encounters of the day as clouds, and watched as they floated off into a glorious sunset. And yet Draco still found his sleep to be uneasy: it came to him in broken fragments. He didn't fall asleep properly until just before dawn, in that strange moment of quiet when the sky just begins to lighten and the birds have not quite begun to sing.

*

When Draco woke, his body ached with tiredness. Yet despite his need for more rest, as soon as thoughts of Potter came back to him, standing silent and unexpected, he knew that he was awake for the day. He opened his eyes and checked around the room for any sign of Potter, but he was alone. His body felt heavy, weighing down on his bed and somehow dragging his mind with it. He closed his eyes, and felt the weariness running through his limbs. He didn't need this today, he really didn't.

In his aching lassitude, Draco reached down into his pyjamas, feeling the familiar morning heat and hardness. He hadn't done this for a while, and suddenly all he wanted was the release of temporary oblivion. He had so many ways of finding mental peace, but sometimes physical methods were more... satisfying. He pushed down his pyjamas, just enough, then began to move his hand, seeking a more pleasant start to the day, if possible. The rhythm was comforting in its familiarity, and then the memory of the last time he had done this with another person rose keenly in his mind, the dark hair of an anonymous stranger in his hands, as a sloppy, drunken mouth, sucked him in, moved around him, heat surrounding him to the point of—

The memory was enough, and Draco screwed his eyes as his body flared white and he came. He kept his eyes closed, floating on the almost-sated sensation of the solitary orgasm, and the rest which had eluded him began now to fall upon him, dragging him down back to sleep.

He snoozed for a while, but then awoke, conscious of the cooling stickiness beneath the sheets. Draco fumbled for his wand, but his fingers couldn't find it beside the bed, so he sat up to have a proper look. And there was Potter, standing just inside the doorway, watching him. His cheeks flushed at the thought of what he had been doing; he was uncertain how long Potter had been standing there. Potter was biting his lip and looking at Draco with such intensity that it made him shiver.

"Potter—" he began, but could get no further. The gaze being directed at him was too much, and there was nowhere to hide. Draco saw the widened eyes and he just knew that Potter had seen more than he should have. All of a sudden Draco felt more naked than he had done in years, not since he had stood in front of Riddle. He shivered, and was aware of the thudding of his heart in his ears.

His breathing became shaky, and all of a sudden Draco felt as if he was suffocating on air too thin, his heart tight in his chest. Feeling this vulnerable scared him, caught out in a private moment that no one was meant to share.

He lay back and closed his eyes, not wanting to meet Potter's eyes, feeling again the shame of being caught wanking by Theo Nott, back in Fifth year. He was hoping that Potter would fade, but when he opened his eyes he was still there. Draco waited until the rush of embarrassment passed, leaving only a lingering tingle of anger at the intrusion – and at his own reaction, to be honest – before deciding to just get on with getting up. He couldn't help his light blush as he cast a simple cleaning charm, hoisted his pyjama bottoms back up and headed for the shower.

Thankfully, Potter didn't follow him into the bathroom, and Draco was able to shower in peace. When he emerged, feeling a little more human after a hot shower, he was surprised to find that Potter was still there. This was the longest that he had stayed, so far. Draco continued to ignore him as much as he could, not wanting to have to talk to someone who had seen him... well, enjoying a private moment. He quickly chose his clothes for the day, rushing to get dressed back in the privacy of his bathroom.

Potter was with him as he ate breakfast, and he watched as Draco worked through his longest meditation and yoga routine. He was there when Spinks announced that two Aurors had arrived to speak to Draco. Potter walked soundlessly beside Draco as he made his way to the library, where he'd asked for the Aurors to be shown.

Finnegan he recognised from school, but he'd never met Auror Benwick before. Benwick was an older man, grizzled and grim as he looked Draco up and down. With a sinking feeling Draco realised that it might not be Benwick's first visit to the Manor, after all. Draco couldn't read Finnegan's coolly impassive face in quite the same way, but it was likely that at best his professional mask hid some curiosity as well as the distrust that Draco was sure was there too.

The Aurors declined the offer of tea or coffee, and they all stood awkwardly for a moment, Draco a little lost without the usual social niceties to smooth the process. In his unease , he glanced over at Potter for inspiration or understanding, but Potter's attention was fixed on the Aurors, with Draco excluded from the focused look of interest on his face.

"We're here regarding Harry Potter," began Benwick. "Thank you for your letter, and I'm sure that you'll understand that we have some further questions for you." Draco had to force himself to keep his eyes on the Aurors: all he wanted to do was check for any sign of emotion or recognition on Potter's face.

"Of course, if I can help in anyway, I will."

"First of all, have you had any contact with Harry since, er Hogwarts?" asked Finnegan.

"Not really, not since the trials," said Draco. "I think it's safe to say that we were never friends, and we didn't have any reason to talk." Finnegan nodded.

"So, Mr Malfoy, can you tell me more about these... visions you've been having?" said Benwick. Draco flicked his eyes over to Potter, then back to the Aurors. He swallowed, nervous of their reactions, and nodded.

"Yes, I've started seeing Potter, as an incorporeal vision or spirit, the last few days. I put everything I know into the owl I sent," he added, and realised that he had started twisting his sleeve with his fingers. Forcing himself to still his hands, he continued. "Sometimes I see him for only a minute or two, other times for a few hours. I can't hear him and I'm not sure if he can hear me or not, it's hard to tell. Out of the corner of his eye, Draco could see Potter, who seemed to be watching keenly as he spoke.

"The thing which confuses us," said Finnegan, "is that this sounds a little like a ghost. Are you saying that Harry is dead?" Draco shook his head immediately, but couldn't help glancing over at Potter again to check for any reaction. Potter's eyes were wide.

"No, and I know ghosts – you know that I'm a Peacebringer? – well the silence thing, and the fact that he looks more colourful than a ghost, they just don't fit." Draco rubbed at his eyes; he could feel a headache beginning to spread across his forehead. "But I really don't know why I see him, what it means, or what has happened to him."

"And only you can see him, is that correct?" asked Benwick.

"Unless you can see him," said Draco, but he regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. Both men looked up, eyes darting around the room.

"Is he here, now?" asked Finnegan. Draco nodded, and pointed over to where Potter was standing. They turned and looked. "I can't see anything, Malfoy," said Finnegan. There was an edge of frustration in his voice, combined with scepticism. Benwick shot his partner a warning glance.

"Mr Malfoy, you believe Mr Potter to be over there?" he asked slowly. "And you know that others can't see him, correct?"

"Yes," said Draco, suddenly aware of how dry his mouth felt. He wished he'd ordered some tea anyway. Both men's eyes were on him, and pain thudded in his head. "Well at least you've confirmed it for me now. He's only been here when I'm by myself, or when Luna was here, and she couldn't see him."

"Luna Lovegood?" asked Finnegan, and Draco could almost hear the words Loony Lovegood as they travelled through Finnegan's mind. He sighed. Poor Luna: some people could never see past her more... odd behaviour, to the person behind it. Finnegan scowled, and Draco's hand twitched when he saw his fingers tighten on his wand, as if he were about to deliver some schoolboy hex.

"Never mind," he muttered. An uncomfortable silence descended, and after a few more cursory questions they left.

"Idiots!" he spat out as soon as they were gone. He let out a large exhale of air. "I'm sorry, Potter. I'm sorry they wouldn't believe me, but who would? And anyway it's not like I could tell them anything useful: I have no idea what you're doing here or what's happened to you."

Draco watched a wave of something – frustration maybe, it looked like a curious mix of anger and sadness – move across Potter's face. And then, despite the strength of emotion on his face, Potter was fading away. It had been the longest that he'd stayed with Draco so far, but suddenly it didn't feel like long enough at all. Frustrated at the feeling of something being left... incomplete, Draco went in search of a headache potion and something to drink.

*

MLE, Auror Department. Casefile #62974/1

Re: Disappearance of Harry J Potter

Investigating Aurors: S. Finnegan & R. Benwick

Date: 1st March 2003

Information from Mr D Malfoy

Mr D Malfoy contacted Auror S Finnegan on 27th February, 2003, claiming he had information about the disappearance of Mr H Potter. He was interviewed in his home on 28th February. Mr Malfoy did not appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of any potions. He claimed that Harry Potter was present in the room, not a ghost, but some kind of a spirit, and only visible to him. He kept looking to one side of the room, as if looking at another person. He had no evidence of nor reasons for these visions. He also confirmed that he has had no direct contact with Mr Potter since 1998.

*

Draco's days began to take on a new pattern, and with quite a long lull before his next job, he was left with perhaps a little too much time at home. Potter would appear when he was eating lunch, or as he finished meditating, or while he was reading in the library. He only ever appeared to Draco, and only within the Manor. Draco would talk, sometimes, to Potter, who would either fade from sight, as if the words had cut his tether to the world, or remain, just staring back passive and silent. Luna came by again, but an uncomfortable awkwardness had settled between them, the niggling doubt about why Draco, but not Luna, could see Potter never quite resolved.

By the middle of March, Draco ceased to feel surprise when Potter appeared. Instead, he felt... relief instead. With Potter there he felt a little more sure of himself, a little less doubtful.

It was the space in between, and other people, which proved the hardest to deal with.

*

"Draco, darling, you can't live like this," said Pansy, putting down her knife and fork. "You never see us anymore, and when you do, all you want to talk about is Harry bloody Potter! It's like being at school again. And I really do not want to live through that again."

He could hear the words, but Draco wasn't paying attention. Just that morning he had been reading one of his father's books, a heavy tome hidden amongst the atlases and encyclopaedias of the library. The Grimoire Noir fairly stank with Dark magic, and Draco's progress through its pages had been slow. He was only halfway through, and the chance that it could offer a solution, an answer to what had happened, was tantalising. With no explanation, the only possible reason for Potter's continued presence at Malfoy Manor was that Draco was going ma—

"Draco!" called Pansy. "You aren't listening at all, are you?" She began to look around herself. "Is he here now? Is that it? Are you being distracted by green eyes and thick dark locks?"

"No!" Draco said, loudly enough to make Pansy's eyes widen. "No," he repeated a little more gently. But then the twist of anger rose in him, as her words filtered through. "And for Merlin's sake can you stop going on about a stupid schoolboy crush? I should never have said anything. That was years ago."

"I'm sorry, Draco, but this isn't healthy! You've shut yourself up in your quite frankly creepily empty house, and when we do see you it's like we're the invisible ones!" She took a couple of deep breaths, visibly calming herself. "Look, Draco, when you got into this whole ghost business in the first place, and started following Loony Lovegood round like a lost little puppy, we all put up with it. And it did seem to help, you seemed so much happier, as if you'd found some peace. But now I'm not so sure." She held him in her gaze. "You can live here, and talk about your parents as if they've just stepped out for more champagne, the Dark Lord no more than a minor inconvenience, and everything seems fine. But there's one bit of your life I bet you never examine, one bit you never talked about with your precious centaur."

Draco shied away from the vehemence in her voice. Pansy didn't stop though, as she bore in on him.

"You never even let yourself think about it, do you? You hold onto your little routines, your yoga and your hot chocolates and the walks in the gardens, but you never face the one crack running right through your soul." She was breathing in rapid bursts now, her face flushed and her hands clenched around her napkin. She looked at him, and waited.

"You're wrong," he said, after a moment's quiet.

"I don't think so," she said. "Why is it Potter you see? Why doesn't anyone else see him?"

"I'm not making this up, you know!" said Draco, banging his hand on the table in frustration. "He's missing, unless you haven't noticed."

"I've read the Prophet," Pansy said. "He took his wand, he said goodbye to his friends. He's probably out there, travelling the world and escaping this country's obsession with him."

"You're wrong. Something's happened to him," said Draco, from between gritted teeth.

"And if it has," said Pansy, "what does that mean to you?"

"I didn't choose any of this, you know, Pansy! I don't know why he's here, I don't have a clue what's happened to him! But something's not right, and no one seems to care."

"You care though, don't you Draco?" she said softly.

"Yes! No, not like—" Draco didn't finish. Potter was standing by the window, his face in profile as he looked out to some unseen point. He was hugging his arms around himself, as if he were cold. Draco dragged his eyes back over to Pansy. "I can't do this now," he said, and he looked back over at Potter, who hadn't moved. Pansy twisted her neck to follow his line of sight.

"Oh, I see, the ever-invisible Potter. How convenient. Well don't think this conversation is over, because it isn't. But I'm not staying here while you stare off into the distance and ignore everything I say. Just please, Draco, think about what I've said. Please," she added gently. Then Pansy put her napkin down and rose, brushing some invisible crumbs from her robes, before making her way round the table to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. He rose, helpless before her white-faced anger. "I'll see myself out, Draco. But I'll be back, and we're going to talk about this properly," she said in a low, dangerously flat voice. She swept out, leaving silence behind her.

Draco looked at the barely-touched food on the plate in front of him, and pushed it away. He wasn't hungry.

His eyes found Potter again, huddled into himself by the window, and Draco felt something, deep within himself, ache with the impossibility of the situation. Pansy was forgotten, as if she had never been there. He left the table and approached Potter.

"Are you okay?" he asked in a whisper. Potter turned to face him: not just his head, but his whole body moving towards Draco. He didn't say anything, but Draco was struck by just how lost he looked. They stood there, staring at each other, until Draco cleared his throat and turned away. He made his way over to the neighbouring window, and sat in the windowseat.

"What are we going to do?" he asked, but he knew there was no answer to make, and the words faded as he stared at the bare trees outside.

*

It was a cold day again, and Draco had lit the fire in an attempt to bring a little warmth to the library. He had read and dismissed the Grimoire, and was now trying to remember a conversation he'd had with his father, the summer before he went to Hogwarts. It had been something about curses, and the delicious cruelty of the one which drove your enemy to madness. Draco shivered: it was not a pleasant memory to relive. After a while, he gave up trying. It wasn't helping. Instead, he started going back over his notes. He did this at least once every day, trying to make sense of his research so far. In a detached sort of way he could recognise that his desire to research was approaching the level of an obsession; there was something frightening about his insistence in pursuing these endless dead ends. But he couldn't stop, because each time he thought about doing so, Potter would appear, sad and mournful in his silence, the light from the windows just showing through him.

When Draco closed his eyes, he saw black eyelashes and a blue top. He saw lost eyes, and every time it made him hurt a little more.

*

After another week of research, Draco found that he hardly thought about the outside world. He was barely eating, and his sleep had become broken. He woke some mornings, shaking with confusion after dreaming of the figure of Potter, just standing there silent, no matter how Draco raged or cried at him.

It took the flowing movements and concentration of yoga to bring a semblance of calm back to Draco. While his mind was blank, everything was fine, but as soon as he began thinking again, inevitably it was Potter who sprang to mind, along with a creeping, corrosive, sense of frustration. He didn't know whether to feel anger or sorrow, moving between the two with the fickleness of the spring winds outside. On a morning when thick clouds moved at speed in the sky, Draco decided not to go to the library to continue with his research, choosing instead to wander the empty halls and rooms of the Manor.

He was glad when a clatter at the window drew his attention, mid-morning: it was a small post owl, bearing a note asking for his urgent attention. He hadn't worked since helping Luke, and he needed a distraction. Within five minutes Draco was dressed in respectable robes, and stepping into the Floo.

Malevolent wizarding ghosts were very different to trapped Muggle ghosts; for a Peacebringer to be called, things needed to be pretty bad. His heart began to race in anticipation of the challenge, and Draco was forced to take a few deep breaths, trying to bring back his sense of professional calm.

"Thank you for coming so quickly, Mr Malfoy," said Mr Peat, the small, wizened wizard standing beside the dining table. Wispy grey hair stuck out at all angles beneath his wizarding hat, and his skin was extremely pale, whether from age or fright, Draco couldn't tell.

"How can I help you, Mr Peat? I understand that this is an urgent matter."

Mr Peat nodded. "It is. I've been sorting through a room, clearing it, you know, for my grandson to stay in. His parents have gone away for work, and he comes back from Hogwarts soon. I just wanted him to be able to come home to family. Anyway, I decided to move the wardrobe, which has been there ever since I can remember. It took a while to budge, but as soon as I had moved it—" he broke off and his eyes began to fill with tears. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "When I moved it, I heard a wailing. No, more a screaming. It was like someone running their nails down a blackboard. I... I thought that it was a Banshee, that after all this time it would be a Banshee that would finish me off." He paused, and put a hand over his mouth, obviously distressed.

"But it wasn't a Banshee," Draco said, softly.

"No," the old man whispered. "But it's nearly as bad. I think... I'd heard family stories, as you do. A long time ago, someone was wronged, a woman. Her father killed her lover. Then he shut her up in her room, and she died too - whether by his hand, or her own, or just of a broken heart, none could tell. But she haunted her father, until he was driven near to madness, Then one day she disappeared, but now... now I think he trapped her ghost somehow. And—" he wrung his hands. "I think you just need to see this for yourself. I can't have a boy staying with me, not if she's here."

"Mr Peat," Draco said, using his name to anchor him back in the room where they stood. "In a minute, I'm going to go upstairs to see what I can do, okay? But first, I need you to know that I can't offer you any guarantees, but that I will try my best. It might be over quickly, or it could take days, with little change by the end. Do you understand?" Mr Peat nodded vigorously. "Very well. Show me the way."

Ducking under a low beam, Draco entered the room. It was a small room, with a dormer window overlooking the garden, and he could see how it could make a good child's room. The effect was somehow marred though, by the rather grisly sight of a woman's ghost, her hair neatly pinned behind her head, and dark blood dripping down long sleeves onto her floor-length skirts. But most noticeable of all was the loud, wailing cry. Draco listened for a few minutes, standing just inside the door way. Eventually he could make out the words. She was cursing her father and lamenting her lost love.

He knew what he needed to do, but a rush of sadness rose from deep within him as he listened to her words, and he froze, the unexpected emotion throwing him from his routine response. He was suddenly certain that he couldn't do this alone. Stumbling, he left the room, seeking Mr Peat and his Floo connection. Luckily Luna was at home and stepped through straight away. She had just given Draco one long, appraising look before nodding and agreeing to help, and she acted as if it was perfectly normal to be called in.

"Some jobs just require two of us," she had explained to Mr Peat. "I've worked with Mr Malfoy several times before."

The second time Draco made his way up the steep and narrow stairs, Luna followed him. He pushed open the door and was greeted by the same terrible noise as before. He and Luna stood and listened, until the ghost finally noticed them, a look of anger crossing her face.

Quietly, Luna asked for her story. The ghost looked them both up and down then turned her back to them, and continued her wailing.

In a voice so quiet that it was almost a whisper, Draco told what little of her story that he knew. After the first time, he started again from the beginning. After the third time, she had stopped screaming. The fourth time, she told it herself.

Luna glanced over at Draco, her look laced with both approval and bewilderment. He could see her question clearly: why had he asked for her help, when he was clearly dealing with this job absolutely fine? He gave her a little shrug and she looked away.

The story the ghost told was an old one that Draco had heard before; the same old jealousies and possessiveness ruining someone's chance for happiness. He listened carefully, not wanting to miss any detail. When she had finished, the details built up in his mind, so much pain and loss, and the sadness of it all brought tears to his eyes. A silence grew, until Luna, with a slight shake of her head at Draco's refusal to continue, spoke.

"Thank you, for sharing the tale of your death with us. But now I would like to hear the tale of your life, if I may?" she asked, and the ghost looked at her with surprise.

"Have I not just done so?" she said, and Luna shook her head.

"No, you have not. Tell me of your life, your love, tell me of what made you smile," she said. And so they learned her name, Agnes, and heard about her Robert, and their love. There was tenderness in the words she spoke, and also great sadness. There was an everyday beauty to the details of her life, and Draco was sure that this was the first time they had been remembered since she had died. He could not look at her when she spoke, as something twisted in pain inside him. He felt it pulling at his edges, until it took all his concentration just to remain still.

A minute later, he knew he couldn't stay, and he turned and mumbled an apology to Luna before fleeing. He ran down the stairs, past a startled Mr Peat in his little sitting room, not stopping until he was back home.

When Draco stepped back through the Floo, to the calm and open spaces of the Manor, he almost immediately turned and threw up. Spinks and Spungen were there in seconds, vanishing the vomit and fussing over Draco. He shoed them away, not wanting to have to speak to anyone, and sank into the nearest chair. He put his head in his hands, entirely unbalanced, his insides still churning.

A while later – ten minutes, an hour, he couldn't tell – Luna came through the Floo. Her eyes were flashing with a rage he hadn't seen in years. Draco bowed his head: he didn't want to have to face this, not now.

"What was that about, Draco?" she said, her voice rising steadily with anger. He could see the strain he'd placed her under, containing her confusion whilst finishing the job. "I can't believe you were so unprofessional! What's wrong with you? It was really difficult to explain to a scared old man why you had run past him like that! He thought the ghost had harmed you, or me, and he came upstairs to check on me! He looked near enough ready to die from fright."

"Did you bring peace to the ghost, to Agnes?" asked Draco in a flat voice.

"What? Yes, in a way. She's trapped in the house alright – her father must have been a right bastard to use the Dark magic he did – a decent curse breaker might be able to help, but in the end Mr Peat talked to her, they decided to try living together. I think he was secretly proud to have a family ghost," she rolled her eyes. "But don't think you can get out of this that easily, Draco Malfoy." Luna planted her hands on her hips and stared at him.

"I—" he stopped. Where were the words? None of them felt right, and he couldn't speak. He ran a hand through his hair. He felt tired, so tired. "I don't know. I just.. I couldn't listen anymore. I just– I listen to everyone's stories, I listen to every word. But who listens to mine? My life, it's... it's like this house," he looked up at Luna. "It's empty. The ghosts are more alive than me." The ghosts are more alive than Potter, too, he thought, thinking of Potter's blank, silent presence.

"Draco," she said softly, "with all respect, that's a load of tosh. You have friends who care about you deeply, you have all the resources of your training to fall back on – we're the lucky ones who have talked about our lives, told our stories. How could I be standing here otherwise?" Draco gulped at this reference to her imprisonment here: it was something they didn't discuss anymore.

"I just feel so... alone," he whispered.

"Draco!" she snapped. Her sharpness was unusual for her and he felt disorientated by it. But he could see how it was driven by concern. "This doesn't sound like you. What's changed?" Draco watched as realisation flashed across her face. "This has something to do with you seeing Harry, doesn't it?"

"I don't know," he said, as honestly as he could.

"Look, you need to sort out whatever's at the root of this. And until you do, Draco, I don't think that you should work." She frowned, and then her body sagged slightly, as if in defeat. "You can send your jobs onto me, I'll fit them in somehow."

"Thank you."

"I'm doing it because I'm a friend, and I care," she said, gently. "But please, Draco, you need to find your own peace in all this."

Draco nodded. They had heard it enough times during training to know that you had to have your own peace to bring it to others; he had thought that he had found it. After she left, Draco somehow made his way up to his room, unable to think about it anymore.

Standing under a hot shower, Draco washed away the damp closeness of Mr Peat's low-beamed house, and he washed away the anger and betrayal he'd seen in Luna's eyes. The heat warmed and soothed him, until he was ready to step out, his mind and body weary but less tense.

As he wrapped a towel around himself, Draco glanced in the mirror and saw Potter. He spun around, but Potter had gone, whether vanished or run away, he didn't know and he didn't care. He was in no mood to face him.

The wind was blowing enough to sing down the chimney. Draco listened to it, and watched the trees outside sway in the dark of the evening. He turned back to his room, determined to make sense of his feelings. He closed his eyes and began his ten steps to calm, as he had been taught, but the breath caught in his chest, until he was gasping. Draco began to cry, but he couldn't say for what or for whom. It just tore at him, each sob ripped from him, until he fell asleep on his bed, curled up and alone.

*

The next day Draco woke feeling exhausted. Potter, of course, was watching him from the end of the bed. Draco closed his eyes again: what he really wanted was a day off from this madness, but it didn't appear that he was going to get one.

When he looked out at the ice-grey of lawns touched by a late frost, Draco felt a sadness settle about him, as if the day had thrown a mantle of it, along with the cold, over his shoulders. He walked away from the bleak view, and from Potter, seeking out the warmth of the kitchens instead for breakfast. Ignoring Spinks, he fixed himself one of the few things he knew to make: a steaming bowl of hot chocolate. He mother had made it for him, a special treat and a secret between the two of them, and the feel of the chipped blue bowl in his hands always made him smile.

After having his breakfast in the dark but homely basement room, Draco returned upstairs to his customary spot in the Morning room. He wasn't too surprised to find Potter there, as if waiting for him. They regarded each other in silence.

"I—" said Draco, but Potter turned away. Draco just didn't have the energy to try again, so he set about his normal morning meditation. The sense of peace he gained was a balm for his sadness and for the still-brittle state of his emotions in general. He was confused, and he wanted to understand. He sat on the floor, his hands running over the gentle bumps of the rug, and for a moment he remembered doing this as a child, whilst sitting at his mother's feet by the fire. A lump rose to his throat, but he could accept the sadness.

Carefully, he tried to pick through how he'd been feeling. He was quiet for a long time, as he thought. Finally he looked up, at Potter standing by the window, the light from outside gently diffused through his body.

"I can't stand this," he said to the back of Potter's head. "At first I thought that it was the uncertainty, the not knowing what had happened to you. And that does worry me, it does. But it's something else, I think, which has unbalanced me." He stopped, and traced with his eyes the broadness of the shoulders, the hang of the fabric across them, the hair in its ruffled mess.

"This isn't you. Whether you're here or it's in my mind, or whether you're dead or alive, this isn't you. Where's your fire? I spent years antagonising you, getting under your skin. I used to relish my ability to make you lose control. You made me so angry that I couldn't see, sometimes. And now—" Draco stopped, and covered his face with hands.

"And now," he whispered, "I can't bear this, this flatness. Sometimes I see a hint of the boy I knew, but mostly you– you're empty. And it's like a slow torture to see you like this. And then in the dark of the night, when I can't sleep, all I can think is what if he never leaves me? What if I have to spend the rest of my life with you, passive and silent, by my side? I see you watching me, and I want to believe that it's you, I do, but then I remember that if it is you, it means that you're probably... gone. And I'll never have the chance to tell you—" he looked up. Potter had turned and was facing him again. And his eyes, his eyes! They were a sea at storm, churning and alive and dangerous, ready to suck him under. Doubt rose in Draco, flooding him with confusion: one minute Potter seemed so lifeless, and the next he looked like this! It was all too much for him to understand.

He was still staring as Potter faded from view. And then Draco didn't know what would be worse: Potter never leaving, or never seeing Potter again. It was the latter, not the former, which filled Draco with the greater sense of dread, and he shied away from thinking about what that might mean.

*

A few days later, Draco got a taste of just what Potter's absence felt like. A whole day, and then a whole night, passed by without Potter appearing. At first, he had enjoyed eating his breakfast without an audience, and going about his day without Potter interrupting. By the afternoon though, he was checking by the window every few minutes, and his skin itched with the cycle of expectation and disappointment in not seeing him there each time. It was a bright and clear day, and Draco went for a bracing walk in the grounds of the Manor, as far as the gate and back. Everything was poised between the dead of winter and the coming explosion of life in spring. He paused by the narcissi spread in one corner, the delicate flowers and their light scent reminding him of his mother as much as their name. A cool wind blew through the trees and right through Draco's cloak, leaving him cold, and hollow.

When he got back to the hushed halls and rooms inside the feeling of emptiness was overwhelming. Theories of what could have happened filled him with hope, and then despair. Could Potter have broken free? Was he dead? Draco tried to do more research, but the words swam across the page, black marks which could have meant anything. Draco put down his book and stared at the shadows cast across the room. His thoughts overwhelmed him until his mind shut down a little, and he sat without thinking beyond wordless panic until Spungen announced dinner was ready, and then he barely touched the food on his plate.

That night, he woke several times, each time from a dream of being invisible, or trapped, or just of Potter, standing by the window.

By morning he felt as if he was falling, and he didn't know if he'd ever be able to get back up again. He went through the motions of his meditation, but it only brought a kind of sad peace. Something had been lost, he knew it.

"I don't know why I care," Draco whispered, into the empty room. There was no answer, and nobody heard him. He was sitting on the window seat, near where Potter usually stood.

"Or maybe I do know. Pansy... she tried to tell me. You always did get me riled up, Potter. Harry," he whispered. "I wished I could call you Harry, like your friends did. I wanted what you had, everyone looking at you like you were the answer to all their problems – which you were of course – but also that confidence in being yourself. And friends who cared so deeply for you. And then my life became so miserable, and when the Snatchers brought you here I didn't want you to be found, to be hurt. I know I fired off curses when you fled, but I wasn't intending to hit you. I– I've always thought it was proof that I wasn't cut out to be a Death Eater, proof that I wasn't like my father. But now... now I think that I just wanted a chance to get to know you. I was fascinated by you. No one else has ever had that effect on me." He paused, as a long, shuddering sob worked up through him. "I just wanted to have the chance to call you Harry. I've made my peace with so much of my life. I know I'm not who I thought I was, back then, and I am happy with how I live my life. But, it's been... my one regret: never getting to know you properly. It's been the one thing I can't let go of. I won't let go of," Draco sniffed, and looked up at the misty morning. Even from where he was he could make out the small bumps of buds lining the trees, ready to burst forth for spring.

"And you've been here, in my life every day for weeks, and I'm still frightened enough of how I feel that I call you Potter. Merlin, I am pathetic. And I don't know what's happened to you, but this can't go on: I'll go mad. I think that I need to let you go. I need to accept that you'll never be my friend. I'll never get to be Draco to you."

He stared out of the window for a long time, watching as a mist of rain swallowed the hills and then the trees. He felt empty, as if he had let go of all emotion along with his attachment to Potter– Harry. He should accept now what he had wanted for so many years: to call him by his given name. Harry. Some detached part of himself knew that this was his last step to self-awareness, that he could lead a more peaceful life if he could accept how important Harry Potter had been in his life. But he didn't want to let go. He turned back towards the room, and Harry was there, as if Draco had called him.

"Harry—" he said, but couldn't find the words to continue. Harry's figure blurred as tears filled Draco's eyes; Harry just watched him, impassive, his eyes a mystery. Draco's thoughts filled the quiet of the room, as he realised with a crushing sadness that he would never be able to find peace or let go while Harry continued to appear before him in this way. Harry was not here physically, and Draco needed to do what he'd spent the past few years training to do: he needed to help Harry move on. For both their sakes.

With a heavy heart, and checking every few paces that Harry was still with him, Draco made his way to the library, to pick up his neglected research.

*

Draco didn't even notice, at first, not until Spinks touched his arm.

"Yes?" he snapped, annoyed at being interrupted. "I told you to send all work owls onto Luna." Spinks cleared his throat.

"Hermione Granger is here, Master Draco," he announced. Draco spun round in his chair, to see Granger standing back, a look of fury on her face. She was half hopping from one foot to the other, and carrying some papers. She darted forward almost immediately, but stopped short when she caught sight of his face.

"Draco, you look terrible! Has something happened?"

"No, it's– I've—" he paused to take in a deep breath. "I've just been trying to find a way out of this. It isn't easy, being... haunted, like this."

"Haunted?" asked Granger, her voice rising and a crack of fear creeping in. "You don't think he's dead, do you?"

"Honestly? I don't know," said Draco. "I think we have to accept that he might be. I... I'm not sure, but he could be. I've been looking into it, and if his body has been trapped, magically, it could explain why he isn't quite a ghost. Maybe."

"Oh," she said, and stumbled backwards to sit on a chair. "I wasn't expecting that," she said softly.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Maybe I should have said that a bit more... gently. I know that you care about Harry too."

"Harry? Too?" she asked, the surprise in her voice clear.

Draco sighed. "I don't know how much is just his presence here, every day, and how much is that he's always been important, but yes, Harry, too." He shrugged and looked away, embarrassed by this confession. After a moment Granger leant forward and touched his arm, and he looked back at her.

"It's ok," she said, and her eyes were warm, if sad, when she smiled at him.

"Why are you here, Granger?" he asked.

"It's Hermione, Draco, as well you know," she said, and then some of the anger he'd seen on her face before returned. "And I'm here because of this!" she said, and she slammed a copy the Prophet down on the desk in front of him. Draco picked it up, and his mouth went dry as he read the headline and first few lines of the lead article on the front page.

HAS HARRY POTTER ABANDONED US?

Concern has been mounting about the disappearance of Potter, 23, but now senior investigators for the DMLE are hinting that their search may be scaled back. "He took his wand," said one anonymous source, "and there is no evidence of any foul play." Potter has lived in the public eye ever since his 1998 vanquishing of Tom Riddle, ending the Dark wizard's second reign of terror. According to Archibald Wilderhorn, author of 'Harry Potter: The Lightning Years', he has "never liked the attention, and we mustn't forget that he is a powerful wizard: if he wanted to disappear, no one would find him unless he wanted to be found. I think it's clear that he doesn't want to be found."

"They're just giving up?" Draco asked, incredulous at how easily the wizarding world could let go of their hero.

"Yes," she said. "Between you and me, they've decided that he's been unbalanced for a while, and that as he took his wand it means that he's just taken himself away somewhere. A 'holiday'," she sighed. "Ron told me that they think that it's a waste of Ministry resources to keep looking for a wizard who doesn't want to be found."

"But you're here," said Draco. "You think something's happened to him," he said, and it wasn't a question.

She nodded, her face drawing up into a worried frown. "I saw Harry, before he disappeared. He wasn't running away, he wasn't. He's never run away from anything: it's just not what he does. And even if he did, he wouldn't run away without telling me and Ron." There were tears in her eyes as she finished. "Please, Draco, whatever's happened to him, I think you can help."

"I don't know if I can, it's not like I've been able to do anything so far," Draco said.

"But if he's..."

"Then yes, if I find him, I will help," Draco said, knowing as he spoke that he meant these words, more than he had meant any others in his life.

"Thank you," she said.

Draco shook his head. "Don't thank me yet, I don't know where Harry is, what's happened to him, or if I can help. And there's still the chance that I'm going mad and he has just gone off somewhere."

"No, I don't believe that. And neither do you," she said, and Draco felt something burn, deep down. Was this what it felt to be part of this group? To have their trust?

"Thank you for having faith in me, Hermione," he said. She tilted her chin up, and he got a hint of steel from her.

"It's Harry I have faith in," she said. Draco felt himself shake at her words: perhaps he didn't have her trust after all. But suddenly he wanted it, he wanted to be part of this world.

"Just so long as you know that he might need to... move on. You know that's what I do, right?"

"I know," she said, a little tearfully. "I don't want him trapped or suffering. I know that you'll help him."

"Yes, of course I will," Draco said. "If I can."

Long after she had gone, he thought about what he wanted, who he really had been all these years. Maybe he had just been a jealous little boy, stamping on the thing he could never have. Well he'd grown up now, and he'd prove it by trying to help Harry, and then by letting him go, one way or another,

*

"They've given up looking for you, you know," Draco muttered, glancing up at Harry. Occasionally, he did wonder just what it meant for his sanity, talking to this maybe-ghost who never answered, but the silence just grew too much for him when he said nothing. "I haven't though," he muttered. Hermione had been back again to see him, a few days later, this time dropping off the full Auror file, which Ron managed to access and copy for him. He was going through it, looking for some detail, some clue, which might help him find Harry.

As his eyes ran down the pages, Draco stopped at the list of books on Harry's desk. He didn't have a copy of Hidden Desires and Lost Magic, and he quickly penned an owl to Hermione asking if she could get him a copy. While he was waiting for her reply he went through his notes for Olde and Forgotten Enchantments, as well as leafing through his copy of Sites of Historical Sorcery. A pattern was beginning to emerge, and what it might mean terrified Draco: it looked like Harry had been dabbling in an arcane version of Necromancy, so old it wasn't covered in most modern descriptions, in which the space between living and dying was explored. In Draco's experience, it wasn't somewhere anyone should choose to go. Too long there and the world of the living ceased to have the same... hold over you. He'd freed enough ghosts to know that.

When Ptolemy returned with Hermione's reply, Draco almost ripped it in his eagerness to find out if she could get him a copy of Hidden Desires. As he read her suggestion, he nearly fell off his chair in surprise.

"It looks like I'm going to see your home now, Harry," he said. "And Hermione's your Secret Keeper? Really? Hardly original," he said. He read the note once more, then wrote a short response and sent it back with his owl. Draco began to collect his papers together, but then he stopped, his head sinking down into his hands. After a moment he turned to look at Harry, standing by the window as usual. "I– I don't know what I'll find, if anything. But—" The words stopped in his throat.

Draco pushed back from his desk, then, before he could change his mind, stood and crossed the room to where Harry was watching him. "I'm going to try my best," he whispered. He reached out as if to touch Harry, but his hand just passed through empty air. "If I find– I– I'll be sad to see you go. But you need to move on," he said. Draco stepped back. His eye roamed over Harry's face, taking in how his hair was still as wild as ever, his lips a flat line of neither happiness nor sadness. Only his eyes stared back: as usual Draco couldn't work out if Harry was trying to tell him something, or if he was holding something back. Or, perhaps, if he wasn't quite there. Draco longed to remove the famous glasses, and really look at them. He wanted to understand their mysteries, and besides, there was always a hint of danger about them, and it made Draco shiver. How had he never noticed Harry's eyes before? Now they felt like their only connection, and he saw them in his sleep, watching him.

The sound of the Floo flaring into life startled him, and Draco turned in time to see Hermione stepping through.

"Are you ready?" she asked, and Draco looked once more at Harry.

"Yes, yes I am," he said, and he hurried to pick up his papers. As he grasped her hand, ready to Apparate away, his eyes found Harry again. "Goodbye," he whispered, and then with a spin and a lurch they were standing in a cold London street, looking up at a row of tall and narrow houses.

*

It was strange, sitting at Harry's desk, knowing that it was his room, yet feeling it devoid of his presence. The room felt empty. Draco took a minute to clear his mind – he didn't want to miss a single detail – then he opened the book.

Hermione had gone to fetch them both a drink when he found it. An opening to the peace not of the dead, nor the living: to soothe the weary and clear the mind. Reading through the instructions, Draco felt a sense of foreboding: for an innocent-sounding title, there was a lot of Dark magic tied to this spell. Looking back at the book's title, Hidden Desires and Lost Magic, Draco decided that there was a reason some desires stayed hidden, and that some magic was lost.

The spell moved in layers, so that you were neither living, nor dead. It sounded as if it would give you a respite from the physical world, and a space to find peace. Yet it was clear to Draco that in order to do this you would need to be ripped from this world, and the instructions for returning were vague at best. And worst of all, as with much of this old, elemental magic, there was a price to pay. This wasn't written in any kind of a warning, but Draco could see it nonetheless: he didn't know what price Harry had paid, but whatever it was would not have been something small, or trifling. And the longer he stayed there, the more his mind broke with the world of the living, the more chance that if Draco found him it would be too late: only his body would return to this world. It if had got to that point already – if it had then Draco would at least also be able to move Harry's spirit on. It would be easier without the spiritual and physical worlds being so messily combined.

Rereading the Auror reports, Draco decided that perhaps Potter had tried this here, before he had a chance to owl out his letters. He drew his wand out, and began to trace a series of angular shapes in the air, while muttering the words to the spells. This was advanced spell-work, a combination of necromancy and charm work. A net of yellow light began to spread out from his wand, twisting and turning as it opened across the room. The door opened, and Hermione stood back, her eyes alight with interest. She kept quiet, which was fortunate as Draco needed to maintain his concentration, and keep up with each new incantation. Thin lines of golden light curled around the furniture and out into the spaces of the room, until they began to converge near the window. Finally, Draco lowered his wand, and they all faded within seconds. He was sweating when he turned to face Hermione.

"There is a body, hidden here," he said, and she stumbled back, her face draining of all colour. Tea sloshed from the cups she was holding, but she didn't seem to notice, even as it splashed her hands.

"A body? Where? Does this means he's—"

"It's trapped between dimensions, there, at the window," Draco said, and he pointed to the window nearest the desk. He knew he hadn't answered her question – he couldn't, he didn't want to say the words aloud. "He always appears near the window," he added, in a horrified whisper.

"He's been here all the time?" she asked.

Draco nodded. "I think I can bring him back, here. But it's not easy. Or strictly legal."

"I don't care," said Hermione.

"I'm going to need a minute," Draco said. "That was quite draining." Hermione handed him one of the cups of tea. It was hot, and he drank it slowly. All the time, he was aware of her watching him, as she perched on the edge of the desk and drank her own.

"What made you decide to do that spell?" she asked. Draco pointed at the book. She put her own mug down and turned to look through it, her eyes flicking up to the window first.

"Peace?" she said. "Soothe your pain?" she shook her head, "Oh, Harry." As she read on the line between her eyes deepened. When she had finished Hermione took a deep breath and pushed the book away from her. "I don't understand. This just sounds like it will give him a little space, help him clear his mind, work out what he wants in life."

Draco shook his head, and pointed back at the text. "Maybe it's because I've studied this general field pretty extensively, but basically this involves a sort of reverse necromancy: you remove your body from this dimension, and return is hard. It– it must be a brutal process, and this spell suggests that there is a heavy price to pay. And then... If you get there, your bonds to the living would fade, until... even if you did return to the the physical world, your mind would be long since departed," he said, the words leaving dark ripples in the room. Hermione's face had closed in the more Draco explained, and he felt his own swell of anger grow, but it was Hermione who burst with rage first.

"The idiot! Of all the stupid, selfish things to do! I think the Aurors were right, he was unbalanced. How could he do something so risky? How could he hide this from me? I mean, I knew he was sad, but to want to escape like this?" her face fell and she began to cry. "Oh, Harry."

"I'd class it as a curse," Draco said gently. "It is dressed up to tempt. Who doesn't want peace?" He sat with her a while, but then gently touched her arm. "Hermione, I'm ready now. I need to clear the room though – do you think you could stand in the corridor, like before?" She wiped her eyes and nodded. "I need to meditate first: it's important that I have a mind free from distraction. Would you like to join me? It may help you a little," he offered. And so he led them through a simple visualisation, until their breathing was even and their bodies calm. He created a simple box with his words, free of worry, free of fear, and they rested there awhile. When he finished, she thanked him quietly and went to stand just outside the room, and Draco knew that it was time to retrieve Harry's body, whether or not it meant Harry too.

He began by laying a series of warding spells around the room: he didn't want this to spread beyond it. Then he closed his eyes and called up the clearest image of Harry he could. He pictured the slightly plump curve of his lips, the dark hair, the eyelashes half hidden behind the glasses. He saw the familiar two blue tops and the old jeans, the way he stood with his shoulders straight and his legs just slightly apart. And then he began to recite a spell to break the bonds between the worlds, weaving in another to pull the living back, to unite flesh with the physical world.

The room seemed almost to vibrate as Draco felt his arm begin to tremble at the magic flowing through it. He kept his grip firm and his voice steady, remembering to breathe enough to stop his head from spinning. The air was acrid with the metallic taste of the magic, and close with its heat. He felt as his magic reached out, invisible at first, but then forming a silver mist by the window. As he kept chanting, the picture of Harry bright in his mind, so did the mist coalesce into the form of a man. Draco closed his eyes again, reaching deep down to his innermost reserves and calling up the last of his magic. At this point, he knew he was in danger of leaving a tear open, or of being sucked in and lost himself. He fell to his knees but kept chanting, and forced his eyes open in time to see Harry, solid, back in the world of flesh, and suspended in the air in front of him, his wand still clutched in his hand. Draco finally ended the spell, and both he and Harry fell to the floor.

Although Draco had collapsed, he was still just aware of what was happening in the room. He watched through half-closed eyes as Hermione ran in, dropping to the floor to cradle Harry in her arms. He saw Harry's eyes open, and a groan escape his lips, and only then did Draco finally succumb to the darkness and the relief of unconsciousness.

*

HARRY POTTER RETURNS, BUT MYSTERY REMAINS!

Questions about the whereabouts of Harry Potter, hero of the Battle of Hogwarts, during the past two months may never be fully answered, but one thing is clear: he's back. Potter is currently a patient at St Mungo's, having experienced unspecified 'significant spell-damage.' DMLE spokesman, Auror Ronald Weasley confirmed that no charges have been brought against any parties, and that there is, at this time, no criminal case to pursue.

There are already several theories of where Potter has been: on a secret mission perhaps, or travelling in distant climes. Where ever he has been, the thoughts of most are wishing him a full recovery.

*

His tea had grown cold, but Draco pushed it aside, to reread the Prophet and Hermione's terse note again. 'Harry doing as well as can be expected. We have kept you out of the press as you requested, thank you again for your help. HG.' Without thinking, he looked up at the window for the familiar silhouette, but of course there was no one there.

He had fled before Hermione had even taken Harry to St Mungo's: he knew what kind of reception he would have received, whatever Hermione said. He tried to believe that somehow Harry would be ok, and he held onto the memory of him moving, making a noise, as a sign that he had retained enough of a connection to this world to return to living in it. A deep, sickening sense of guilt tugged at his guts: he should have worked out what had happened sooner. If Harry had been lost forever—

Draco tried to calm himself. This line of thought never ended well, and Luna had already berated him for blaming himself. She was more angry than Draco had ever seen her, but not with him, with Harry. "He could have asked me about that spell. He knows what my job is," she'd said, and Draco had remembered Weasley calling Harry a 'stubborn git'. Luna was still taking on extra jobs to cover for him, and had been round in fact to try to get Draco working again. But so far Draco had refused, still too raw after the past few weeks.

Instead of working, Draco tried to rebuild his peace with the Manor, deciding that he would need to regain his equilibrium before he could work again anyway, but this time he found the memories of Harry harder to manage than those of Riddle, or his father. It just seemed that everywhere Draco went, he saw Harry. If he had doubted his sanity before, now that he knew that Harry was gone it made it even worse. Rationally he knew that Harry wasn't there, that he saw nothing, but the memories were so strong they were almost a presence of their own. Except that in the end, no amount of wishful thinking made the rooms feel any less dull and empty.

*

Outside, the weather was warming and spring was in the air, but Draco didn't notice, even as he sat on the window seat looking out. He just saw the blank emptiness of the sky, stretching away beyond the grass and hills and trees.

"Draco," said Pansy. "I'm sorry. You were right, you really were seeing him, weren't you?" Draco nodded. "And him being back, that's something to do with you too, isn't it?" she pressed.

"Yes, Pansy. But... it doesn't matter anymore," he said, his eyes still staring, unseeing, at the bright day.

"Merlin, Draco, you're even more melodramatic than before!" said Pansy. He didn't respond. "Draco, darling, at least turn round and look at me," she said softly.

"Pansy, you were right," Draco whispered. "You were right." he still hadn't turned round, so she walked to where he sat, and rested her hand on his shoulder. He turned enough to let her embrace him, and she kissed him on the top of his head.

"It took you long enough, you silly boy," she said. "So what are you going to do about it?" But Draco just shook his head, and she hugged him closer. He leant into the warmth, and allowed himself to wallow for a moment in despair. He did care about Harry, he knew that now, but what could he do? Harry had ended up here at the Manor by accident, and probably remembered nothing of what had happened here. It was better if he didn't, because he needed his ties to be to his physical life, not the time he'd spent as a silent spirit. And how could Draco ever approach him now? It would be morbid of Harry to want to know him.

Pansy stroked his hair, and Draco cried, for what wasn't, and what couldn't be.

*

The days had lost their winter chill, but Draco still felt cold, and lit the fire anyway. He was curled up in an armchair, a blanket wrapped round his shoulders and a steaming mug of hot chocolate in his hands. He watched the flames fall and rise, and sighed, as he felt the pull of stress tug him away from any sense of calm; he was struggling to find peace through meditation, and sleep was eluding him. It was late, his eyes hot and sore, his body weary, but he knew he had many hours ahead of him before he would find rest. The sound of someone approaching roused him from his thoughts. He groaned.

"Pansy, actually, I think I'd rather be alone right now," he said. "You've been great but—"

"I'm not Pansy."

Draco looked up, and blinked as he saw the solid edges and sweat-dampened hair of Harry Potter. He was wearing a green hooded top, and the sight of it shocked Draco: he had seen him in the same blue top day in and day out for weeks, and anything else looked wrong.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shocked. "Are you... really here, or have I finally gone mad?" he added, cracks of despair tearing through his words. Harry looked down and shuffled his feet, but when he looked up Draco could see the faint flush to his cheeks, the rapid rise of his chest. His own heart started to race, at these small signs that Harry was alive, was here.

"I came to say thank you, for a start," said Harry, and his voice, soft and gentle, was a shock after the months of silence.

"Thank you?"

"Yes - you saved me," Harry said. Draco stayed quiet. "And not just by bringing me back. I think... I think I might have gone mad, being stuck like that, it you hadn't been there."

Draco stared back into his mug, then set it on the table beside him. He was lost in a swirling pit of darkness, yet somehow the thought that he had helped Harry shone bright. He knew, in a way, that he had saved people many times at work, but the ghosts never came back to say thank you. The ghosts never meant to him what Harry did.

"It hasn't been easy, coming back," whispered Harry. "No one understands. They're all either angry or a little... scared of me."

At this Draco looked up. The memory of his rage drove his words. "I don't blame them for being angry. How could you have been so foolish? What were you trying to achieve? You could have been lost, forever." The thought of that loss, of the loss of Harry still hurt. It burned.

Harry looked back down at his feet, and Draco watched his body sag. When he spoke, the words were so quiet that Draco had to strain to hear them.

"I just wanted to find peace again."

"But you didn't," said Draco.

"No," Harry said, shuddering. "Not the way I thought I would. But—" he stopped, and fixed his eyes on Draco. He took a deep breath, and crossed the room, not stopping until he was in front of Draco, and then he knelt, filling the space near Draco with warmth and flesh in a way which stole his breath away. "But... I wasn't alone. And you shouldn't be either." Draco fought to get his breath back, but his chest was so tight that he could only drag in the feeblest amount of air. These were impossible words, and his heart was racing from hearing them.

"What is this, pity?" he asked, bitterness seeping through, at the thought of the only likely explanation.

"No," said Harry, and he sighed. "I knew you would think it was," he said, and he reached up with his hand, touching Draco's cheek with the lightest of touches, just for a second. "I know you now, Draco Malfoy." He didn't want to be, but Draco felt himself trembling at the touch. After the weeks of the silent, not-quite-there Harry, this living, breathing man was a little overwhelming. Especially when he was so close.

"You? You know me?" Draco's voice shook, and despite himself he angled his face, offering it up somehow to Harry.

"Yes. I listened to everything you said," Harry whispered. Draco froze, and felt the blood drain from his face, as his stomach lurched.

"You– you could hear me?" he said.

"Yes, yes I could," said Harry.

There was just silence then. Thick and familiar, it wrapped around the two of them. But it wasn't enough: it never had been. Draco closed his eyes, overwhelmed.

"I can't. I can't talk to you right now. But... But I'm glad that you're ok," he whispered. "I.. I was so scared, the whole time. Scared that you were gone."

"I'm here," said Harry, and he touched Draco on the cheek again, while his other hand grabbed Draco's wrist. "I'm here, right now." Draco opened his eyes, and nothing was hidden as he stared at Harry. His face was open with fear and uncertainty.

"You never spoke," whispered Draco. "It was horrible. I– I spent years trying to gain your attention, and then when you were there, every day, it was if I was still invisible to you, somehow."

"I couldn't speak. I was cursed to silence. It... it was the price I had chosen to pay: I thought it wouldn't matter, where I was going. But I could listen, and I could see you. I loved watching you find your peace, sitting on the floor so calmly. You looked... beautiful."

Draco turned his head away at Harry's words. "You don't know me," he said, his words filled with pain. Harry moved his chin to make him face him.

"Yes, I do. At first, I didn't know why I was here, why I kept seeing you. But I had plenty of time to think about it." He gave a Draco a sad, sour little smile. "When I said that incantation aloud, I was hoping that it would lead to some kind of peace for me. But at the same time, I thought of you, sad, scared, and so alone, the day the Snatchers found me. I don't know why, but that was my last thought: your face, pale with terror."

Draco remembered: he suddenly saw that it had been the moment that he had realised, deep down, that Potter wasn't his, that he would be destroyed if he was caught. He'd made peace with his past by dwelling on his fear, his reluctance to join in, as a sign that he wasn't at heart a Death Eater, but he'd never really acknowledged what exactly had driven that fear.

"And then I was there, in nothingness, well not quite nothing because I was in my body, but it didn't belong there, and it was frozen, useless. Somehow I fought until my mind broke free and then I found myself here. It– it was exhausting, but it was better than being trapped. I—," he shuddered, a cold wave of pure horror passing through his body, "—I don't like being confined in tiny spaces. And then... you were here, and I wasn't alone. The more I saw of you, the more I heard you talk, the more I realised that you were the one person who'd understand." He stopped, and took a couple of deep breaths before continuing. "So yes, I know you. Watching you... it really was my only tie to this world. I held onto every little thing I saw."

"I—" began Draco. Hope and fear and old regrets flooded him, and he wasn't sure what would be washed away in their wake.

Harry touched his finger to Draco's lips.

"I know that when you are scared, you hide, in one way or another. When you have an idea your eyes light up. You love to sneak into the kitchen for hot chocolate, and you always make it yourself."

Draco was silent. Harry lifted his finger away, but Draco could still feel it on his lips; of course Harry's touch haunted him, hadn't everything else about him done so already? Slowly Draco started to talk. "I saw you," he said, his voice barely above a whisper, but Harry was so close, he knew he would hear. He touched Harry's hand lightly. "I saw you." Draco lifted a shaking finger, and traced Harry's face. "You looked so sad. The only part of you which ever spoke to me, and then, not always, were your eyes." Carefully, and with a courage he didn't really feel, Draco took Harry's glasses off, and put them to one side. Harry didn't move as Draco ran a finger across his eyes, just brushing the lids. "Such beautiful eyes. Like a storm at sea."

Harry brought his hand back to Draco's lips again, and they sat there, in front of the fire, just touching, tracing each other's faces. Each touch soothed another memory, another hurt, until their their heads moved closer, until their breath brushed the other's skin. They stopped, their foreheads still resting against each other, neither willing to relinquish the contact. Somehow Draco slid down off the armchair, Harry pulling him down, until they were both sat on the floor, their arms around each other.

Draco closed his eyes, his cheek resting on a rough warmth of stubble and jawbone. All the stress, all the pain of the past few months seemed to be coming loose. It was almost as if, staying here next to Harry, it could drift away entirely. Exhaustion overcame him, and his limbs felt like they were sinking into the floor. "Harry, I'm just so tired, so very tired," he said.

"I know," Harry said. "You can rest now. Sleep."

"You'll stay?" Draco asked, even as his eyes began to fall shut.

"For as long as I can," said Harry, and Draco wasn't sure if he imagined the kiss Harry left the top of his head as he added, "I'll be here."

*

When Draco woke, his body was stiff and uncomfortable, his neck at a strange angle and his arm trapped beneath him, yet at the same time he felt warm and safe. He opened his eyes to a room flooded with the pale light of morning. He turned his head and was greeted by the green, slightly myopic gaze of Harry Potter.

"You stayed," he said.

"I stayed," Harry answered, and smiled. Now that Draco wasn't collapsing with tiredness, he was aware that somehow Harry had ended up here, with him, and he smiled back.

Draco sat up and stretched, trying to pull the kinks out of his body. Harry rested his head on one hand and looked up at him. "Beautiful," he whispered, and Draco felt himself flush and was suddenly shy. He tried moving away, but the absence of Harry was worse than any embarrassment, and he shifted back, so that their legs were touching again.

"I don't want you to go yet," he said, without looking up. "I've seen you disappear too many times before."

"I won't disappear," said Harry. "I promise". He reached out and squeezed Draco's hand. "I think what you need now is a shower and some fresh clothes. And a shave." He paused. "I'll still be here when you finish."

Draco let out the breath he hadn't realised that he was holding. "Ok then," he whispered. He didn't want to go, but if Harry was still here when he got back, maybe he could. And he would feel better if he could wash and change. It took every ounce of self control, though, to walk out of the room, to walk away from Harry, but he did it. The shower was hot and steam filled the room, and as Draco stood beneath the stream of water, he felt the ache across his back begin to ease. For a minute or two his mind was empty of anything other than the wonderful feeling of his skin being pummelled by the water. Afterwards, as he got dressed, Draco realised that he must have had more sleep than he had in a long time: despite having spent the night in an awkward position, he felt better than he had in days.

Pushing open the door to the library, Draco couldn't help but look first to the window. It was empty, and he felt a corresponding hollowness at the lack of Harry. But this time he didn't stop there, and his eyes swept the room for some sign of Harry. He smiled when he saw a pair of feet peeking out from the side of one of the armchairs. Harry was curled up with a book, asleep.

Draco called for some coffee and toast, and settled into the opposite armchair. He watched Harry sleep, marvelling at how different he looked like this, how quiet, how calm. When Harry was awake there was something about him, some force which kept him moving all the time. Even when he stood still, you could see it in the way he looked ready to spring away, and in the way his eyes were always so alive.

After about half an hour, Harry woke and gave Draco a sheepish smile, then yawned.

"Sorry, I didn't sleep quite as much as you did, last night. I had quite a lot to think about." Draco remembered how Harry had held him all night, and he didn't quite know what to do about the surge of comfort he felt at the memory.

"Thank you, for staying," Draco said. "Last night, and while I was washing. Can—" he broke off, not wanting to have to ask for more. He knew he still needed Harry, he wanted him to stay, but he couldn't take him away from his life forever: the curse had done that for long enough already. So instead of asking Harry to stay, he poured him a cup of coffee, his hand hovering over the sugar bowl, in question. Harry shook his head, and Draco passed over the black coffee in approval: it was the best way to enjoy coffee, in his opinion.

They talked quietly all morning, then ate lunch together. Afterwards they went for a walk through the grounds of the Manor.

Harry paused by the group of trees behind the Manor, running his hands along the rough bark.

"I used to look at these trees every day," said Harry. "I was checking."

"Checking?"

"To make sure that it was real, seeing you, being in the Manor. I was waiting for the leaves to come." He reached up and touched a thin green leaf, new and fragile.

"Harry," said Draco, his heart aching in memory of those cold days of despair.

"I know," said Harry. "It was... I sometimes thought it would be almost better to give up trying, and just lose myself to... whatever that place was." Draco inhaled sharply. "But anytime I thought that, I would see you, and... it made it bearable. I... I began to learn you." Draco stayed silent. "I don't think I've ever got to know someone like that before. And I certainly never knew you, I can see that now."

They stood a while and listened to the birds singing in the trees.

"I know you can't stay here forever," said Draco. "But thank you for coming back, for seeing me again. I think... I think it's helped, just to be able to talk to you."

Harry looked at him without talking for a long moment, and despite the birds and the trees Draco felt a shiver at the memory of the many silent looks which had gone before. This one was just as unreadable, Harry's eyes hidden behind his glasses again. Draco wished for one more chance to see them without obstruction, but that moment had passed.

"It's helped me too. I.. I'd like to come back again if I may?" said Harry. "I think that maybe we could be friends. And I'm sure," Harry added with a sigh, "that I'll have more questions to ask. I can't really talk about any of this with anyone else."

"Not even Luna?" asked Draco, softly. Harry shrugged, and looked uncomfortable.

"Maybe, but you were there, you understand what it was like."

Draco nodded. He knew what Harry meant: no one else really knew what the past few months had been like. They continued their walk, talking quietly, and returning to the Manor for a hot chocolate, before Harry made his excuses and left. Once he was gone, Draco sat alone in the library again, but feeling much lighter than before.

*

The whistling sound grew in volume until Luna and Draco's voices were all but drowned out by it, but neither stopped until, with a final whirl of air twisting the dust up into the room, everything fell silent. They turned to each other and smiled, their breath coming harder and faster than normal.

"Thanks for your help," said Luna, her face bright as she grinned.

"Thank you for asking me," said Draco. "That was... fun."

"Shh," said Luna, as she assumed a more sombre expression in time for the homeowner, Mrs Stubbs to return.

"We heard an awful noise," Mrs Stubbs said. "Is everything...?"

"It's all finished," said Luna. "They won't come back, and you should be able to use this room again." Mrs Stubbs smiled, relief clear on her face. "Oh, thank you! Thank you both." She turned to face Draco. "I wasn't at all happy about having a Malfoy in my home, but I have to say, young man, that you have been nothing like I thought."

Draco bowed slightly, and said nothing, not until he and Luna had Flooed away and were safely in the back room at the Leaky, which was thankfully quiet, in the pub's mid-afternoon lull.

"It felt good," he said, "to be working again. I was worried that I couldn't do it again. Not since I'd been... haunted, myself, but it wasn't like that at all." Luna nodded.

"You're good at this," she said. "I think you may have forgotten, but this job suits you." She took a sip of her Butterbeer, and then reached out to touch his hand. "You've changed though, you know," she said quietly.

"Changed?"

"Yes. You've always had something... you always set yourself apart a little. But now it's as if you aren't doing that anymore."

"I—"

"How often do you see Harry now?"

Draco blushed and dropped his head. "A few times a week," he mumbled. Any mention of Harry made him blush: perhaps it was the increasingly inappropriate thoughts he was having about him, or just how needy he knew he was, feeling bereft in the times between Harry's visits.

"And Pansy?"

"Once or twice a week," he said, and sighed. "But that's just because I have to, I need to make my life a little less... insular."

"You never really cared before, Draco," Luna said.

"I don't want to be alone anymore," said Draco. Luna still had her hand resting on his, and at these words she gave his hand a little squeeze.

"You never were," she said.

Draco smiled, a little weakly. He knew what she was trying to say, but he still felt isolated for most of the time. Especially at home. What he really— he had hoped that Harry's friendship would be enough, but the more time they spent together, the more he realised that perhaps it was something else that he wanted. He wondered sometimes, if something could have happened between them, if he hadn't been so... unwell before. It was probably too late now though: they'd never recaptured the closeness of the night Harry had stayed.

He turned conversation back to Mrs Stubbs and her prankster ghosts, and Luna backed off a little, perhaps sensing that Draco didn't really want to talk any further about more personal matters. Especially ones which pained him.

*

"You really are terrible at this game," said Draco, as his knight knocked Harry's clear off the board. "Checkmate."

"I know," said Harry. "You should play Ron, he's much better than me. He always complains that I'm no fun to play against. Apparently I don't present enough of a 'challenge'."

"I can see what he means. But there's plenty about you that's challenging enough," said Draco.

"Oh yes?" asked Harry, as he leant back into the side of the sofa, swinging his feet up. He pushed his feet into the side of Draco's leg.

"Yes, like the way you always do that," said Draco, in mock exasperation. Secretly, he thought that maybe Harry too, needed the reassurance of touch, to know that he was really here. Draco picked up Harry's feet, and planted them on his lap. He began to massage them, running his thumbs in tight circles.

"Mmm, well what do you expect when you do that?" said Harry, closing his eyes and tilting his head back with a sigh. "That feels amazing, you know." Draco had to fight the urge to move his hands further, to touch the skin just visible above Harry's socks. It seemed that his need to touch Harry hadn't abated. If anything, it had got worse. The past month of afternoon teas, walks in the grounds and accidental touches had increasingly become quite difficult to bear. The little moan Harry made at that precise moment didn't help, and Draco was careful to keep Harry's feet away from any parts of his lap which might be embarrassing, for both of them.

When they were together, like this, or just with legs just touching while sat beside each other in the kitchen, or arms brushing against one another on one of their walks, they didn't need to talk. When they were not in actual physical contact though, the silence never felt quite as comfortable, and Draco would often ask Harry a question, just to hear his voice. His favourite thing, whether they were near one another or not, was to listen to Harry tell a longer story, the rise and fall of his voice both soothing and somehow thrilling him.

Their peace was disturbed by green flames jumping up in the grate, followed a minute later by Pansy coming through.

"Sweetie, when was the last time you had your chimney swept? Every time I step through I swear there's more—" she stopped, as she saw them both.

"Pansy," said Draco. "So lovely to see you."

"Yes," she said, flatly. "Potter, I see that you are here again."

"I know," said Harry with a smile. "I quite like it here."

"Yes well, it's the least you should do, after moping around here, breaking—"

"Pansy!" said Draco, suddenly fearful of what she might say. "Harry was cursed, I don't think it's fair to call that moping." She turned to glare at him.

"Well, I did stand around looking moody a lot," said Harry, before she could say anything else, amusement clear in his voice. "I'm actually enjoying getting to know Draco a bit better. It turns out that I've become quite used to his company."

"Yes," said Pansy. "So it seems. Although—"

"Would you like a drink, Pansy?" interrupted Draco. He didn't like the gleam that had appeared in her eyes, and he knew she was quite capable of saying anything. Pansy prided herself on not beating around the bush.

"Yes, darling, I would love an Earl Grey. Why don't you run along, and I'll just sit here and have a cosy little chat with Potter?"

"You know I don't need to go anywhere to ask for tea, Pansy," said Draco, straining to keep his voice calm.

"Yes, yes, but do run along, dear. You're the only one who knows just how I like my tea. Go down to the kitchen and boss those house elves of yours around. We'll be fine."

With a helpless look at Pansy, and then another at Harry, who moved his feet off Draco's lap and gave him an expectant stare, Draco stood. Harry really wouldn't look this unconcerned if he knew what Pansy was like. Surely he could remember her trying to throw him to Riddle: strangely, Draco was reminded of that moment.

"I—"

"Are you still here? Hurry up. And don't look like that! I won't harm a hair on his precious Gryffindor head."

Draco left the room, wishing there was some way to stop this, but once she'd made her mind up... he walked a little faster, determined to get back as soon as possible.

When Draco made it back to the Morning Room, Spungen trailing behind him bearing a tray with tea brewed to Pansy's rather specific tastes, he found her sat in the armchair opposite Harry, whose face, all the way to the tips of his ears, had turned a rather brilliant red. Much as the sight of a blush still charmed Draco, it concerned him greatly. What had she said to anger him this much? He tried to meet Harry's eye, but Harry squirmed and looked away.

Pansy sipped her tea and glanced over at Draco. "Perfectly done, darling. And Potter and I had such an interesting chat, didn't we, Potter?" Harry mumbled something which Draco didn't quite catch. Draco made his way back to the sofa, but noticed that Harry kept firmly to the other end. They all sat in a painfully awkward silence until Pansy regaled them with the tale of how, as a part-time assistant to a Wizengamot member, she had been working with Hermione Granger, of all people. When she finished her story, and her tea, she stood.

"Thank you for the cup of tea, but sadly I have to go now. Draco, Potter," she said, nodding to each, "goodbye."

As the Floo died down, Harry turned to Draco, his eyes a little wide.

"Is she always like that?" he asked.

"Oh yes," said Draco. He looked for some sign that she hadn't upset Harry too much, but Harry had returned to his previous flushed state, and the awkwardness still lingered between them. "I don't know what she said to you, but please, don't..." Draco trailed off, then swallowed. Harry had moved closer. Much closer.

"She told me off," Harry said, as he reached out to touch Draco's chin.

"Oh," Draco whispered.

"She told me to make my mind up, and stop stringing you along." He ran his hand up the side of Draco's face. "She said that it had nearly broken your heart, having me appear here day in, day out, and that she didn't want to see me break it all over again." He leant into Draco, and ran a finger across his cheek. "She told me that she'd personally unman me if I hurt you."

Draco was startled into a laugh. Of course Pansy had said that. He closed his eyes though, as Harry touched him again, a warm stroke along his jawline.

"I didn't think that this was what you wanted," he managed to say.

"I thought it was too much to ask of you," said Harry. "You were so broken."

"I'm feeling a lot better now," said Draco, and he opened his eyes to reach up and remove Harry's glasses. Harry's eyes were as wild and green as he remembered them, and he stared at them for a moment before pulling Harry towards him until their foreheads were touching. He remembered sitting like this before, but this time he moved closer still, until he could hear the rasp of Harry's breath, and their lips touched, and they kissed. It felt... it was... Draco felt a peace he normally associated with meditation, as his worries drifted free of him and all that was left was warmth and then a fierce heat rising, along with surprise that finally this was happening. Somehow, Harry wanted him too.

Strong hands began to move along his side, until his shirt was riding up and the skin on his side was stroked and pressed, each pass of Harry's hand leaving a tingling wake of sensation. His own hands sought out the soft warmth of Harry's skin, and soon Harry had moved to cover Draco's body with his own, their kisses deep and passionate. Even as Draco relished the way Harry's hands matched the urgency of his own, Draco couldn't quite make sense of the fact that he was kissing Harry. He needed to see him, just for a moment. He pulled away and Harry sat up.

"Is that too much?" asked Harry. "I'm sorry, it's just been... and that foot massage..." Draco shook his head.

"No, I do want... it's just a bit unexpected. But wanted. Are you sure it's what you want?"

"Yes," said Harry, and he smiled, his eyes lighting up as they met Draco's. "I think I understand why you needed to stop though." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Maybe we do need to talk a little."

Draco found Harry's hand, and they sat, holding hands, until Draco spoke.

"It was terrible, seeing you here, and not knowing if you were dead, or merely cursed forever. I... I felt so powerless, especially as understanding these matters is the one thing I'm supposed to be good at."

Harry raised their joined hands and pressed a kiss to Draco's knuckles. "I'm so sorry," he said. "But then again, I'm glad that it means that I'm here, now, with you." He sighed. "Although there probably was an easier way to get know you. I've been thinking, you know, about why I appeared here of all places."

Draco nodded, interested. It was something he had wondered about too.

"I think it was because I thought of you as I was casting that stupid spell, and it... did something, I don't know, interfered with the magic. I was searching for peace, and it was as if I knew that... somehow it involved with you. I couldn't let go of the thought I'd had for years... about how tied our lives were to one another. You're the only person I've met who's been as lost as me."

"You found me," said Draco.

"And you found me. You saved me."

Draco was quiet for a minute, as he remembered Harry falling through the air. He shivered as he thought about the ache he felt whenever Harry was near, the way every touch, look, and sigh stayed with him for hours after Harry left each time. And then he stood, and he watched as Harry's face fell with disappointment.

"You want me to leave?" Harry asked.

"No," said Draco, reaching out for Harry. "I want to be in a room with no Floo. And perhaps one I associate a little less with my mother."

Harry laughed, and there was heat in his eyes as he let Draco pull him up. "You lead the way then," he said.

*

Draco's heart was racing by the time they got to his room. As soon as the door shut behind them, they pulled into a hungry, urgent kiss. When they stood back, panting, they were both smiling.

With a shaky breath, Draco reached for Harry, driven by the need to prove that he was really there. He didn't want to see Harry: he needed to touch him. Every single touch over the past four weeks had been the most insipid of sparks, compared with this. When he lifted Harry's t-shirt up over his head, he was greeted by a firm torso, and he traced the curve of muscle, the warmth of skin, trying all the while to memorise how every inch felt. As his hand roamed, Harry's sought out the buttons of his shirt, pulling, tugging, until it fell to the floor. Draco felt the air on his skin as if it were the first time, and he shivered.

"I watched you too many times," said Harry, "without being able to touch. And when I did get close to you, it was never enough." He ran a hand over Draco's chest, and sucked his bottom lip in before sighing.

"That morning, you saw, didn't you?" asked Draco, remembering opening his eyes and seeing Harry there.

"I did. Even without a body it... unsettled me. I couldn't stop thinking about it, about you."

"I didn't even know that you liked men," said Draco, while still tracing a path of warmth across Harry's body.

"Not many people do, just because I try to keep my private life, well, private. But my friends know." Harry said, and then he bent and kissed a line between Draco's ear and his shoulder, while his hands moved round to Draco's back; and suddenly Draco was gasping for air. "I've been... talking about you, and Hermione figured out my interest in you pretty quickly," he murmured into Draco's neck, and Draco could feel his hot breath on his skin. He responded by growling, and renewing his efforts to touch every bit of Harry's skin. He loved how it felt, warm and smooth, but with the firmness of muscle and bone just beneath the surface, and hair brushing past his hand. His palms tingled with the repeated passes over skin.

And then touching wasn't enough for Draco, and he wanted to know how Harry tasted, how he smelt. He pressed his nose to Harry's neck, and breathed in deep, and he closed his eyes because it just was Harry, all man and sweat and it was like coming home. Then he lowered his head, and licked across Harry's chest, his tongue travelling over scars and skin, tasting salt as it went.

A heat grew in Draco, flaring in his skin as Harry reciprocated, learning the shape of his shoulders with firm fingers and thumbs and pressing the edges of his collarbone with his teeth, his tongue. He groaned, then pulled Harry in tight for a kiss. There was nothing innocent about this embrace, not when their bodies were pressed up against each other. There was no mistaking their mutual arousal, and Draco snaked a hand down to feel the heat and hardness through Harry's trousers. The groan this drew forth almost undid Draco there and then: after the months of silence it was still thrilling to hear Harry's voice at all, and a filthy moan was beyond Draco's wildest imaginings. Draco kissed Harry again, pushing him until his back met the wall. A noisy sigh filled the room as Draco made quick work of buttons and zips, pulling everything down to reveal the one part of Harry he never thought he'd see.

Harry was quick to reach forward and remove the rest of Draco's clothes, and they stared at each other, and then they kissed again, long and heated. When their cocks bumped together, Draco felt as well as heard the vibration of Harry's inchoate whimper, and he determined to elicit every kind of noise from Harry: he was greedy for them all. His body thrilled with each sigh, each groan.

Draco stared once into Harry's eyes, then fell to his knees and ran his nose and jaw down the thick line of Harry's cock, then he sucked one ball, then the other into his mouth. There had been other men before, but it had never felt like this. He wanted to brand the memory of the heat and the hardness, as he licked up Harry's cock, he wanted to brand it deep into his body so that he would never forget. Draco relished the feeling of pressure and connection as he took him into his mouth. It was, he realised, the responsiveness of being with someone else that made this so pleasurable, as Harry's body began to move with desire. Wanting more, Draco swirled his tongue for the shiver it brought, and swallowed deep for the gasp and the groan.

But soon, he knew that his mouth wasn't enough: he needed to feel Harry deep within him. He pulled away and looked up into eyes ablaze, a face half undone, and he stood, his body brushing up against Harry's erection as he moved upwards. Harry took his mouth in a savage kiss and this time it was Draco who groaned. He was floating with the joy of being desired like this, and he marvelled at Harry's hunger for him, so different to the months of passive watching.

"Please," he begged, and he broke their embrace to summon a vial from across the room. "Please," he said again, and he handed the vial to Harry, and turned to press both hands flat against the wall, waiting, hoping, trusting. There was a hissed "Yes," the muted pop of the vial being unstopped, and then the cool trickle of oil and the soft touch of a hand trailing down his back, whispering across his arse before it was probing, stretching with a deliciously real, solid presence. It didn't take long for Draco to be groaning himself, and begging again. "Please, Harry, now," he managed to say, as the need inside built and swirled, making his body sway.

The skin between his shoulder blades sang out as Harry bent his head and kissed Draco there. Draco relished each scrape of stubble, each time thinking he's here, he's here, until he felt the blunt pressure of Harry pressing into him, and then he didn't think much, not beyond more, and take me. He could feel Harry, and finally he could believe that Harry was there, was with him. Nothing could stop his happening, and Harry was his, again and again as they found a rhythm, hard deep thrusts which left Draco whimpering and the breath huffing out of Harry onto his back. He could feel strong hands as they grasped onto his hips, and Draco felt more alive than he had since... he couldn't remember.

This is real, he thought. Real, real, real, and he moaned Harry's name. Harry stiffened behind him, and he felt the shudder and heard the cry of his release, and then Harry's head, dropping down to his neck. "Draco," Harry whispered into sweaty hair. "Draco," he said again. They stayed like that a while, until Harry pulled out and turned Draco around.

"You... oh, you. Draco," he whispered. And Draco reached up and touched the mark on Harry's lips which he must have made biting down. He leant forward to kiss it better, soft, little kisses full of tenderness.

When they broke apart, this time it was Harry who fell to his knees, and he didn't take his eyes off Draco as he opened his mouth and engulfed Draco's leaking and needy prick. Draco wanted to watch but he couldn't stop his eyes from closing at the sensation. It was... surprising, just how intense it felt. His hands found Harry's head, his fingers curling through damp hair. A pulse of sensation still travelled inside him from before, and this, combined with the thought of Harry, on his knees blowing him, brought him to the edge of a dark precipice with almost alarming speed.

But it was only when Harry hummed, a deep rumble which he felt through flesh all the way to his bones, that Draco came.

He leant into the wall he had so recently been fucked against, and tried to get his breath back.

"That was..."

"Yeah," said Harry. He stood up and smiled. "It was."

"Will you...?" asked Draco, not quite daring to finish the sentence.

"Yes, I'll stay," said Harry, and he kissed Draco again. "I'm not going anywhere."

*

Draco went through each step of his morning mediation, until his mind was clear and his breathing even. He sat on the floor and felt the air enter and leave his lungs, and he was aware of every part of his body: the way his legs rested on the floor and against each other; his hands resting on his knees, the way his neck held his head aloft. He could feel the stillness of the room.

"I will never get tired of seeing you do that," said a rich voice. Draco opened his eyes and smiled, looking over at Harry, who was sitting up in bed, his face still sleep-warm and his hair ruffled. Draco could see the imprint of fabric creases in one of Harry's cheeks.

"And I'll never get tired of you waking up in my bed," Draco said.

"It is a very comfortable bed," Harry said, the last word getting lost as he yawned and stretched. "You know, I'd like to learn some of that stuff you do," he said.

"That stuff?"

"The yoga and the meditation and all your breathing. It looks... peaceful."

Draco looked at Harry, at the way he always seemed so alive, so ready to move, and he laughed.

"You could do with a bit of 'peaceful', I'm sure. But I do quite like you just the way you are."

"Oh yes?"

Draco crossed the room to sit on the bed, next to Harry. "Oh yes," he said, and pulled Harry into a kiss.

Later, Draco looked up and his heart missed a beat when he saw Harry standing by the window, looking out. When Harry turned to face him there was a haunted look on his face. Draco came to stand next to him, needing to feel his warm and living flesh, needing the reassurance. They looked back out of the window, Draco's arms around Harry's waist, Harry leaning back into him. "Draco," he said, the rumble of his voice travelling through both their bodies. Draco pulled him closer, and kissed him on the back of his head.

Outside the trees moved in the breeze, broad green leaves trembling but holding firm.

*

MLE, Auror Department. Casefile #62974/1

Re: Disappearance of Harry J Potter

Investigating Aurors: S. Finnegan & R. Benwick

Date: 12th April, 2003

NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE

On 3rd April, 2003, Hermione Granger brought Harry Potter to St Mungo's, where he was subsequently treated for fatigue and minor spell damage.

Mr Potter remained in a state of limited consciousness for the following three days. When his condition had stabilised he gave a full statement about his whereabouts from the time he disappeared, on 8th February.

Full statement of Harry J Potter

Date: 7th April, 2003

[...]

'I didn't know what it would do. Which with hindsight, should have been a bit of a warning sign, really. I thought it would take me back to... the place I went, on the day Riddle died. On the day of the Battle of Hogwarts. I died: not many people know that. It was so quiet, so peaceful. I felt for a long time afterwards that I had lost something when I came back, and I thought this spell for peace would help me find it again.

But instead I was trapped, and it was... I never want to be trapped like that again. My own body was my prison, and there was nothing else there. Nothing. And when I concentrated really hard, when I pushed with all my will and my magic, I would find myself standing by a window, watching Draco Malfoy.

I think he must have figured it out though, him or Luna or some other Peacebringer or Curse-Breaker, because here I am.'

Recommendation

Due to the return of Mr H Potter, and his statement confirming that his disappearance was the result of misjudgement and did not involve any outside parties, this case can now be closed. It is recommended that in future such cases, Peacebringers should be consulted in addition to Curse-Breakers.

CASE CLOSED