Rating: PG-13, perhaps light R (for language)
Word Count(for fic): 4813
Characters/Pairing: strong hints of past unrequited H/D, as well future (requited this time!)
Warnings: (if any) pre-fic character death (within the Trio)
Author's Notes: I'm sure this will be really, really obvious to anyone who's read my fanfics before. Also, the title is taken from a really really famous song.
Summary: The only things you can never hide from are yourself and your past.
The first time Harry sees her, she's sitting in his bed, her back ramrod straight and hair wildly curled like a lion's mane, a solar flare of tangles. She's absolutely silent--none of the recriminations he'd expect--and the sheets around her are soaked in blood. He's startled, then terrified, and he trips over his shoes and the threshold in his haste to get away.
Ginny's waiting for him in the living room.
Harry's only found one way to get rid of them: lots of booze. He's given himself alcohol poisoning before, trying to wash away Ginny's half smile and.... There's no worse feeling, he's decided, than listening to the drone of monitoring charms while a ghost sits smirking by your head and a mediwitch makes disapproving noises while she pumps your stomach. He knows now that he can't handle the amount of liquor it would take to get rid of them, if such an amount actually exists.
But Harry Potter doesn't have a problem. Harry Potter isn't allowed to have a problem, so the mediwitches in training tut-tut around in the hallways where they think he can't hear them and the Prophet is full of stories about this week's "minor overindulgence". His solicitor is careful that the picture of Harry vomiting on visiting dignitaries is hidden in the crease, but after the full story of the Weasley-Lovegood wedding features a two-page spread on Harry's decision to water their rosebush with his trousers puddled on the ground and pants at his knees, he finds the invitations come less and less often. Before long, he's spending his weekends at home in his lonely flat, just the three of them.
He finds that sometimes, his intoxicated exorcisms don't work. He still wakes up next to her, blank brown eyes rolling cheerfully in her sockets in a happy parody of madness straight out of silent films. He's so distracted by the flashes of ginger hair in the mirror that he's afraid to shave in the mornings--at least, this is what he tells himself to excuse his scruffy face. When it gets too bad, he finds his only relief is the pub, and the happy chatter of unshattered people in the background.
There are triggers, of course: things that make them show up. As little as article in the Prophet can send him to his shadowy haven, smoke-filled and walls echoing with screams as Manchester scores another goal. He’s curled around his glass as if someone’s going to take it from him, but no one talks to him. No one ever talks to him. When the chair across from him is suddenly pulled out, Harry’s stunned. When he realizes just who’s propped his feet, shoes worn and covered in dust, on the seat of the chair next to him, he’s confused.
“Come here often?” Malfoy’s smirk is just this side of playful, and even though he hasn’t seen the other man in years—four, to be exact, in a scene not days after the final battle—and though that last conversation hadn’t really gone well, Harry is stunned to realize he’s missed the company.
“Every few days or so. You?” He wonders what would bring Malfoy to so…pedestrian a place, never mind that the entire building screamed “muggle,” from the football on the telly to the dart board where the floo would be.
“Often enough to have seen you here before and wondered about it. So what’s a pretty thing like you doing in a dive like this?” this time Malfoy’s tones are openly teasing, and Harry lets the corner of his mouth twitch into a smile before responding.
“Why, don’t you know? Apparently I’ve got quite a drinking problem. Everyone knows, Malfoy. Don’t you read the society pages?” He regrets it as soon as he sees grey eyes shutter closed.
“Not since my lovely visage ceased to be the focus of their attention.” Slam; Malfoy shuts down that line of thought.
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know,” Harry sneers at his whisky, and can feel himself growing maudlin. “Last time they featured me, took my solicitor three weeks to settle the uproar.”
“More invites?” Malfoy’s voice is sharp, now. Biting, with intent to wound. Harry snorts and polishes off the last two inches of his drink.
“More like people wishing they could cancel their invites,” he wheezed through teary eyes. “I guess there’s no such thing as a little vomit between friends.”
“Well, there is a rule about that, you know. More than a cup is just not good.” Harry watches the sharp curve of Malfoy’s shoulders smooth out, and smiles.
When Harry gets back to his flat, a few pints richer for the experience and filled with a slightly fuzzy glow, he finds they’re gone. There’s no blood, no screams, no wistfully smiling dead girl sitting on his sofa. He has the best night’s sleep he’s ever had that night, only interrupted once when he has to vomit.
A few weeks later, they haven’t returned but Harry’s taking no chances. He meets Malfoy on the corner at ten and they head down the street to the pub, where between the two of them they could drink the Thames. They make light conversation, football, celebrities, and the Royals. Malfoy sneers at them, says his blood is older than theirs—but then he remembers that they don’t talk about blood, or families, or the wizarding world, and his face turns in on itself around the neck of his bottle, which he gulps from like a plebian.
When Harry tells him, “You could go back, you know,” Malfoy glares at him and pointedly orders another round on his tab.
“Could bloody well not, and you fucking know it.” Malfoy’s eyes glitter angrily at Harry.
“I could make them take you back,” Harry tries. “They’ll trust you if I tell them to.”
“If you tell them to? They wouldn’t trust you now, you drunk bastard!” Malfoy snarls and Harry sputters into his beer. “They’re not going to fucking trust me! The Death Eater?”
“The spy! They’ll trust you, the secret informant,” Harry wheedles. He can hear the whine in his voice, knows he’s pursuing something he shouldn’t, but he can’t stop now.
“I don’t need a fucking hero, Potter,” Malfoy says, voice coated in ice and deadly quiet. “You want to be someone’s hero, you go find Weasley or Granger.”
“Fuck you!” Harry’s standing before his mind has completely processed the statement. The heavy feeling comes back, settles in on his shoulders like a lead blanket, and he feels the air rush out of his lungs. Any minute now, he reckons, he’ll see them: Ginny, grinning at him from behind the bar, and Hermione, perched on a stool, her hospital gown hanging from her frail limbs. “Don’t you talk about them like you know. You don’t know. You have no idea what happened…what really happened. You and the whole fucking world think you know what happened!”
“I can read, Potter, whether your friends send me the articles or not. I’m not a moron. I know what happened, and fuck you for thinking I’d forget!” Malfoy is standing now, and the bouncer is approaching.
“I thought you didn’t read the society pages, Malfoy,” Harry says. Bile crawls up his throat, but he fights against it as he’s hauled out by the arm. He staggers in the street for a moment, disoriented and unwell, and when he finally takes care to look around he finds he’s not too far from the Leaky. It’s only a carefully-remembered pattern tapped out while the whole world stares at his back before he’s in Diagon Alley, pounding on the door of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and begging to be let in.
“Harry, mate,” greets the twin that answers, and Harry sags against the doorjamb, suddenly more tired than he’s ever been in his life. He can hear Ginny’s laugh echoing in the empty alley behind him, and when he rolls his heavy face around to look at Fred, he finds pity in his eyes. “Come on in.”
George is standing in the hall upstairs, a cross look on his face until he spies Harry. “He’s going to sleep it off on the sofa,” Fred explains, and George nods thoughtfully.
“No,” Harry says, shaking his head—a bad decision, as nausea makes itself known again—and pulling away, toward the fireplace, where a golden orange blaze is glowing. “I gotta…I gotta talk to Ron. Need to call him, but he doesn’t have a felly…a telly…. He doesn’t have a phone.”
“No, mate, come on.” Fred tugs on Harry’s arm again, and nods to George. “Get out a couple blankets or something and a pillow, yeah?” George nods, but Harry shakes his head again.
“No. I gotta tell him. He…I wanna talk to Ron. He’s my best friend,” Harry whines, sitting on the floor in front of the fire.
“It’s half two, Harry.” George sounds hesitant, but he’s at Harry’s side with a fistful of floo powder, making sure Harry doesn’t burn himself. Fred looks exasperated, but resigned, and George says, “Little Otter.” Harry repeats this to the fire, and sticks his head in.
Really, Harry reckons, he’s lucky that Ron likes food. Still, Ron jumps when Harry whispers, “Ron!”
“Harry?” Ron sounds sleepy, and there’s a ham sandwich clutched in his hand. He looks around before his eyes settle on the fire, and Harry’s disembodied head.
“I needed to talk to you,” Harry says, and he realizes he’s forgot about what. Then the firelight glints in Ron’s hair just the way it used to on Ginny, and he can barely bite back the tears that are suddenly welling over.
Ron sighs. “Where are you? Come all the way through, so we can talk. I hate fire chatting.” When Harry shows up a few minutes later, he asks, “What’s this all about?”
“It’s just…” and suddenly Harry can’t find the words to say what he wants—needs—to say. He collapses in on himself, falls on Ron’s shoulder and sobs. “I never…. God, I’m so sorry, Ron!”
“Harry….” Ron’s voice is soothing, but his eyes are startled. “Harry, don’t worry about it. Luna wasn’t upset, and anyway, what’s a few rosebushes between friends?” he jokes weakly.
“Oh, don’t be an ass, Ron,” Harry mutters from Ron’s shoulder. He sniffles as he sits up, but he’s found his voice again. “You know, it’s about time we had this conversation.”
“Harry, we don’t ever have to have this conversation,” Ron says, and his shoulders are tight—almost as tight as his voice, and almost as closed off as his eyes. “I don’t want to have this conversation.”
“We need to have this conversation,” Harry informs him. “We should have had it earlier. When it first happened.”
“No, we shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have it now. We should just go back to our normal lives and pretend nothing ever happened!” Ron’s voice is hard, now, and he’s pushing Harry back to the fireplace with a steely look in his eyes.
“I’m tired of pretending nothing happened!” Harry can hear himself yelling, but he doesn’t care right now whether or not he wakes Luna. Whether or not he wakes the kids, whether or not he wakes Ron’s whole happy family. “My normal life sucks shit, Ron!”
“Maybe it’s supposed to!” Ron roars back, lips curled in a snarl, eyes flashing. “For fuck’s sake, Harry, maybe you’re not supposed to be happy after you pull the sort of shit you did!”
The full impact of what Ron’s saying—the depth of his anger—refuses to sink into Harry’s chest as he shouts back, “What? You enjoy seeing my whole life fall apart because I made a fucking mistake?”
“It was yours or mine, pal, and I for one am pretty damn pleased that your shit didn’t mess my life up, too,” Ron hisses, barely audible over the blood rushing through Harry’s ears.
“I didn’t mean to….” Harry sags boneless to the floor and scrubs at his eyes with the back of his hand. He suddenly feels five again, Uncle Vernon screaming over him because he’s ended up on the roof instead of between Dudley’s meaty fists again. “I’d never….”
“But you did,” Ron says after a few minutes. “You did, and you fucked everything up.”
“I know,” Harry sniffles, and he can feel himself cresting over into a drunken melancholy. He reckons he’s got about five minutes before they show up again, if the normal order of things applies.
“Why don’t you go home, Harry?” Ron’s voice is calm, tired, as he stands up and offers Harry a hand. “I’ve got work in a few hours, and Luna’s got to take the kids to school.”
“Yeah,” Harry shuffles toward the fireplace, “that’s probably for the best. I…. Ron. I really didn’t mean…. I mean, for what it’s worth. Not that that’s much,” Harry mumbles before tossing a fistful of powder from the bin on the mantle into the fire.
“I know,” Ron’s voice is soft, fading into the rush of flames as Harry steps out into his living room, where Ginny and Hermione sit, eyes trained on him, silently laughing.
The next morning when he wakes up, his head throbbing and his mouth tasting like dead cat, Malfoy is standing at the foot of the bed—or, rather, the end of the couch that Harry passed out on after polishing off the last bottle he had in the house.
“Look,” Malfoy says, then fidgets. “Look, you’re not going to hear this from me again, because I’m still angry at you and I don’t say it to anyone ever, so if you tell anyone I said it I’ll have your guts for garters, but,” he takes a deep, bracing breath, and blurts, “sorry. But I’m still unhappy with you and your fucking lack of letting-things-drop…ness.”
“Letting-things-drop-ness?” Harry repeats dumbly, and Malfoy rolls his eyes.
“I didn’t know, um, anything. About what I said last night. I was an ass, and we were definitely having two completely different conversations, and…. I know, really, what it’s like to make a mistake that’s so, so fucking monumentally huge that it just…. It ruins everything. Forever,” Malfoy says in a rush. “I’d never…. Well. I’d never, and let’s leave it at that.”
“What?” Harry’s struck by the feeling that something big has happened here, but he’s still a little drunk from the night before, and he’s sure the wind generated by whatever Malfoy just said rushing over his head has mussed his hair.
“I’m not fucking repeating myself, Potter,” Malfoy responds sharply, but at Harry’s wince he reaches into the pocket of his denims and hands him a small green bottle. “I’m not really supposed to have this—statute of secrecy and whatnot, living in a Muggle area—but the way I see it, there’s no point in getting drunk because you’re miserable if it makes you even more miserable later. Hangover potion,” he explains, and Harry gulps it back, reveling in the feeling of the potion actually flushing the alcohol out of his system. “And. Well, I’m sorry and whatever. I think we may have had a little misunderstanding last night, and maybe you thought I said something—um, made fun of something, maybe—that I didn’t. That I didn’t know about.”
“Oh,” Harry mumbles. “Er, sorry I was an ass and wouldn’t shut up.”
“No, you’re right. Well, you’re right about the whole ‘I need to stop being a twat and go back to the wizarding world’ thing. I think you’re wrong about the other one, though.”
“The other one?”
“The one where you’ve convinced yourself that what happened was your fault. The Granger thing.”
“It was my fucking fault, Malfoy. I…. Well, you’ve read the papers now, haven’t you? Surely you know the story now.”
“I know the slant the papers put on it, and I don’t believe a word of it. Not one. I know Rita Skeeter and her propaganda.”
“You don’t know shit, Malfoy, so go muck with someone else’s personal trauma.”
“Tell me, then. Tell me what really happened, because right now, I don’t think any of it’s your fault. I think it’s the wizarding world using you like a disposable safety net, and Weasley sitting on your chest, helping them shove your face in the mud. That’s what I think.”
“You want me to tell you why it’s my fault?” Harry can barely keep the incredulity out of his voice. “I can tell you. Then you’ll hate me just like everyone else, but I can tell you.”
“Potter,” Malfoy starts, amusement rich in his voice. “I’m supposed to hate you, aren’t I?”
“You don’t.” It’s not a question, the words laced with something like awe. He doesn’t hate Malfoy either, he knows, but knowing that Malfoy doesn’t hate him makes him want to tell the story even less.
“No. And I don’t think any stupid story will make me hate you again,” Malfoy assures him. “Now get on with it.”
“No, wait,” Harry stops, remembering Malfoy’s cryptic remarks the night before, “What were you talking about last night?”
“What? Potter, get on with the damned story!” Harry doesn’t miss the way Malfoy shifts awkwardly, as if he’s judging the distance to the door.
“I’ll tell it if you tell me.”
“I asked you first!”
“Don’t be a child.”
“Shut up!” Malfoy’s cheeks are flushed and he clenches his fists at his sides, but all he does is shove Harry’s feet off the sofa and sit down, posture rigid and nervous. “I…. In the Prophet, I mean, there was this story. It was completely ridiculous, you know, blatant bias and poor journalistic integrity and all that. People ate it up, though, they really believed it, I mean. It was about this secret reason behind why I turned. It wasn’t a real story. They never interviewed me for it. But some of the people I used to know—some of the people that were hurt, hurt by my decision—they thought they knew who. Like, who I did it for. She, I mean…they said they’d tell. It’d be in the Prophet if I didn’t switch back, but there was no way I was going to switch back—not after I’d already gone through everything to get out, and with V—…with You—Voldemort was dead, yeah? By the time the article came out, but she still wanted me to come back, said I’d ruined her life and only I could fix it again, I had to fix it again. She wrote up the letter to the Prophet, to Skeeter herself! And she showed it to me. It was ridiculous. Slanderous! I told her, I don’t care what you send to the Prophet! But I left. I didn’t want to see it in the paper. She said she’d give it to Rita Skeeter, but…. And even after she, I mean they, died—offed herself, I think I heard—I…I. And now I don’t read the paper.”
“You’re worried that Pansy Parkinson sent a letter to the Prophet about your secret crush on Ron Weasley?” Harry’s joke is dry, painful and tight.
“Not Weasley,” Malfoy mumbles, but his face brightens. “Now you have to tell me what happened to you!”
Harry stares at him in disbelief, before he feels the anger boiling red-hot in his stomach. “You think this is a happy story? This is just some cute little story about an accident, an affair that shouldn’t have happened? This ruined my life, Malfoy. I ruined my life.” He can see Malfoy’s throat bob with swallowed breath, his head bow with apology.
“It started at the last battle, really,” Harry begins. “We’d set up for the night, right before…well, you were there. You know how it went. We were so close to the end, and everything seemed so…foolproof, you know? Everything seemed like it was going just right. We would win. We were holed up in the Burrow, you remember? Because it was isolated, and we could plan there. We used to play Quidditch while the grown-ups were holding meetings, hammering out details, and we—Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and I—we’d pretend it was all normal, like we weren’t planning the biggest day of our lives. Ginny and I would have picnics underneath that great big tree in the garden, pretend we were okay and act like we’d be together forever. It was hard, you know, having a relationship during the war. A relationship, I mean. I think, I mean, all things aside, I don’t think we’d have made it. We were kind of falling to pieces, but we’d sit there on the old sheet and pretend we weren’t. And everyone else totally bought it. They’d…. Ron used to chaperone us, sometimes, tell me, ‘Now don’t you go getting any ideas, Harry. She’s my sister.’ But that day, the last one before the battle, he said it was okay. He bloody gave me permission, and I didn’t…I couldn’t. I broke it off with her, and then the next day she, well. The only casualty on our side that day, you remember, and all dramatic and heroic and sad because she jumped out in front of me. She stopped it from hitting me, and I’ve never told anyone that, not even Ron. The part about…not. I just pretended he’d never said it, and so did he, because she was his sister, and she was dead.
“Then it was time for her funeral, and we were all caught up with everything, that post-war stuff. That’s when we argued, and I’m sorry. There was a lot going on, and I didn’t really mean…. Anyway, that’s…. You know Luna used to live just over the hill? That’s why she never moved in. She was always around to be with Neville, but after…well, she just didn’t come by that often. Ron used to make fun of her, called her Looney and stuff like that. Hermione got really upset with him after the war ended when she caught him. Said something about how anyone who’d put their life out there for him was allowed to be treated with respect. They’d quarreled, a lot, you know. A lot. And then we decided, hey, we’re eighteen. We’re old enough, we can celebrate. Well, Ron decided, but yeah. And everyone else pretty much agreed. I mean, Molly had a problem with it and Hermione thought it was stupid, but in the end it all worked out, and we had this big party-thing. It was a respectful time after the war and the funerals, memorial stuff, but we saved the bloody world. We’re allowed, yeah?
“So Fred and George put together this big rocket show, and Ron gets this collection of booze from somewhere, and we all get smashed. It’s my first time, you know, and anyway, it’s a good reason, right? We’re all just completely gone and I look around the room. Ron’s attached by the lips to one of the Patil sisters, I think, and Hermione’s just sitting in the corner, all alone, looking more than a bit upset. So she and I start talking, and then the next thing I know, we’re waking up in the same bed—not mine, either. Or hers, if I recall. It was really awkward, and we just pretended it’d never happened, and it was fine until we found out….
“It turned out that we’d partied perhaps a bit too soon. There were a lot of Death Eaters out there that were really mad at us, doing what we’d done, and it was a couple of months later when Nott—you remember Nott?—caught her with a spell. We still don’t know what it was, but it lingered. We had to put her in St. Mungo’s, and that’s how everyone else found out. We couldn’t take care of her. She was mad, and one day she just…. Well, they found her splattered on the ground outside. She was a clever witch, you know. Could get around all sorts of wards.”
Malfoy stares at him, and Harry realizes he’s shaking so hard his teeth are chattering. “God….” Malfoy’s voice is so quiet, a church-voice.
“So you see,” a painful, barking laugh wells up in Harry’s chest and he fights desperately to keep it in, “I’m an awful person.”
“No, you’re not! God….”
“And you’re some great moral barometer?” Harry sneers. Malfoy doesn’t even rise to the bait; he just runs a shivery hand through his hair and stares at the coffee table. “You’re a Death Eater!” Harry cries, and a great fragile thing is setting up in the center of his chest. Malfoy doesn’t respond, doesn’t look at him, doesn’t even act like he heard him. “You. You bastard,” Harry shudders and turns his face away, tears pricking in his eyes. “I don’t want your fucking pity.”
When Malfoy reaches for him and cradles Harry’s head against his chest, it’s like a dam has burst, and finally—finally—the ghosts are washed away.