My father's in prison. When they took him away, the only thing I felt was relief. Finally. My own life.
Black ink formed into cramped script on creamy parchment, three inches by three inches square. It was amazing how such simple things like ink and parchment could transform into honest confessions brimming with humility and shame. Harry had never seen anything so arresting.
"I promise that the words won't change, lad. They'll still say the same thing three days from now."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the insight, Douglas. I don't think I'd have worked that out on my own."
"Watch that smart mouth of yours or I'll make you eat the vegan cheesecake."
Harry shuddered. "That's cruel and unusual punishment. Aren't there laws against that?"
"If you're a Yank, sure. But you aren't. Just a lost little wizard prancing about, drinking lattes made by a Squib."
"I don't prance," Harry mumbled as his face coloured at the sight of his latte cup. "And they're your bloody lattes."
Douglas grinned. "That they are."
"And don't call yourself that."
"What? A Squib? But that's what I am, Harry."
"Yes, but you say it like it's something to be ashamed of."
"There are far worse things to be ashamed of," Douglas said, nodding to The Daily Confessional—a large message board as tall as Harry, edged in tacky gilt, and covered with little bits of paper, each spilling a dark secret. I'm in love with my sister, one said. Another confessor admitted to stroking his dog while masturbating.
I don't care what people say, deep down we all know that money and status are everything, the black-ink-and-parchment confessor had said three days prior.
"Are you going to stare at the confessional all day again?" Douglas asked.
"No." Harry bristled. So what if he was curious about other people's darkest secrets?
"You're drawn to that one, aren't you?" Douglas asked, pointing to the three-inch by three-inch piece of creamy parchment.
"It's different than the others. It's—it's… I dunno. There aren't any odd pictures or doodles or fancy lettering on it. It's so plain. There's just…."
"Words. Emotion—sometimes dark and ugly, sometimes sad and pathetic. Like life, I suppose."
"Yeah," Harry said, not knowing what else to add. Douglas seemed to have got it in one.
"Well, mind that you don't stare at it all day. There's more to London than the Daily Confessional and Brindle's Yard, you know."
"I know. And I've seen it. Most of it. But I like it here. And I should think you'd be grateful. My latte purchases in the last two months alone are paying for your holiday this year."
Douglas chuckled. "And to think, I had to force you to drink the bloody thing when you first wandered into my little bakery two months ago, looking like a lost lamb."
"It was all an act. I just wanted a free latte."
"Cheeky brat." Douglas clapped Harry on the shoulder the way an uncle or a father might. "There's work to be done if you get bored. Or you could always write your own confession, you know."
Harry glanced away. "I've nothing to confess."
Douglas looked sad for a moment. "We've all got things to confess," he said in a low voice.
Harry nodded, not knowing what else to do. He should say something, but he was pants at knowing what to say in such situations. Having lost so much, he found it ridiculous that he hadn't a clue how to comfort others for their losses. But then Douglas saved him from having to say anything at all. He was good at that.
"Right," Douglas said in a loud voice as he squared his shoulders. "Gluten-free muffins await. Lottie'll have my head if I don't get those made." He turned on his heel and headed back to the Brindled Bakery.
Harry watched him go before looking up at the suspended spoons and forks swaying in the breeze. Only Brindle's Yard would call such a thing art.
He'd found Brindle's Yard soon after arriving in London. He'd wanted an escape and had gone to the city in order to "figure things out," to "find himself," and for all sorts of other reasons he'd given. They were all rubbish, really. Harry didn't want to find himself at all. He was quite happy to lose himself in the city's miasma of discordant sound and culture, in its grey-coated masses shuffling along the grey pavements in the city's grey, spitty rain.
And then he'd taken a right turn instead of a left and stumbled upon a curious covered alleyway between two hulking limestone buildings. He followed it around until he spilled out into a pocket of bohemia dotted with overturned barrels filled with sorrel and pennywart, shops selling crystals and past-life regression tapes, and a bakery full of rich smelling coffees and foul-tasting muffins.
In searching for anonymity, he'd found something altogether better. He'd found a bucolic bubble in which the world, his choices, his losses, didn't exist. It was paradise found done up in fuchsia paint, magic and all of the people who didn't fit anywhere anymore.
Harry heard the slap of a wooden spoon against a work surface followed by the bark of Lottie's voice and the deep rumble of Douglas's laugh. Harry shook his head. They were going at it again. He glanced around the yard once more, briefly locking eyes with the man with brown hair who was there almost as often as Harry. The man paid him no mind. He never did.
Harry shook his head and smiled fondly at the tinkling chime of the spoons before turning back to the Daily Confessional and staring at the black ink on creamy parchment.
"Who are you?" he whispered. "Why do I care?"
Harry walked back to his rented flat, arms full of takeaway, thinking of his black-ink-creamy-parchment confessor. From what he'd read thus far, there had been no shortage of sadness and tragedy in the confessor's life. Harry could identify with that, felt like he had a comrade-in-arms in that sense. What he didn't understand was why he was drawn to this particular confessor. There were loads of others who posted routinely, why not one of them? Why not the one who had a deep-seated urge to rip the wings off of butterflies? Why not the bloke who liked to rub butter everywhere, wrap himself in cling film, and flounder around on the floor pretending to be a seal? Harry winced. Okay. Neither of those, necessarily, but why not another? Why had only one captivated him?
"I've no idea who you are, but I can't stop thinking of you. How's that for a confession," Harry said to himself.
The yowling cat at his doorstep agreed.
Gaping mouths reach for Harry. Fetid breath chokes him, making him sick. He tries to run away. Sharp, brittle teeth gnaw on his ankles, making him stumble. He breaks free only to slip and slide through bile and vomit.
He falls. They descend.
"No! Get away! I haven't done anything!" he shouts.
"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Remember the deeds, we must, we must," the creatures chant, their unearthly voices making Harry's ears ring with pain.
He screams. He kicks and tries to get out of their hold, but it's no use.
The creatures are relentless as they push him down and tear away chunks of flesh with their teeth.
Harry watches his feet disappear, then his elbows. His hands, his nose, his ears—they tear him apart until nothing's left of him. His eyes dart around wildly. He sees Remus. Remus is eating his fingers.
Harry screams and begs and tries to push Remus away, but it's no use. He sinks lower and lower, screaming all the while until their chanting swallows his own voice.
"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Remember the deeds, we must, we must."
Harry's deeds flash before his eyes. Knives of grief and remorse attack him. The sword of regret runs him through. He looks up, desperate, begging Remus—Crabbe, Tonks, Fred, Colin, all of them—to let him go. Sirius and Dumbledore Inferi swoop in and join the throng.
"Please!" he cries. "Please. Please. Please—"
Harry woke up gasping, coughing, and desperate for breath. Drenched in sweat, he shivered. He drew his knees to his chest and settled his flushed cheek against them. He prayed for sunlight.
said the black ink on creamy parchment.
I watched my friend die. All I thought was I was glad it wasn't me,
Harry swallowed as he squeezed his eyes shut. Oh, how this one hit home. Had this person been in his dreams?
He reached out and traced the letters with his fingers, as if he could give comfort to the one who had written them—as if he could give comfort to himself.
"You okay, lad?"
Harry snatched his fingers back. "Fine. I'm fine."
"You've been staring longer than usual today," Douglas said, his eyes darting back and forth between Harry and the creamy parchment.
"Well have you read it?" Harry snapped, wincing the second the words tumbled out. "I'm sorr—"
"Don't. Everyone's entitled to be peevish now and again. Just don't make a habit of it. Otherwise Lottie will come out here and box your ears with that wooden spoon of hers. Trust me on this one, you don't want that to happen."
In that moment, Harry knew why he liked Douglas so much. He reminded him of Sirius. Sirius, who went through life with little more than a swagger and a teasing smile. Or had. Harry had got him killed, hadn't he? Just like Cedric. And Remus, and Tonks, and even Hedwig. He was alive while they were dead.
"Harry? You okay?"
Snapped out of his thoughts, Harry stared at the parchment. He had to do something. He had to let the confessor know, he had to show that he understood, he had to—
"D'you have a pen or something?" Harry asked.
"A pen. I wanted—how do these confessions get here?"
"The confessions. How do they get on the board?"
"I post them," Douglas said slowly.
"Bloody hell, how do they get to you?"
"They go into that little slot down there," Douglas said, pointing to the bottom of the board. "And watch the mouth."
"Sorry," Harry muttered as he looked down, surprised he hadn't noticed the small letter slot before.
Douglas huffed. "Aren't you a sincere one," he said under his breath. "After I collect them, I post them. It's really not difficult to grasp."
Harry ignored Douglas's sarcasm. Apparently he wasn't the only one who'd woken up on the wrong side of things. "So to post a confession, the confessor has to come here. To the board."
"Yes. What's got into you?"
"Nothing—I just—look, I need to—I just need a pen."
"What are you planning on doing? I'll not have you mocking these confessions."
"I'd never do that. I just need to leave a note for this one. Please."
Douglas narrowed his eyes and stared at Harry for a long moment before he swung around, darting his gaze left and right at the same time. He took a few steps and peered around the corner of one of the shops. The brown-haired man stared at them curiously before snorting and continuing his conversation with Lottie. Douglas dropped back and glanced around again before stooping over and fiddling in his pockets.
Harry had the acute sense that this was Douglas's attempt at being sneaky.
Douglas held out a pen. "Don't make a habit of it. I don't want people getting the wrong idea."
"I won't. Promise."
Douglas muttered something under his breath, but gave Harry the pen nonetheless. "I expect a better attitude from you when I see you next."
"Nineteen, and you think you rule the world, or something."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. Douglas—and Harry knew this from experience—was about to go into full mother-hen mode. He'd have given Mrs. Weasley a run for her Galleons.
"Douglas!" Lottie called.
Harry had never been more grateful for Lottie than in that moment.
"I'm watching you," Douglas said before hurrying off and joining her in a conversation with the brown-haired man.
Harry waited until all three were in the bakery before turning back to the Confessional.
At the bottom of the confession, he added in his untidy scrawl:
The ones who live are sometimes the unluckiest of all.
Harry tamped down his irritation as Douglas repeatedly sorted and stacked the confessions until they were in some sort of posting order known only to him. Harry wondered if his favourite confessor would say anything about what he'd written. Had his comment even been noticed?
He waited two beats after Douglas finished posting before darting over. Harry thought he saw a bit of mischief in Douglas's eyes as he turned back and said, "Serves you right," before heading back to the bakery.
Harry ignored Douglas and looked up to the top left-hand corner of the Daily Confessional. In black ink on creamy parchment, Harry's confessor had written:
So someone reads these after all. You know who's the unluckiest of all, anonymous scrawler? Anyone stuck having to decipher your rubbish penmanship. This is my confession—get your own.
Harry felt an exhilaration rise up in him that he'd not felt in a long time. He whipped out his pen and wrote at the bottom of the confession:
Too bad. You're stuck with me.
He gasped as more words appeared underneath his own.
I knew you'd be back. You're right, you know. There's no respite for the living. Can't get away from the screaming, can we?
Harry reached out and traced the fading letters with his finger. "No, we can't," he said.
Cedric smiles at him. The sight of it makes Harry feel flushed and light-headed. He smiles back and waves.
Cedric beckons him closer. He says something, but Harry can't make it out. He moves closer, asking Cedric what he's saying, but Cedric just continues to smile and beckon.
Harry moves closer still. An acrid smell rises from the Earth and stops him dead. He swings around, expecting to see Inferi, or Remus, or both.
He starts running to get away from the smell, but it clings to him, rising in putrid waves. Worse still, Cedric moves farther and farther away.
Harry runs as fast as he can, but suddenly fingers and hands claw at him, hold him, keep him stuck where he is. He fights back, kicking and trying to jerk away.
"Wait! Wait for me!" Harry calls out to Cedric as he disappears into the horizon.
"You didn't wait for me," Cedric's disembodied voice says, the sound a physical presence, like a hovering mist.
Harry woke up on the floor, the bed sheets tangled around him. Grey, spitty rain struck his window in an off-kilter pitter-pat-pitter-pat-pitter-pitter-pat.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Pitter-pat-pitter-pat-pitter-pitter-pat, answered the rain.
He stared out into the gloom.
"You look like something the cat dragged in," Douglas said.
"You always know how to cheer me up," Harry said as Douglas pushed a latte under his nose. "Thanks," Harry muttered.
"Not sleeping well?"
"You should take something for it."
"There's a Healer underneath the spiritual healing—"
"Don't need a Healer."
Douglas sighed. "It can't be that bad."
"Can't be that bad? Can't be that bad? You don't know the first thing——"
"Shut your bloody mouth, I know a hell of a lot more than you think. And one thing I know is that you'll waste away staying here."
Harry hadn't seen that coming—not by a long shot. "What?"
Douglas looked around and sighed. "I just mean, you only ever talk to me. There are loads of people to talk to. Loads of things to see. You need… look, I think if you'd just—" Douglas ran his hand through his hair, leaving behind a streak of soya flour. "You just sit here all day, brooding. You're stuck, Harry. Well and truly stuck. And believe me, I well know what that's like."
"What do you mean?"
Douglas got a far-away look in his eyes. "You have no idea how hard it was to leave friends behind, to see what people were doing, the stupid choices they were making." He glanced at Harry. "I was there. During the first war. I saw what that madman was doing—what he'd do to Lottie's family, my own, me, if we didn't leave. What chances did a Muggleborn and a Squib have with You-Know-Who around? If Lottie and I hadn't left, I don't know what would have happened."
"But you did leave. You got out."
Douglas swallowed heavily. "We ran away. That's not quite the same thing, now is it? We escaped to Brindle's Yard and never left. And now there are others who've never left. We've collected a lot of good people over the years."
Harry thought that sounded rather wonderful. He didn't understand why Douglas seemed so melancholy about it. He'd love to spend the rest of his life in Brindle's Yard. Anyone would.
"Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" Douglas asked.
Harry had no idea what Douglas was trying to say. None at all. Dread pooled in the bottom of his stomach. "Do you want me to leave?"
Douglas rolled his eyes. "Gods, you are thick as a plank," he muttered.
"No. I'm not. I'm just rubbish at working out impossible puzzles. You'll find most of us are."
Douglas cocked his head and narrowed his eyes before breaking into a deep, rumbling chuckle. "You've got fight in you, I'll give you that. Full of piss and vinegar and fight. You'll be okay—no matter how thick you are."
"Hey! What are you—?"
But Harry didn't get to finish. Douglas was herding him out of the bakery and into the middle of the Yard. "It's a beautiful day, boy-o, go talk to someone."
"Who? I don't know anyone but you and Lottie."
"Then make friends."
Harry stared at him dumbly, completely perplexed by Douglas's bizarre behaviour.
"Make friends. What, are you expecting me just to walk up to a stranger and say, 'Hi, I'm Harry. Let's be friends.'"
"That might work. You might even get lucky that way."
Harry flushed with embarrassment. "Shut up, you old tosser."
Douglas grinned again. "Piss and vinegar, too right."
Harry shook his head and grinned, despite himself.
"Look, I'm just saying you could do with a bit of airing out. What about Cherie over there? She looks lonely."
Harry glanced at the round-faced woman he sometimes fed the pigeons with. "Her? You want me to be friends with her? You do know she talks to the pigeons, don't you? And before you say anything, they talk back—at least according to her. They have quite a lot to say on the current state of things in the Lake District."
"All right, him, then," Douglas said, pointing to the brown-haired man with whom Harry had traded little more than glances and sneers.
Harry could tell Douglas wasn't going to give up and at least the man didn't seem the sort to carry on with pigeons. "Fine," he said with a resigned sigh. "Will that make you happy?"
"For you to step out of this little bubble you're living in? Yes, that would make me very happy."
For a moment—just one—Harry was sure he was staring into Albus Dumbledore's blue, twinkling eyes. He swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, okay," he said.
"There's a good lad," Douglas said with a final push.
Harry trudged over to the bench where the man sat hunched over reading a book. He turned back and caught a glimpse of Douglas and Lottie leaning out of the doorway, watching him, before they darted back inside. Harry rolled his eyes again. "How do I get into these things?" he asked himself under his breath.
Harry studied the man on the bench. He was rather average and non-descript. Brown hair, brown eyes, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. He was utterly forgettable, which in and of itself, seemed a bit odd.
"Do you know Douglas?" Harry asked the man without preamble.
Startled, the man nearly dropped his book. He looked up and stared at Harry, his eyes going wide for a moment with what Harry thought was recognition before annoyance settled in and knitted his brows and pressed his lips into a flat line. "What?" he asked in a low baritone.
"Do you know Douglas? The man who runs that bakery with his wife, Lottie."
The man studied Harry long enough that Harry began to fidget. "A bit."
The man sniffed and returned to his book. Harry stood awkwardly for a few moments, hoping the man would say something.
Harry cleared his throat.
The man looked up, more annoyed than before. He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Erm… I've seen you here before."
"You're a smart one."
Harry swore under his breath. "Look, Douglas—Lottie's husband, the bakery owners, the ones—"
"I know who they are, what does that have to do with your constant interruptions?"
Harry immediately prickled. "There's no reason to be rude."
The man shut his book and leaned back against the bench. He stared at Harry for a moment. "Considering I was sitting here, minding my own business, clearly reading, I cannot fathom why you would call me rude. Is this a joke of some sort?"
Harry coloured with embarrassment. The man was right. "No, sorry. I'm just—let's start over again."
"I wasn't aware that we'd started anything."
Undeterred, Harry stuck out his hand. "I'm Harry. Nice to meet you."
The man's gaze drifted down to Harry's outstretched hand and stayed there for a long while. So long, in fact, Harry almost pulled his hand back. But then the man raised his hand and clasped Harry's in a firm shake.
"Nice to meet you, Harry."
Harry grinned. "Nice to meet you to, er—you didn't give me your name."
"No. I didn't."
Amusement played in the man's eyes and Harry found himself relaxing. He shrugged. "Names are overrated."
"On that point, Harry, I agree with you completely."
"Mind if I sit?"
"I suppose not."
"Thanks," Harry said as he sat. "So how long have you been coming to Brindle's Yard?"
"Almost a year," the man said.
"Oh. I just found it a couple of months ago. Found it by accident."
The man looked to the side. "I knew it was here."
"Oh. So do you live in London?"
"Me too. I'm on holiday. I hadn't really spent a lot of time in London, so thought I'd come see what it was all about. I lived in Scotland mostly. Well, except for the summers, of course. Was away at school…."
Inside, Harry's mind was screaming at him to stop talking. But he couldn't. In fact, the more he wanted to stop, the more words came out. Oh, God, he'd just said his best mate used to dream about spiders on roller skates. It was like someone had grabbed him by the ankles and was shaking the words right out of his mouth. And the man-who-refused-to-give-his-name wasn't helping matters. He just sat there with a mildly blank look on his face as Harry nattered on and on.
"…More than you wanted to know, I'm sure," Harry said while rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. The man said nothing in return. He just kept staring.
This was why Harry didn't like meeting new people. At least not like this. It would have been so much easier if they'd had, say, sticks to throw at each other or a Quaffle to battle over.
"…so, anyway, yeah, erm, I'm on holiday," Harry said.
"I, uh, needed a break."
"Don't we all."
Silence fell. Harry scratched the back of his neck again, trying to think of something else to talk about. Finally, Mr. –what's–in–a–name put Harry out of his misery.
"I see you over there reading that board all the time. Why do you do that?"
"The Daily Confessional?" Harry asked. "It's… I don't know… sometimes I guess it's easier to live with your own secrets when you read someone else's."
"So you feel better about yourself after reading about the man who tears the wings off of live butterflies, is that what you're saying?"
Harry laughed. "Something like that. That's pretty mental, you have to agree."
The man said nothing in return.
"Oh, God! You're not—I mean—that's not you is it?"
"No, that's not me," the man said, his lips twitching into a smile.
"Brilliant. I was afraid I'd… er… offended you or something. You're not the man that likes to—"
"No, I don't have any interest in petting animals while masturbating. There are much better things I can do than that," the man said with a feral grin.
Harry felt like he'd been thrown into a vat of hot oil. His stomach fluttered and he didn't understand why. "I—I—"
The man laughed gently. "S'okay. Not a problem." He glanced back at the bakery. "I think you've done your duty. Lottie and her husband have finally moved away from the window."
Harry's face coloured again. He was beginning to hate that. "Sorry. I didn't mean—I mean, I would have liked to have said hello anyway."
"Like I said, not a problem. Lottie did the same thing to me. Tried to get me to make friends with that odd woman who feeds the pigeons."
"Be glad you resisted."
"My thoughts exactly. And I don't hold it against you. Those two are always plotting to push the regulars out of the nest. Consider it your initiation."
"Yeah, okay. Well… it was nice, you know, saying hello. Maybe we could, dunno, talk again, or something."
Something odd passed across the man's features. "Sure."
"Brilliant. Well, it was nice to have met you, then. Erm, whoever you are."
"You as well."
"Yeah. Bye, then."
The man inclined his head and opened his book, signalling the end of the conversation.
Harry hesitated for a moment, not sure of what to do. When it was clear that the man wouldn't say anything more, he got up and walked back towards the bakery.
As he left the Yard that afternoon, he looked back at the brown-haired man. The fluttering feeling returned to his stomach. Harry closed his eyes as he remembered the last person he'd felt that with. Somehow, he didn't think Ginny would be happy about the comparison.
Harry walked back to his flat thinking about things he'd never even considered before. He wondered what it might be like to kiss a man.
"Back bright and early, I see," Douglas said.
"Yeah. Slept well last night."
Douglas seemed inordinately cheered by that. A warm rush of affection surged through Harry.
"And you made a new friend, I see."
"He's not that bad, Harry."
"No, he wasn't. He was actually—" Harry felt a fluttering in his stomach and remembered the cold stickiness from earlier. "He was nice."
"Nice," Douglas said, looking like the cat with the cream.
"Yeah. Nice. And he didn't once suspect that the pigeons were plotting to do him in."
Douglas threw his head back with a laugh. "Knew you could do it. But enough of that. Isn't there a little bit of creamy parchment you're anxious to see?"
Douglas pounded Harry on the shoulder. He leaned in. "Your confessor's anxious for you to see the next confession too, I think."
Douglas grinned. "Go on. Have a look."
"Why are you so anxious for me to see the confession?"
"I'm just pleased to see two lost lambs finding their way, that's all."
"Besides, you're taking away from my valuable cooking time with all of this ridiculous conversation. I have a vegan cheesecake to make, you know." Douglas turned away and said under his breath, "God help me, tell me why I ever married a vegan."
Harry laughed. "Good luck with the cheesecake–that's–not–a–cheesecake–at–all. I'll just be over here, reading the confessions, and drinking my great big coffee full of cream and sugar."
"You're a nasty piece of work."
"I knew I liked you for a reason," Douglas said with a wink before ambling off to the kitchen.
Harry waited a moment for the sake of good order before dashing towards the Confessional, searching for his black-ink-creamy-parchment confession. He found it in a second.
Harry's lips curved into a smile as he read:
"I hope you're not ugly. I can't abide having ugly friends."
They carried on for weeks after that—the confessor confessing and Harry responding. Harry felt a rhythm, an intimate connection with his confessor that he didn't think would have been possible outside of Brindle's Yard and the magic of anonymous confession.
But everything worked differently in the yard. People flowed in and out through a dreamy landscape abandoned by time. Harry still fed pigeons with Cherie, traded barbs with Douglas and generally tried to avoid Lottie's wooden spoon.
He found he missed the brown-haired man, which was impossible to explain, but Harry didn't much care for the why of things. Besides, he had his confessor.
He—Harry had long since determined that the confessor was a he—alternated between pointed barbs at Harry and bone-deep confessions. There was an aching bitterness in his words that Harry understood more than he thought possible. Their lives—all of their lives—had been stolen to some degree. The trick was getting them back.
But there was plenty of time for that, Harry thought. There was no rush to return to "life," was there? Not when there were conversations to be had.
The black silk blindfolding him is cool and soft against his skin. Fingers brush gently against his side and Harry gasps. A masculine chuckle answers.
"Do you like that?" the brown-haired man asks.
"Yes," Harry hisses as fingers brush over him.
He knows it's the brown-haired man doing this to him. That soft baritone goes straight to his cock and those long fingers ghost across his skin. Harry whimpers and tries to wriggle closer to him.
"Stay still. I'm going to make you scream."
Before Harry can ask what he means, something warm and wet swipes across the head of his cock. Harry moans and thrusts up, crying out as lips and tongue sink down and swallow him, enfolding him in pleasure—
The dream shifts and suddenly thick creamy parchment squares shower him, each one floating down like rose petals and caressing him before fluttering away. Confessions—they are all confessions—penned in black ink on creamy parchment. Harry writhes on the bed as the parchment brushes against his over-sensitive skin. His erection is heavy and full, and each time a confession flutters against him, he gets closer and closer to coming. One about family brushes against the head, drags through the pre-come, and settles at the base. Another—this one about liking to call his sexual partners naughty whores—wraps itself around his cock and pulls and pulls and pulls and—
Harry woke with a start. He rolled over and felt a familiar cold stickiness he'd not experienced since he was fourteen. He groaned and opened his eyes.
Bright light assaulted him and blinded him for a moment, the pain of it sharp and insistent. He blinked, but he didn't shy away from the sunlight. Unsettled and pensive, he allowed it to slice him open and lay him bare.
Even he could see what that dream had been about. Or, at least, he thought he knew. Oh, bollocks! The only thing he knew was that that brown-haired man had made him think about kissing men and his confessor stirred something inside that Harry couldn't quite give name to. What was he to do about this? Harry bit his lip and came to a decision.
Harry glanced around the Yard and shoved his hands in his pockets. He stood before the Daily Confessional, shifting from foot to foot. He looked down at the confessions box and slowly pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket. Before he could change his mind, he shoved it in through the slot and walked away.
Panic seized him. He struggled to keep himself from running back and Blasting the damn wall open to retrieve his first confession.
He took a deep breath and remembered his dream from the night before.
When Harry returned to the Yard the next day, Douglas pulled him to the counter of the bakery and plied him with a latte.
"Good to see you, Harry."
"Er, yeah. Thanks, Douglas."
"New confession on the board—did you see?"
Harry felt the tips of his ears burn. "Uh, no. Didn't see."
"Hmm. There's a new confessor."
"Is there really?" Harry asked mildly.
"Yeah—posted his first confession. Curious thing, that confession."
"Yeah. Someone's already responded to it. I think you've started something."
Harry nearly choked.
"Careful, lad," Douglas said as he pounded Harry on the back.
"I'm fine—I'm fine," Harry said as he tried to wave away Douglas's hands.
Douglas stepped back and returned to the counter. "Well. I've got some spelt bread to bake this morning. I'll be in the back most of the day, I think. Won't be able to entertain the likes of you. Guess you'll have to find something else to do. Here in the Yard, I mean. Something else to do here," Douglas said as he nodded towards the Confessional.
Harry rolled his eyes at Douglas's transparency, then grimaced at his own.
Douglas responded with a grin and a wink. He turned and began whistling as he walked into the back of the bakery.
Harry sighed. With shaking hands, he put down his latte and forced himself to walk at a sedate pace. His heart was pounding in his chest as he neared the Confessional.
He scanned the board and found his immediately—right next to his confessor's. There they stood, two three-inch by three-inch squares of creamy parchment both penned in black ink.
Harry's confession read.
I can't stop thinking about you and I don't even know you. I wonder what you look like. Who you are. Whether you dream about me the way I dream about you,
In familiar elegant black script just below, his confessor had written:
You know me—more than you ever could have under other circumstances. And yes, I dream about you. I'd tell you about it, but I think public decency laws would be broken.
Harry's cock surged to life. A whimper almost escaped, but he caught it just in time. He licked his lips and kept reading.
"And I can't stop thinking about you, either. I never could stop."
Harry gasped. His mind raced—was this someone he already knew? Was that possible? He swung his head around wildly, looking for anyone he recognized. Aside from an assortment of Brindle Dailies, he saw no one he knew. Who was his confessor?
Harry's lips curved into a broad smile as he plotted to find out.
Brindle's Yard was a vastly different place in the dead of night. Long, grey shadows twisted across the concrete and the trees shivered from the night air. Harry pulled his Invisibility Cloak closer around his shoulders before remembering he was a Wizard and cast a small Warming Charm. He'd been watching the confession box all day, determined to find his confessor, confront him. He wondered if he'd want to kiss his confessor. Would his confessor want to kiss him?
Harry didn't really have a plan, but then he never had. And as for kissing men, Harry wasn't overly affected by it. He could do what he liked. With whomever he liked. There were no consequences in Brindle's Yard.
Harry's musings were cut short by the crack of Apparition and soft footfalls. He glanced to his right and saw a tall, cloaked figure moving towards the confession box. This was it. This was his confessor, Harry was sure of it. He stood quietly, and moved forward. His mouth was dry and his heart was hammering in his chest.
The cloaked figure bent down and put his confession in the box. Before he turned back, Harry whipped off his Invisibility Cloak and called out, "Hello."
The figure—caught off guard—turned so fast that his cloak fell back, revealing a head of silver-blond hair and features so chiselled, they looked like they'd been carved from alabaster.
Harry gasped in shock and took a step back. Malfoy was the confessor? His confessor? Malfoy?
"What are you doing here?" Harry barked as he quickly tried to find his equilibrium.
Malfoy's eyes glittered with something unrecognisable before he recovered and sneered, "I'd ask the same of you, Potter, but you aren't worth my time."
Malfoy stepped away and made to move past Harry, but Harry was faster.
"Not so fast, Malfoy. Answer me. I'm serious."
"What are you going to do, cut me from throat to hip? Oh wait, you've already done that, haven't you?"
Deep shame flooded Harry. "You were about to cast the Cruciatus Curse. It was self-defence."
Harry expected Malfoy to tell him off, to tell him was insane, to hit him, even. But Malfoy did none of those things. Instead, he dropped his head and slumped his shoulders. "Just leave it, Potter. Just—leave me alone."
Stunned, Harry let Malfoy walk past him. Harry was about to let him walk away completely before sense returned to him.
"Wait! Don't go."
Malfoy didn't turn. "Why not?"
"Just—it was you, right? You're the confessor. Black ink, creamy parchment. It's you."
Malfoy turned and rushed at Harry, his face screwed up in anger. "What do you want? A bloody medal? Another Order of Merlin, First Class?"
"No. No, that's not—"
"Or is this about our exchange yesterday? Let me tell you something, Potter, if you think for one second that I won't tell the world that you're just as eager to take it up the arse—"
"Shut up, Malfoy. Don't you ever stop? I don't care about all of that."
Malfoy's mouth closed with an audible clack of his teeth. He appeared dumbstruck for a moment before his eyes narrowed into familiar, sneaky-Slytherin slits. "What do you want, then?"
"I—I just—" Harry didn't know what he wanted. He didn't know how to reconcile anything of the Malfoy he'd known in school, the Malfoy he'd seen tortured and repentant and terrified, with the Malfoy that still heard the screaming voices and told him that he'd dreamed of him.
And then Harry remembered the very first parchment confession he'd read.
I hate you for saving me. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. I'd give the world if you'd save me again.
Harry stared at Malfoy and remembered everything they'd shared through the confessional, what they'd said, how well they'd got along without knowing who the other was. He remembered what he'd said to the brown-haired man, that names didn't much matter. He'd meant that. In fact, he'd meant everything he'd ever said to his confessor and staring into Malfoy's eyes in that moment, he meant it all still.
He'd wasted too much time on petty rivalry. He'd been blind for so very long.
"Potter? Are you having one of those funny turns again?"
"I don't care that you're Malfoy."
Instead of answering, Harry strode forward, grabbed Malfoy's hand and Apparated them to Grimmauld Place without a second thought.
"What the bloody fuck has got into you, Potter?"
Harry stared and swallowed hard. He glanced around the front lounge of Grimmauld Place, wondering why in the world he'd brought Malfoy there. He hadn't been there in over a year and the lack of attention showed.
Harry swung his gaze back to Malfoy, the only bright, living spot in the whole god-forsaken place. He took a step forward.
Malfoy stared at him strangely, but didn't move. "Just what are you doing?"
Harry opened his mouth and then closed it again. He had no idea what he was doing. He'd just done the first thing that had come to him.
Malfoy snorted. "Leave it to you to back down in the heat of the moment."
That was all it took. "I don't back down," Harry said as he darted forward.
"That's the problem, actually. I rather think you do."
Harry didn't have time to decipher what Malfoy was saying, instead he did something far more productive. He pushed Malfoy against the wall and covered him with his body.
"Potter, what—? Get off of me, you stupid oaf!"
He grabbed Malfoy's hands and pulled them high over his head, holding them by the wrists with one hand.
"Hey, those are—" Malfoy's head fell back as Harry shoved his knee between his legs and thrust it gently. "Gods, you're going to be the death of me."
Harry felt himself harden when Malfoy canted his hips and ground his own erection into Harry's. Harry's head fell back and a long hiss escaped him. He'd never felt anything so intense, so searing.
"You like that."
"Shut up. No more talking."
"Who knew Harry Potter liked it rough? Though I should have expected that, I think."
Memories of every struggle, every punch and kick they'd ever shared flooded Harry, and he made to pull back.
Malfoy wriggled his hands free and grabbed Harry by the hips, pulling him forwards. "Don't you bloody dare. Take it, Potter. Take it because you want it. Not because you have to."
Harry tried to pull away, but Malfoy wouldn't have it, and Harry gave in. They both groaned as they began rubbing against each other in earnest.
"Never because you have to," Malfoy said in a breathy voice and with a faraway expression. "S'okay to want it, to take what you want. Yeah. That's it. Take it, take it, take it," he chanted as they brought each other closer and closer to orgasm.
Harry began kissing the side of Malfoy's neck, sucking, biting, taking what he wanted.
"Fuck, Potter," Malfoy said through a low moan as he tilted his head to give better access. "Didn't know you were such a—"
"Shut up," Harry hissed, tired of talking. "Use that damn mouth for something better," he said before leaning in and kissing Malfoy on the lips, swallowing any protest he might have made.
Malfoy's fingers pressed hard into Harry's hips—as hard as Harry's hands curled around Malfoy's shoulders. They ravaged each other's mouths as they ground harder and faster against each other. Bliss curled deep in Harry's belly. He moaned his orgasm through the kiss, swallowing Malfoy's own shout of completion.
They sagged against each other, breathing heavily, not removing their hands.
Harry finally staggered back and wiped his mouth with the back of his shaky hand. What had he just done?
"Bloody hell, I needed that," Malfoy said as he leaned against the wall, panting. He opened one eye and cast it towards Harry. "Going to run away now, like a scared little Gryffindor?"
"No," Harry bit back.
"Good. There's lots more we can do besides that," Malfoy said with a smirk. "We can go back to my—"
"No. I want to stay here. More private."
"Don't care. If you agree to stay, you can… erm… do what you want first."
Malfoy surged forwards and kissed Harry hard. "You might live to regret that."
"I doubt it. I can take anything you can give."
"Let's put it to the test, then. You can fuck your most hated enemy."
"I don't hate you. Not anymore."
Malfoy pulled back and stared at him for a long moment.
"I don't hate you," Harry repeated. He reached up and trailed his fingers down Malfoy's cheek.
Malfoy's eyes closed and he took a halting breath.
Harry took his hand and led him to bed.
Harry wanted to spend the rest of his life in Grimmauld Place with Draco. Even though it was still dreary and musty and smelled of dead things, Draco's lips were there. As were his hands, his eyes, his hair, his tongue, his teeth, his cock, his arse—all of him was there. With Harry. They'd taken each other over every available surface in the house, christened every room with their laughter and their fucking.
They never had to leave, because Kreacher kept them fed, their bed linens changed, and the fires burning. In the two weeks they'd been there, not once had a menu been repeated. And there was always hot water for the bath and an endless supply of oils for bathing and for other things.
It was easy to live and love, and to want and take in a vacuum.
"What are you doing?"
Draco stopped short of the door. "Thought I'd pop over to Brindle's Yard and look at the confessions. Maybe take a walk around the park. Go out for lunch. Why don't you come with me?"
"Kreacher's making lunch."
Draco sighed. "I know that, Harry. Look, don't you want to go out for a bit? We haven't left this house in three weeks. And besides, we need to talk."
Those words had never preceded anything good in Harry's life—in anyone's life, as far as he was concerned. "He's making the cordon bleu just how you like it. He said he's got it perfected now."
Harry looked away. He sighed and sat down. "I thought you liked fucking me."
Draco burst out laughing. "I love fucking you, being fucked by you, rimmed by you, rimming you, making you see stars—I love it all."
"Then why do I get the feeling you're about to leave me?"
Draco ran his hands through his hair and sighed. "I never asked to come here."
"You never left, either."
"Point taken. But—it's time for me to leave. It's time for you to leave, too."
"Because I have to get back to my life."
The unspoken accusation that being with Harry wasn't a life stung. "What life? The one where you make your pathetic anonymous confessions? That life?"
"Fuck you, Potter."
"Oh, so it's Potter, now is it? Well fine, Malfoy. Leave. Fuck off. Fall off a bridge for all I care. Don't let me stop you from going back to your life."
Harry turned to leave the room with as much dignity as he could when he was thrown against the wall, Draco's body pinning him from behind.
"Gods, you're such an absolute wanker, did you know that?" Draco hissed in his ear, his breath hot.
Harry couldn't help the moan that escaped. "You can't want to give this up," he said as he wriggled his arse against Draco's cock.
"It's not about—" Draco made a noise in the back of his throat as Harry thrust backward. "You're going to be the death of me."
"Whatever, so long as you fuck me," Harry said, trying to undo his zip, push down his trousers, and keep his arse pushing against Draco's erection.
"What makes you think I want to do all of the work?" Draco asked while making shallow thrusts against Harry's arse.
"I did it this morning. It's time for you to return the favour."
Draco leaned in and bit Harry's shoulder hard enough to bruise and arouse. Harry's eyes rolled back in his head. "That's playing dirty, Malfoy," he said in a breathless rush.
"I never said I played fair."
"Thank God for that," Harry said, crying out in success when his trousers fell around his ankles.
"Got them down all by yourself."
"Yeah. I deserve a medal. Or at least a brilliant shag."
Draco chuckled and then got down to the serious business of buggering Harry senseless.
"I'm marrying Astoria Greengrass," Draco said without preamble as his fingers trailed up and down Harry's naked torso.
It was like Draco's fingers had turned into Bludgers in an instant.
"What?" Harry asked as he scrambled into a sitting position.
"In a year's time, I'm marrying Astoria Greengrass," Draco said, still stretched out across the Persian in the lounge with one hand propped behind his head. "I've been trying to tell you for weeks, but…."
"But we're—why are you marrying Astoria Greengrass?"
Draco shrugged. He was staring fixedly at the ceiling. "Her family doesn't care about the war business. We still have plenty of Galleons—thanks to Father's clever tax planning. It was the only smart thing that stupid man ever did."
"He loved you. In the end. I saw it."
The pop and crackle of the fire filled the outward silence. Inside, Harry was screaming. He was tearing at everything in him that kept him from pouncing on Draco and beating him with his fists and telling him he couldn't leave.
"Do you love her?" he asked instead.
"I don't even know her."
"Wait a second—you'd—you'd give all of this up for someone you don't even know?"
"I have a duty to marry this woman. The alliance of our families is the most important thing I can do to carry on the tarnished Malfoy name. Surely you must understand that?"
"No. I don't. I don't understand it at all."
Draco finally sat up. "What did you think would happen? Do you think for a second that we'd survive outside of this house? Outside of Brindle's Yard? Do you really think that us being together is going to work?"
"Because it won't. It's easy here, when there's nothing to tear at us, no expectations, nothing. There's nothing here. But out there?" Draco shook his head.
"So what have I been, then? A convenient fuck? A last, kinky hurrah for Draco Malfoy?"
Draco reached up and trailed his fingers down Harry's face. "You gave me something I never thought I'd find."
"What's that? A willing arse?"
Harry's cupboard door opens. He can't recall precisely why he's back in the cupboard or why he can stretch out comfortably. He looks down and sees an eleven–year–old's body.
Harry looks up and blinks, dumbfounded, at the vision of Snape dressed as a circus ringmaster. His long-tailed, double-breasted waistcoat is done up in red satin and edged with black sequins. Nagini is curled around his neck, bobbing and swaying with every move he makes.
"Yes, sir?" Harry enquires out of habit.
"Why are you still abed?"
Red-satin and black-sequined Snape rolls his eyes. Nagini hisses with snake laughter. "Don't you remember?"
"I—remember what, sir?"
A small case is floating in front of Harry's bed now. Its edges are worn and it's covered with travel stickers.
"Well, what are you waiting for, you daft boy? Pack! Pack!"
"But—where am I—what am I—what's going on?"
Dumbledore appears. He's wearing a pink tutu and eating kung pao chicken from the takeaway container. The Patil twins are hula-hooping in the background. Harry can't work out how so many people can fit comfortably in his cupboard.
"Why you're running away, dear boy," Dumbledore says. He thrusts the takeaway container at Harry. "Kung pao chicken?"
Harry shakes his head and turns imploring eyes to satin and sequin Snape. "But where am I going?"
"To the circus. You're running away to the circus."
"But I don't want to run away. Not anymore."
"It's been decided. Now pack!" Snape says, cracking a long liquorice whip that suddenly appears in his hand.
"But I don't—"
A warm hand on his own stops Harry. "But you've already done it, dear boy. You've already run away," Dumbledore says.
"But I don't want to go to the circus!" Harry wails in his squeaky-pitched, eleven-year-old voice.
Strange calliope music fills the air. Invisible hands drag Harry out of his bed and fill his case with dirty socks and lemon sherbets. Snape grabs him by the back of his tee-shirt and pulls him to the front door. Unthinkable terror rises in Harry, and he doesn't know why.
Snape turns to him and smiles, his teeth yellow and razor-sharp. Harry recoils and tries to get away.
Hands grab him. He turns and sees Snape and Dumbledore, Remus and Tonks, Crabbe and Colin. Sirius is the worst.
"You can't forget us," they say, their voices rising over the music that grows more sinister by the moment.
Draco appears before him. He's so far away. Harry has to get to him.
Harry tries to run, but he grows heavier and heavier with each step. Draco disappears with a crack, only to appear behind him, his hands joining those of the others. But instead of grabbing Harry, he's pushing the other hands away.
"Let me go!" Harry cries. "I'm sorry. I'm not perfect. I don't want to run away to the circus—"
Harry woke with a start, his body shaking like he was having some sort of convulsive attack. Pincer-like vices squeezed his shoulders. He opened his eyes and saw Draco's pale face looming in front of his.
"Finally," Draco said as he shook Harry again for good measure.
"Gerroff!" Harry said as he tried to push Draco away.
Draco pulled back, still eyeing Harry cautiously.
Harry sighed and ran his hands through his hair.
"Why would you ever want to go to the circus?" Draco asked.
Harry laughed. It was better than crying. Once Harry's laughter died down, they sat in silence for a long while.
"I suppose you're leaving tomorrow."
"Yes. I'll be quiet when I leave."
Harry nodded without caring whether Draco could see him or not.
"It's for the best."
Harry nodded again. Maybe one day he'd believe it.
No matter what you or I want, I can't be with you. But you saved me, Potter. Now fucking save yourself.
That was the note that greeted Harry when he woke the next day. Black ink on creamy parchment had never torn him apart so thoroughly.
It was two weeks before Harry left his room.
Harry is flying. He's almost to outer space, he's flying so high. The wind pushes him higher and higher, faster and faster. Joy spills out of him in great big gusts of breath and laughter. He is alone and unafraid. He is unburdened and happier than he can ever recall being. He looks down and sees them all waving up to him. Dumbledore, Remus, Tonks, even Crabbe. They're smiling at him.
He feels the phantom presence of Draco behind him, holding him fast, whispering in his ear to go faster.
As he stared at the Daily Confessional, pain prickled behind Harry's eyes. Draco's last confession, his final words to Harry, were posted there. He'd fantasized that the words would say, "I was wrong. I want you to be in my life forever." But that wasn't what was there.
Harry would recover. Draco's words were just the final punctuation mark on a very long conversation they'd had over the course of eight years. Draco would marry Astoria Greengrass in a year's time. He would settle into the life he was meant to have. He'd made his choice. It was the choosing that hurt Harry the most.
Harry took a step back and fished the three–inch by three–inch square of parchment from his pocket. He looked around for a drawing pin, scowling when he couldn't find one. Honestly, of all the times to have his final grand gesture thwarted. He was about to kick the wall when a hand fell heavily against his shoulder. Harry turned and saw Douglas standing there, his face solemn. In his hand was a drawing pin.
"I thought you'd be needing this."
Harry nodded. "Thanks," he muttered as he swiftly pinned his own piece of parchment next to Draco's.
Douglas read it and nodded. "A fine confession, Harry."
"Thank you. I—Thank you." There was nothing more to say, really. "Do you think he'll know? About the confession, I mean. That it's mine. Or that one's even here."
Harry looked down at his feet. He needed new trainers and jeans. He needed new everything.
"I suspect you'll be leaving us, then?"
"Time to get back. I've had enough of a holiday, I think. I've got things to sort out. Things to do. I'm thinking about finishing school and joining the Aurors."
"You'd make a fine one, I suspect. Just remember the Yard now and again, will you?"
"I won't forget it. I'll be back—"
"Careful, son. Don't go making promises like that. Just… take this for what it was. A chance to live a little, a chance to find yourself. A chance to get unstuck. Confess a few things. Forgive yourself and others."
Harry looked away and nodded.
"Off you go, then," Douglas said, his voice sounding rough.
"Douglas, thanks for everything. For letting me—"
"No more of that. Right. I've got soya biscuits to get to, so if you're done blubbering, I need to get back to work. Some of us are not independently wealthy."
Harry grinned, grateful that Douglas had kept him from making what would have undoubtedly been an incredibly awkward, incredibly sappy, speech. "Enjoy your soya biscuits. I'll think of them while eating my bacon-wrapped filet with creamed potatoes."
Douglas looked at Harry as if Harry had just kicked his dog. "You bloody evil sod."
Harry smirked, which turned into a laugh as Douglas ruffled his hair.
"Knew I liked you for a reason," Douglas said as he walked away.
"What's not to like?" Harry called back. He took one last look around the Yard before turning and heading down the alleyway that would spit him back out into the city proper.
Silver spoons swayed in the breeze and chimed in harmony as they bumped against each other. They moved as opposites, and yet created a concordance of sound unmatched by other things. And at times they moved together, travelling along the same path in silence—for a moment, connected by fate and position.
Douglas shifted his gaze to the Daily Confessional. Most people didn't pay attention to the two confessions at the top of the board. Like the spoons, they were reminders.
With a sigh, he turned back to his cheesecake and rice flour brioche and thought of young men, the tragedy of love and the triumph of life.
mean something to me. Always will.
I'd hide you away, keep you in my bed forever, useful at my whim. You wouldn't like that, though, and believe it or not, I actually care about that. We would destroy each other. But I'm not sorry for anything. Not a second of it. I needed you. I'd like to think that you needed me, too.
I would stay with you, if you asked me to, but you didn't. You left. And while I hate you on the outside, deep down I'm relieved. I'm relieved, because you're not my future. It hurts more than you could know to admit that. I have no regrets. You gave me something I would never have found otherwise. You meant—no, you
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