Okay, as you all know, Make My Demons Run was my submission for this year's smoochfest! I LOVED writing this, guys, just so, so much. I love music, especially songs that tell an epic story, and I was so excited when I saw the prompt given for a story to be written based on two of Metallica's most epic songs: Unforgiven I, and Unforgiven II. James Hetfield wrote the first song about himself, about how he still feels complicit in the religious reasonings of his parents that led his mother to her death, in the ensuing alcoholism and anger issues that he dealt with and pushed his relationship with his wife to the edge. Perfect for Draco, right? The second song is about moving on from those mistakes, about accepting that while what he has done in the past may be unforgivable, that doesn't mean that there is no future for him. It's about learning that other people also have things in their past that they feel are unforgivable too. It's about realising that unforgivable doesn't mean unlovable, that it doesn't mean the end of everything. What a great tie-in to Harry and Draco, don't you think?
I don't usually plan my stories out much when I write them. I tend to start off with a vague scene in my head that encapsulates the prompt I'm working from, and then I work out how to get there while I'm writing. Sometimes I write out a vague bullet-pointed plotline, but what I end up with rarely even vaguely resmbles what I started with (also the word count somehow ends up way higher than I predicted). But this fic was different, because it spoke to me on such a personal level. I too have things in my past that I can't forget, things that I can't forgive myself for. There are times when I too think that I'm not deserving of the love my family and friends give to me, times when I sometimes stop and wonder how I could have just moved on from those things because how could I think that I have the right? I think we all have moments like that in our past, albeit maybe not to the extent of either Draco's or what Hetfield thinks about himself.
So this fic became very important to me, not just on a personal level, but also in regards to how I feel about the character of Draco Malfoy, and the ways in which I think Harry may have reacted in the aftermath of the war. These two songs became questions about these boys in my head: How would Draco feel about the things he knew to be right but never acted upon? Would Harry think about some of the things he'd had to do and hate himself for them? And while I thought about these questions, thoughts of how I could express that through the reimagining of these two songs began to form.
So, I've written this “DVD Commentary”, for anyone interested in seeing my thought processes as I wrote this story.
The corridor outside the courtroom was cold, dark and devoid of life. The green and black tiles adorning the walls and floor seemed determined to suck any warmth or remaining body heat from their occupants, leaving them with nothing but the shivering anticipation for what awaited them on the other side of the heavy wooden doors. Even the candles in their sconces flickered and waned, trying desperately to stay alight. Breaths hung in clouds of white, bloodless lips clamped tightly shut, every tiny whimper and moan magnified and echoed off the walls. Resignation and desolation settled like a pall upon slightly shaking shoulders, a cloak weaved together with strands of guilt and anger and self-loathing.
There was nobody else in the corridor, not even any guards. Prisoners awaiting their trials had their wands confiscated, and there was nowhere for them to go except in. There was nobody to wait with him; everyone he knew had already been sentenced.
Draco Malfoy looked at the doors, and he waited. It had been so long since he had seen the sun.
Although I started off the story with the first song, this section is actually a reference to the lyrics of the second song. There's a lot of symbolism of doors being locked in the beginning of the song, of a sun that the protagonist cannot see. There's very much a sense of extreme loneliness (“Sick and tired I stand alone”), of this person waiting for something that he intrinsically knows (at this point) will never come. I translated this into the feeling that Draco goes through while he waits for his trial: the closed door and his sense of being trapped and forced to wait; the coldness of the place, the lack of sunlight; the complete lack of anything approaching life as he used to know.
That he did knowingly take the Dark Mark, signifying himself as a member of the self-named Death Eaters, aligning himself with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named against the Wizarding population...
I used this first crime that Draco contemplates as a way of bringing in the feel of the first stanza of the first song:
New blood joins this earth,
And quickly he's subdued.
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules.
I extrapolated from the little we learn in the books about Draco's early life with his parents, and in particular Lucius, in order to have Draco's early life fit with the theme of the song. As soon as he's born, he learns 'the way things are done', confirmed through the repeated refrain to encapsulate the “constant pained disgrace”. He “learns their rules”, and he abided by them, even when shown that those rules might not be the right ones.
That he did knowingly allow entry to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to a group of Death Eaters (addendum 2, attached below), resulting in the following: destruction of school property, injury and permanent disfiguration and affliction to several Ministry workers, and the death of Albus Dumbledore...
This is where Draco stops wondering and just starts following, because it's the safer option, in accordance with the second stanza of the song:
With time the child draws in.
This whipping boy done wrong.
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on he's known
Draco has chosen to do the job set out for him by Voldemort, and he's decided to do it to the best of his ability. We see him as the “whipping boy”; the young Malfoy to be ridiculed by the rest of the Dark Lord's followers. We see him draw in, collapsing in on himself as he sets about completing his task; he gives in, entirely. Except not really, because he lowers his wand, because even though he's been deprived of his own thoughts, even though he's doing what he's been ordered to do, it's a struggle, one that he can't get away from.
Everything that he had done didn’t matter then, and that he hadn’t been the one to complete the task didn’t matter now. That he did knowingly allow entry to Hogwarts, resulting in the death of Albus Dumbledore. That was what Draco had done, and the Veritaserum coursing through his veins could only give one answer:
This is the part that coincides with the chorus of the song:
What I've felt,
What I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown.
So I dub thee unforgiven.
Everything that Draco felt, everything he went through and thought about, none of it matters, because none of that shined through in his actions. The lowering of his wand doesn't indicate a positive action, merely a neutral one, and all of the things they had accused him of doing, he had done. There is no coming back from that, which is something that is repeated throughout each of the contemplative sections in the first half of the story.
That he did knowingly allude with his family to keep several members of the Wizarding public as prisoners in his home, including two underage Hogwarts students, Mr Ollivander and a Gringotts goblin...
This crime stands in place of the third stanza of the song:
They dedicate their lives
To running all of his.
He tries to please them all –
This bitter man he is.
By this point in Draco's life, he is in an untenable position, feeling as though he has no choice but to comply with the requests made of him. Everyone around him, from his parents to Voldemort to the rest of the Death Eaters, they all want something from him that he feels he has no choice but to give. He is resigned, we can see in how he responds to the Death Eaters on the train, and he is bitter, as we see in his reaction to Luna's name not being included in the crime laid out before him.
That he did knowingly enter Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts with the intention of fighting with those against the Ministry, hoping to aid the Dark Lord in his rise to power...
This last crime stands in place of the last stanza of the song:
Throughout his life the same –
He's battled constantly.
This fight he cannot win –
A tired man they see no longer cares.
By this point, Draco is done. He wants the fight to be over, and he wants to disappear somewhere where he won't have to face it all anymore. He's had one goal all of his life: to get Voldemort on his family's side, and by now he has realised that this is not something he can ever achieve. He doesn't care anymore, he doesn't want to fight, just wants to have the opportunity to get as far away as possible.
Even though the first part of this story is not yet over, this is where the tone of it begins to change. Harry speaks up in his defense, but all Draco can do is wonder if he really understands what he's doing. I tried to express this through the myriad questions Draco asks himself, and how he wonders how Harry could possibly know what Draco might have done differently when Draco himself doesn't know.
And so, at the end of the first part, Draco is free, but not really. He's still stuck with what he's done, and still stuck with the guilt and the unforgivableness of it all. He doesn't move when the chains release him, because he is unforgivable. Harry, the only one who stood up for him, walks away from him, because he is unforgivable.
There are other allusions I make throughout this first part: I use Christmas as the only time when Draco can just be him (“Never free, never me”) to express the lack of sunlight that has constantly haunted him, as per the second song. Draco's confusion as to how Neville and Luna can still be so normal when they're all living under such a “wicked sky”. The Astronomy Tower always being so cold. The sun that his governess Maria plays with him in, that is then unceremoniously ripped away from him by his father. I also added a little reference to the song Unforgiven III:
Without Potter there to orient him, Draco felt lost, adrift, like a sailor on a windless and cloudy night. Hogwarts felt all wrong without Potter.
How can I be lost
When I've got nowhere to go?
Search for seas of gold
How come it's got so cold?
Potter is such a huge constant in Draco's life that he feels lost without him, yet at the same time it's a ridiculous notion, because Potter isn't his.
And so we end the first part of the story with Draco free, and yet not, because he's “Never free, never me, so I dub Thee Unforgiven”.
I purposefully structured the first part of the story around the stanzas in the song, but while that worked for the trial and contemplative memory sections, it wouldn't work for either the next part or the song it was based on. Unforgiven II is tonally different than Unforgiven I, in that while the latter is about the protagonist explaining his situation and living with it, the former evolves as the song progresses. We begin with the very bitter and lonely protagonist, and over the course of the song he begins to find some solace, some relief in the understanding he receives. Therefore, I had to change the writing style, and lean more heavily on the constantly evolving nature of prose in general.
I have a lot of feelings about Harry. One of my biggest problems about the epilogue is how put together and well adjusted Harry seems. And yeah, sure, it's been nineteen years, but still, all of the things that this boy went through before he even reached the age of eighteen? It's amazing to me that he could even function properly when we first meet him, let alone after all of the things that happen afterwards. I've also always felt a little bit uncomfortable at the idea that Harry just happily throws himself into becoming an Auror after school, because I always felt as though he chose that particular career simply because at the time, he couldn't imagine himself ever doing anything other than thinking about bad wizards and evil dark lords. And so I was glad that I chose to set this fic in the months right after the Battle of Hogwarts, because I wanted to explore some of the things that Harry might think, now that it's all truly over. I think it's perfectly reasonable for Harry to flounder a little, to wonder what his purpose is, now that the prophecy that has governed his entire life has been fulfilled. Can you imagine growing up with that hanging over your head? What must it be like to have that so suddenly removed? Those were the questions I asked myself while writing Harry in this fic. I wanted to explore his own reticence over the choices he can make now, because I think that, just like Draco, Harry had his own limited set of choices, and I could imagine him being a little gun-shy now that a whole world of possibilities – ones that he truly thought he would never get – is laid out before him. So, I wrote Harry as being very determinedly focused on the present, rather than the future. He stays to help rebuild Hogwarts because the castle is the only place he's ever thought of as his home, and he politely but surely deflects any thoughts of what he's going to do next. He sets his sights on Draco because he recognises their similarities, because there's someone else who's afraid to make choices now that he has them, who doesn't know what to do with this second chance they've both been given. He doesn't forgive Draco for the things he's done, partly because he just wants to move on from the past, but also because there are things that he's done that he's not proud of either, and he knows that letting go is the first step towards moving on. He keeps pushing himself into Draco's space, both because being around someone to whom he can relate is something he desperately needs, and because he can see that Draco needs that push towards letting his past mistakes go. The end result is an interpretation of a quiet, introspective Harry, and I think that lends itself well to the overall tone of the story that I was trying to get across.
I am a huge Neville fan. I think his character progression is one of the most well written aspects of the entire series, because I think it shows just how well you can write and develop a secondary character if you really try. With each installment in the series, we get a little more insight into Neville: he's terrified of his grandmother; he likes Herbology; he has the same birthday as Harry; his parents are in St Mungo's permanently; he really likes Herbology; he's so brave and determined in the Dept of Mysteries; he stepped up when the Carrows were bullying the other students. He becomes this completely fleshed out character whose development we can chart throughout the series, all without the focus ever being on him. I wanted to continue that development in this fic, and so I used him as the kind-of go between for Harry and Draco. I wanted to think about what he would have been like immediately after the war, and I imagined that he would have become more comfortable with himself and his place in wizarding society. He becomes less of a student and more of a partner for Professor Sprout, and he's content with what he's doing. I imagined him as a sort of mix of Ron and Hermione; slightly reckless but perceptive, intuitive but laid-back enough to not interfere too much. I just really love Neville, and I wanted to give him a chance to shine, and this story was perfect for that.
Draco begins this second part of the story very alone, set apart from the rest of the characters. He blames McGonagall for this at first, assuming that she gives him jobs elsewhere in the castle in order to keep him separate from everyone else. But, as time goes on, he recognises that she's actually being kind to him, and treating him no differently than she treats the rest of the volunteers.
He manages to open the “locked” door to the Slytherin dorm by being “true”, both as a Slytherin, and as a person; he regains a little piece of himself as a member of society by understanding the problem and fixing it. The castle wall gives a sigh of relief, and his first step inside is symbolic of his first step towards moving on – he's not just cleaning anymore, he's actually making a difference, one that only he could have done, as seen by the group's earlier failure. There's still a little piece of him that is useful, that is needed.
There are cracks in the windows and the walls, but he's so far underground that “there's no sun shining through”. He lets himself be amused by the failure of the others, his “black heart scarring darker still”. He keeps himself separate, in the room the furthest away from everyone else, and when Potter comes along he sneers at him, simultaneously wanting him to go away and stay right where he is – the things Potter says are the “words [he] wan[ts to] hear” but they still make no sense to Draco, because he still sees himself as very much unforgivable.
As the fic moves on, Harry and Draco move the stones together, building something new out of the rubble and chaos. They learn things about each other. Draco reads his diary, turning the pages and remembering the life he'd once wanted, that he now knows is beyond his reach. As Harry gradually draws him into his circle, Draco is constantly confused as to why – he can't have this life he's being given glimpses into, so what is the point? He sits outside in the sun, but he's still left feeling cold. He works away under the sun and gets burned, but still he doesn't notice it. He looks at Harry and it's like looking at the sun, and it's both compelling and completely terrifying. And each time Harry comes looking for him, he shuts the door behind them, symbolically telling Draco that they're both feeling the same way, and still Draco doesn't see it. They both work on the west wall, away from the sun in the morning, too busy to notice it in the afternoon. And then, when Draco wakes up he goes down to the lake, and he watches the sun rise. He makes his decision, and now he can feel the sun on his back and it warms him, thoroughly and completely. As they walk away together, the sun follows them both.
With the sex scene, I really wanted to show the idea of Draco finally learning to move on. Up until this point, he's shied away from making choices, believing that anything he chooses would only lead to yet more pain and destruction. He chooses to stay behind at school instead of going to visit his family members, because he believes that choosing the more neutral option when faced with two bad ones would be better than the alternative. And then he makes a rash decision and he kisses Potter, and he's immediately horrified with himself. It's not even as though he'd truly thought about the consequences of that action; he just assumed they would be bad, because all of his choices leading up to this point have been exactly that. But Potter surprises him by reacting positively, and he continues to react positively even as Draco asks for permission every step of the way. Draco is opening the door for Harry, and Harry is rewarding that tentative step forwards by accepting the invitation offered to him. It's a glimpse of what Draco could have, and the sex is very much about that hope, that thing that Draco wants but is uncertain as to how long he will be allowed to.
What I really love about Unforgiven II is how it evolves. We start with the door being “locked”, then it “cracks open”. The protagonist is “behind the door”, and then by the end, it's “closed”. I've always interpreted this symbology as the protagonist being stuck one one side of the door. When it first cracks open, there's nowhere on the other side he can go, so he's still just as stuck. He wonders if he should open the door to let anyone else in, because he can't conceive of another person being as deserving of his fate as he is. But when the door is closed by the end, the word holds a different connotation; they're not stuck so much as they are simply closing the door to that chapter of their lives and moving on.
I take this key and I bury it in you
Because you're Unforgiven, too.
In a way, Draco hands his future over to Harry. By going with Harry, he is effectively handing Harry the key, one that they both share. Draco no longer has sole control over whether or not the door is “locked” or simply “closed”; whether it ever “cracks open” again in the future. Harry has just as much ability to decide if he wants to revisit that chapter of their lives, and Draco decides to trust that Harry wants to keep it closed as much as he does. This is very much in keeping with the tone of the song; it's left slightly open at the end, and then Unforgiven III comes along to let us know that life doesn't become perfect after that, that there are still hurdles for them to work through. But Harry and Draco are happy right now, and that's as far forward as they're going to look for a while.
For me, both songs seem to ruminate on the concept of forgiveness, and how it affects both those in need of it, and those who give it. The songs seem to take the point of view that forgiveness isn't a necessary thing to attain in order to move on from the mistake. You don't need to be stuck in that quagmire of guilt and self-loathing, and you don't need to stop living your life. The songs are about acceptance of youself, of not just the good but of the unfogivable things too. It's about accepting that you've done some terrible things and making a decision to work past it, and it's about understanding that others you come into contact with may also have some unforgivable things in their past. I tried to show this point of view in my story by not having Draco ask for forgiveness, and not having Harry offer it. Ultimately, this story is about not attaining forgiveness, and what life can look like without it.