Desert of the Real

By RaistlinofMetallica

Blanket disclaimer: Anything you recognize, except for my OCs and the plot, I don't own. I do this for fun and absolutely no profit.

I: Waking Dreams

Draco Malfoy, a sixth year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, absently poked at his eggs with his fork. He was ignoring his housemates, even as a few tried to get his attention. The casual observer would say that there was something troubling him and would probably attribute it to the arrest of his father at the beginning of the summer. But this was not what occupied his mind of late; in fact, he hadn't given the matter of his father's arrest much thought for almost an entire month. No, it was something else that preoccupied him.

His head of house had a watchful eye on him, concerned for one of his most talented and, normally, charismatic students. Professor Snape was associated closely with the Malfoy family and, as a result, seemed to know just what the young Malfoy would be up to from time to time. The professor had probably been expecting that Draco would have been far more vocal upon his return to school, possibly even more antagonistic to the Golden Trio than in the past.

But there was no Golden Trio, not anymore. Potter had simply left the house of his relatives one morning during the summer holiday and never returned. Rumours of his death at the hands of the dark lord were frequent, but unlikely. Evidence pointed that even the Death Eaters were looking for the errant wizard, hoping to find him before the Ministry did. A sombre cloud had settled over Gryffindor house since Potter's disappearance, dampening the proud roar of the lions. Granger cried whenever his name was mentioned and the Weasel spent much of his time trying to comfort her before he began to despair as well.

The blond Slytherin pushed a piece of egg through the grease from the barely touched sausages on his plate. Nothing felt real anymore. Everything seemed as though it was merely repeating over and over again, like a nightmare of déjà vous from which he couldn't wake. He could no longer tell where his dreams ended and the world of the waking began; it was a fact that should have worried him more than it did.

It was his nightmares that frightened him. They felt real, more than anything else lately. Horrible, terrifying visions of a darkened world and things that he could only describe as inhuman monstrosities, twisted golems with burning red eyes. In them, he was suspended in the womb, unable to scream despite his desire to do so. When he woke from these nightmares, he fell strangely detached and removed from the world. Hogwarts seemed surreal after the nightmares and his mind would begin to drift, trying to search for what was out of place, but finding nothing.

Patterns formed in the grease as he swirled the egg again. He felt like he was dreaming again, trapped in the unreal world. His whole life felt like a dream that never ended and he desperately wanted to wake up. He was sick of sleeping.

The flapping of wings filled the Great Hall as the owls entered with the morning post. Draco raised his head, regarding his family owl with disinterest. Nothing ever seemed to change; even his mother's letter was the same as always.

Then, something did change and he could feel it almost instantly.

A second owl swept down and deposited a single small, square package before him, wrapped in brown paper. A note had been secured on with twine, his name printed clearly on the plain parchment. Curious, he freed the note and started to open it, when he realized he was being watched closely by his housemates, too closely for comfort. He pushed himself to his feet and gathered his mail quickly, pocketing the small package as he left the Great Hall.

Quickly, he checked to see that no one was following him and then proceeded to head for the empty chamber on the side of the Entrance Hall. The last time he had been in this room was in his first year, right before they had been brought into the Great Hall to be sorted. Casting a locking charm on the door, Draco felt instantly more secure and withdrew the package from his pocket, tucking it under his arm so that he could finish opening the note. He tore it open to reveal a blank page.

Slowly, words formed on the parchment to form a message in emerald green ink. Hello, Draco.

Perhaps it had been charmed to reveal itself to him and him alone. But, why this message and who had sent it? The words vanished, to be replaced with new ones.

The Matrix has you.

Draco blinked, not comprehending the words before him.

Knock, knock, Draco.

Someone knocked on the door just then and the Slytherin nearly jumped out of his skin, wand in hand and an almost illegal curse on the tip of his tongue.

"Draco, are you in there? It's me, Pansy. Open up!"

Taking a calming breath, he moved to the doors and dismissed the locking charm, but only opened the door a fraction. "What is it?"

"Are you all right? You haven't been yourself lately, Draco," she said, looking strangely worried. "Is something wrong?"

He sighed and looked away. "It's nothing."

"Look, we're going to Hogsmeade today, if you want to come," Pansy told him, not really looking at his face. "There's a new pub in town that's supposed to be really good."

Draco's eyes trailed to the parchment in his hand. Something felt off here, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

I wouldn't go, Draco. You won't find answers there.

"So, are you coming or not?" she asked.

He turned to her and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I've personal business to attend to and can't make it. I'll catch you up later."

"All right, your loss," Pansy said, shrugging and turning to leave.

Draco quickly snapped the door shut and locked it again, casting silencing charms on the room. "Who are you?" he shouted at the parchment. "What do you want?"

Have you ever had a dream you were sure was real?

Growling, he tried to think of spells that would tell him exactly who was writing this and where they were. This had to be some sort of elaborate joke. What other explanation could there be?

What if you couldn't tell the difference between what was real and dream? How would you know if you're really awake?

Draco's mind emptied instantly, all thoughts scattered to the four winds. That very same thought had been running through his mind for the past month or so and, oddly, he found himself thinking of his nightmares. They had felt so real, unlike the rest of his life at the moment which seemed like a children's story taken on a twisted life of its own.

I know what you're looking for, Draco. I asked myself the same question, not too long ago.

He had questions, so many questions, and he wanted answers. "What is it? What has me? What is the Matrix?"

Open the package. The answer awaits you.

"Who are you?"

You can call me Ophiuchus.

AN: I have no idea why or how I wrote this. I'm supposed to be preparing for finals. I have the flu and a fever. I'm frankly surprised this turned out coherent. Um, notes? Ophiuchus means Serpent Bearer. This was inspired by one of my friends who wondered just what would be breaking the rules if the Harry Potter Universe was part of the Matrix? I could have some fun with this. I'm going back to my bed-confinement now. Reviews are welcome, though I'm too sick to care at the moment.