Thank you again for all the reviews!
This is the last chapter of Universal Chaos. Thank you for coming through me with a story that twisted much more than I expected.
Chapter Thirteen—All the Universes
"One thing does concern me," Draco said, as they bent over the book where he had found the spell that would let them communicate between worlds.
Harry stared at him. "One thing?"
"I found it much easier to think about problems if I only admit the most urgent one to my mind at any single moment," Draco said, tossing his hair out of his face as he turned to Harry. Harry felt a painful squeeze in his chest. He had come to care far more than he had ever thought he could for the person with those pale, pointy features, that haughty nose, those wide and too-innocent grey eyes. "If you would do the same thing, then I think you could be both more effective and more realistic."
Harry shuddered slightly as he thought of the way that he would probably operate if only thought about one thing at a time. It would be what he had done before his therapy, when he was exclusively concerned with himself, but worse.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he said carefully.
Draco began to laugh, catching himself with one hand on the table where the book was laid. "You ought to have seen your face," he chortled, when Harry glared at him. "I could have held you upside-down over an abyss churning with evil monsters that were about to break out and eat the world and you would have been less horrified."
"I've faced the end of the world before," Harry said. "Well. The probable end of the world." He still didn't know how close Voldemort had come to destroying things, given that he couldn't have used the Elder Wand against Harry. "But when I was absorbed and obsessed with myself, it was other people who had to deal with the consequences of my actions. Not me, because I never paid attention to them."
Draco raised his eyebrows at him. "But trying to pay attention to what everybody wanted still led to your hurting them, didn't it? I don't see why you shouldn't try a different method for a while."
Draco sighed impatiently. "I told you," he said, "hurting someone doesn't mean you're an evil person. It means you're imperfect, and that's a comfort to me. A perfect, saintly partner would be impossible to live up to." He stepped up next to Harry and nudged his shoulder until Harry looked up. "And just think, now that you can admit you're imperfect, you have the chance to move forwards instead of remaining stuck as the same kind of person all your life."
Harry smiled reluctantly. That fit with one of the lessons that the Mind-Healers had taught him: that change was the one thing that never changed, the law of life, and he would go through it no matter how satisfied he might be with his current self. "You're right," he said, and bent over the book again. "What is it that concerns you? We wandered away into discussions of technicalities and never got back to the meat of the matter."
"How will I know that I'm opening the door to the right universe?" Draco swept his hand along above the page that displayed the spell, and, Harry had to admit, a diagram of alternate universes that looked simple compared to the mass of springs and tubes he was familiar with. "According to Potter, there are millions of these things. And your universe will riot and change and split in the future when you make important decisions. What happens if I come to one of those universes and find a version of you, instead of you?"
Harry read a few paragraphs down, because he couldn't believe that was a question the creator of this spell would have failed to answer, and smiled in relief when he saw the right words. "There's a targeting spell," he said, "which you need to cast before you open the door. It will lead you to the universe that you want to find." He hesitated, then added, "Or at least the universe that's most like the one you want to find."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "What does thatmean?"
"It means," Harry said slowly, because he was still struggling to understand the concepts himself and wasn't entirely sure that he had interpreted the paragraph in front of him correctly, "that I might split into different selves after an important set of events. So neither Harry that was in existence then might be exactly the person I was—the person you like. But one of them would be closer to him, so the spell would take you to that person."
Draco bowed his head and said nothing.
"It works the other way around, too," Harry said gently, reaching up to stroke his hair. "If this universe splits again, then I wouldn't be coming back exactly to you, but to someone like you. Someone who had all your memories, who had your personality and history. But not, I suppose, the pure concept of the person that we're used to thinking of as 'real.'"
"I almost wish I had never learned about the concept of alternate universes," Draco whispered. "It makes the concept of truth meaningless."
"Almost?" Harry flattened his palm out on Draco's forehead and held it there as if he were checking for a fever.
"I don't regret having met you," Draco admitted, looking up at Harry. "But it's hard." He paused a moment, then added, "Is there anything in there about universes reuniting? I mean, would I come to a Harry who had added himself to you as well as a piece of you that had split off?"
"Not that I can find," Harry said. "When the universes diverge, it seems to be forever, and then they change so much that it would be hard to form a seamless whole that contained all the events that had happened in both of them, even if it was technically possible to make a person with aspects of two personalities."
"One less thing to worry about, then," Draco muttered, and lifted his head to give Harry a wan smile.
Harry leaned forwards until their faces touched, and then tilted his head sideways so that he could kiss Draco gently on the lips. "Do you want to break apart now, then, before the universes can do it to us?" he whispered. "I would understand if you did. It won't be easy, knowing about all this and never being completely sure if the person you come to is the one you last saw."
Draco shook his head and opened his eyes. The determination in them took Harry's breath away. "No," he said. "I want to do this because you're the first person I've ever found who cared for me not because of old memories or family prestige or Quidditch skill, but just because I was human. And I won't give up until I see for myself that it's impossible—that one of us can't live with it."
Harry smiled and clenched his fingers around Draco's. "Then let's start studying this spell."
How am I going to let him go?
He'd been lying awake for hours staring at Harry, who rested peacefully in the bed beside him. Draco cupped one hand around the back of Harry's neck. That possessive touch would have awakened Draco, but Harry simply sighed and rolled over, brushing his nose against Draco's palm. At once he seemed to settle into a deeper sleep.
I don't know that I can.
Draco bowed his head. He had put a brave face on in front of Harry that day, and it was true that he didn't want to give Harry up until he was forced to. But the mere thought of all those universes existing, twining through space, with no single Draco Malfoy and no single Harry Potter, but millions of them, billions, all as equally legitimate as each other, all equally real…
It made his head hurt, and shook his confidence in his uniqueness.
It would have been easier if I had never learned anything about this and continued existing in ignorance.
But of course, that wouldn't do, either, because that would have meant mourning his parents for the rest of his life, longing in his loneliness for someone who regarded him as more than a Quidditch star and settling for a bought lover in the end, and never reconciling with Gregory. Draco looked back on the person he had been a month ago and shuddered. Harry had changed him as much as a split in his personal universe would have.
He touched Harry's eyes this time, tracing around and down to the lashes, the bones of his cheeks, the arch of his nose.
I can't let him go, no matter how hard it might be to live with him. I think I love him.
I'll do my best to meet the challenge.
"Are you ready?" the other Harry asked, holding up his wand and aiming it at Harry.
Draco still instinctively tensed beside him. Harry placed a hand on his shoulder and pressed down hard. He had already done all the kissing and touching he could think of in Malfoy Manor, and he wasn't going to flaunt their relationship in front of the other Harry—much less create confusion in anyone from St. Mungo's who might peer into the room and wonder which of the three of them were in together. There had already been enough stares when Healers who had treated the other Harry realized who Harry and Draco were going to visit.
"As ready as I can be," Harry said. Draco nodded next to him, which caused the cloth of his robes to brush against Harry's. They had both practiced the spell that would allow communication between alternate universes until they were sick of it, and Harry was carrying a copy of the relevant pages that Draco had made using a Replication Charm. "But I don't want to hurry you. The last thing I want is to be spread between universes as bits of smeared flesh." He tried to smile.
The other Harry didn't smile back. "Splinching is impossible by this means of travel," he said seriously. "But you might be cast into a universe that's so far from the one where you were born that it would be impossible for you to survive there."
Harry swallowed his smile. "Yeah. All the more reason for you to take your time, then."
The other Harry closed his eyes and waited, as though he were recalling the exact syllables of the incantation. Meanwhile, Draco tugged on Harry's shoulder and pulled him around, staring desperately into his eyes. Harry knew that he would never admit the desperation, which made him value the honesty in Draco's gaze all the more. He put his hands on Draco's shoulders and smiled at him as contentedly as he could.
"Do you trust him?" Draco whispered. "Truly trust him? Because I might be able to find a spell to send you back."
Harry shook his head. "I trust him as far as a spell like this needs," he said. "Which means, more than I trust myself at this point." He took a deep breath and spread his fingers out along Draco's temples. "Because, if we decided to search for that spell and it took a long time to find it, I might eventually convince myself to stop searching. It would end up with me staying here, and that's not fair to my friends in my own universe. Or to him," he added, with a slight twitch of his head at the other Harry.
Draco sighed and bowed his head. "I forgot that one benefit of being self-absorbed is that you don't have to care about other people so much," he muttered.
Harry hooked his fingers gently beneath Draco's chin and brought his head up. "But you could never have stayed self-absorbed for long," he murmured. "You're better than that. Someone would have come along and helped you if I hadn't. Or you would finally have got bored with your life and helped yourself."
"To suicide, maybe." Draco's hand tightened on his, imprisoning it. His eyes were bright and bleak when he looked up at Harry again. "I owe you so much. I don't know how I'm going to let you go."
"I'm ready," the other Harry announced.
Harry brushed his lips against Draco's cheek, hoping that the other Harry couldn't see, and whispered, "You're better than that," one more time before he stepped away. Their hands remained clasped until Draco turned to stare at the wall, stone-faced, and forced his fingers open one by one. Harry caressed his shoulder, then nodded to the other Harry, who was watching him with a mixture of ruefulness and jealousy.
"Well." The other Harry tried to smile, and couldn't manage it, either. "I brought you here to change my relationship with Draco. It certainly did, but not in the way I thought."
"It changed me, too," Harry said quietly. "If you need revenge, then you could think of it like that."
"I don't know if I need it or not." The other Harry raised his wand. What followed was a long, incomprehensible roll of Latin.
The ceiling of the room turned transparent. Harry stepped back so that his last sight before his gaze was drawn irresistibly to the dancing mass of alternate universes was those two faces, one his own and one beloved, framed side by side.
And then he blacked out, and was gone.
Of course there were tears. Of course there were embraces. And, Hermione being Hermione, there was a mandated week-long stay in St. Mungo's so that the Mind-Healers could be sure Harry hadn't been kidnapped and held somewhere by his enemies, who, Hermione thought when she first heard the story, must have used Memory Charms and curses to make Harry think anything so strange had happened.
When they finally agreed that, yes, Harry was probably telling the truth, Ron leaned back on the couch where he was sitting beside Harry—both he and Hermione had shown a strong tendency not to let Harry out of the sight since he came back—and released a breath that had both a sigh and a whistle in it. "I reckon that must have been hard for you to leave him behind, mate," he said, shaking his head. "If you really did fall in love with him." He gave Harry a sidelong glance.
"I did, Ron," Harry said patiently. Ron had tried to come up with all sorts of theories that would mitigate Harry apparently falling in love with Draco Malfoy. Harry wondered if he would accept that it was Draco when Ron saw him for himself.
If the communication spell works and Ron ever sees him.
"It must have been hard for you, then," Ron repeated, sounding mollified.
"Of courseit was." Hermione leaned forwards, more intent, of course, on the theoretical aspects of the whole thing. "Do you think that the universe where your Malfoy and that Harry are has already split again? That Harry did say that he was unstable and would change things around again, probably."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, he did. But he also said that he thought the other him, the one who chose not to get help, was more unstable." He held his fears about what that version of Harry might have done to himself. He wasn't sure that the second version of himself, split from him at the birth of the new universe, would ever get home.
The other Harry's first words when Harry was questioning him and trying to understand the nature of alternate universes haunted him. Our parents could have lived when Voldemort attacked them. That would have been one universe. Or maybe all three of us could have died, and then that particular universe—the one that came into existence when we were born—would have died, too.
If the unstable Harry committed suicide, would his newborn universe die with him? That was what Harry feared.
On the other hand, the other Harry had proven that he didn't understand everything about spells that crossed alternate universes. Harry was going to hope that he had been wrong about that part of the theory, too.
"I can at least research it," he muttered.
Hermione pounced on that. "Research what?"
Harry smiled at her. "Alternate universes," he said. "It's part of the research that I'll have to do anyway, probably, because I'm going to become a Mind-Healer and it would be useful to know when patients do have delusions about alternate universes and when they've had an experience like mine."
Ron's shocked comments of, "You're actually going to do something, mate?" and Hermione's excited squeals decisively changed the tone of the conversation.
Draco took a deep breath and started to chant the syllables of the spell. They died into silence as he realized that his hand was shaking far too badly to move his wand in the right patterns. He lowered it and forcibly concentrated on the image of a still pond among reeds, under a grey sky, until he felt that he could continue.
You want to visit Harry, don't you? Then you need to master this spell, and he hasn't cast it yet.
Suspicions and fears crowded his mind, hissing. What happened if Harry had cast the spell and it had sent him to a different universe, to a Draco he was more capable of loving? What if he had decided that he no longer cared for Draco once he was back home and he'd drowned himself in the affairs of his friends and his training to become a Mind-Healer?
Then I'll show up and tell him off, Draco decided. But I can't know that's what's happened until I at least try to cast the spell.
Determination restored, he sat back and fixed his eyes on the parchment, repeating the words silently to himself until the power rolled through him like dammed water and the spell demanded to be cast. Then he opened his mouth and let the words spill into the air. He'd already cast the targeting spell that should allow him to find Harry's universe among all the endlessly dancing billions.
A long curl of milky light shot out of his wand. Draco stared at it in surprise and pleasure. If this looked the way the light at the birth of the new universe had looked, then he could understand why Harry had fallen in love with its beauty.
For long moments, the curl snaked back and forth, like a piece of hair dangling from someone's badly shaven head. And then it straightened, and shot forwards, outlining a door in the air. Draco barely had the chance to see the door opening, glinting with alabaster light at the edges, before the curl shot back, latched around his waist, and tugged him forwards.
He was spinning through the darkness, and around and above and behind him were thousands of streams of light, glinting like the Milky Way, shining on their paths, utterly uncaring about the one traveler who flew between them.
Draco had a perfect and terrifying vision of what would happen if he should fail to complete the journey and die in this dark space, or somehow alter the course of his life by landing in a place he hadn't meant to find. The universes would continue spinning and dividing and hurrying along their courses.
They didn't care. They were too busy existing.
Draco began to shudder, and not with the deep cold that filled this space.
Then the curl unwound, and he passed through a soft haze that led to him standing in a room he'd never seen before, but which, from the calm colors of the walls, was probably in St. Mungo's. A considerably startled man in Healer's robes fell back a pace from him, blinking and pushing his glasses up his nose.
The other person in the room was Harry, who ran over with a glad cry and caught Draco in an embrace. The warmth of his arms helped burn away the cold vision that had filled Draco's head on the trip.
This was his Harry. It had to be his Harry. His skin felt exactly the same, his hair felt exactly the same, his eyes shone with the same light when he saw Draco, and his voice was the same when he whispered, with a catch in it, "I was trying to leave you alone in case you wanted to move on and find someone in your own universe."
The word universe made Draco shiver again. "I don't want that," he whispered. "I wanted to see you, and when you didn't come for a fortnight I thought—"
Draco didn't know that that word was true—Harry couldn't predict right now what might happen to them in a year, whether he might not get tired of Draco or something else might occur—but he clung tighter even so.
The Healer's mild voice, saying, "Well, I have no choice but to believe your story now, Harry," made things thankfully more real.
Harry woke in the night, as he so often seemed to do when he was sharing the same bed with Draco, and looked over to watch him sleeping. Draco was curled on his side, instead of lying on his back as usual, and he had his arms folded closely to his chest. Harry thought he understood why. Draco had told him about his vision of the universes, that vast and magnificent indifference.
It fit with what the theories Harry was studying said: that yes, a universe centered on one person was born with them and died with them, and thus the originator of a universe could condemn it, and everything in it, to death. Death was constant.
But so was birth. Harry had tried to think of all the babies being born in all the different universes, and the new universes that would come into being with them, and how those universes would burst and change soon, and how some would end early, and how some would continue for decades or centuries, and how all, all of them, would split and change. Some of the books suggested that the same thing happened for particularly intelligent animals, or maybe all animals, or maybe animals and plants, or maybe animals and plants and other things like mountains and suns. The most comforting thing about the books was that no two of them were in agreement with each other on anything but the most basic theories, and certain specific facts such as the existence of communication and summoning spells to pull people from one universe to the other. Thus, Harry could choose to disregard some of the harsher aspects if he wanted to.
But not the basic fact. Life continuing, transforming, suffering, birthing, dying. Forever.
Harry shook his head and glanced down at Draco again, putting a hand on his forehead. Draco took a soft breath and his arms extended.
Against such a vast backdrop, with so many versions of oneself multiplying and no single one the real one, the original, what did anything matter?
Harry would have to share his perspective with Draco in the morning.
Love mattered. Healing mattered. The decision to help others, or to hurt them, or both at the same time, mattered. What one chose to believe, and the attitude they took towards things like alternate universes, mattered.
The universes might not care. But human beings could, and human beings existed on the level of other human beings, subject to the same chaos and caprice in their ordinary lives that the universes had to obey. So human beings might as well find the same things meaningful when looking at the universes as they did when looking at pain or wounds, or the indifferent stars.
Harry lowered his head and went to sleep again next to the Draco who was his Draco for the moment, as Harry was his Harry for now. No one could say what might happen in the future, because the future could not be controlled or predicted.