Queen of Heaven
Disclaimer: All characters and canon situations are the sole property of J.K. Rowling.
His spider walked onto his palm.
He stroked it with the smallest finger on his other hand, and it didn't move. He still didn't know if spiders liked being petted the way a cat did, but his spider never avoided his touch. It loved him, which made it the third creature ever to do that; only two of them were real.
His hands were covered in raised bumps that wept and oozed because the way a spider showed its love was with its fangs. It used its two front legs to feel around the skin, searching with caution. His hand was shaking in anticipation, and he tried to be calm. He tried to be patient.
The charmed light over his cot went out, and so did all the other lights in all the other cells, and it was time. He felt the pinch and choked on joy, and the world spun and brightened until he couldn't feel his spider or his black lonely blanket.
Up to his ankles at the edge of a river, he could feel the water on his feet like a hundred thousand beautiful spiders. It was a dream, but it was also real.
He held out his hand to feel the rocks, and he could already see the new bite swelling; he put it to his mouth instead and sucked out the strange venom. It wasn't poisonous, and it was so familiar that he drove himself insane trying to remember what it tasted like.
Something disturbed the water nearby, and he looked up to see the second creature who'd loved him.
She held the hem of her white dress up past her knees as she approached, and he could smell her already. Vanilla and raw honey. Her teeth were whiter than stars.
She told him the news first every day: what she'd done, who she'd seen, and what was going on outside the prison. Today, she and Harry Potter had eaten lunch together. Draco had heard so many stories about Harry Potter over the past eighteen months that he felt like they knew each other, like they didn't hate each other anymore, but he knew the actual Hermione wasn't telling stories about him.
The dreams felt real when he was in them, but he knew they weren't when he was awake. She was out living her life and had long since forgotten him. They hadn't loved each other yet when he was on trial; on the day of his sentencing, they'd had their first kiss. "I know you're innocent," she'd said that day, but it didn't matter. If they wanted him in jail, they'd put him there.
They had fallen in love in his dreams, on river banks and verandas in distant cities all over the world.
She stopped speaking. She kissed him. She laid him down on the moss-covered rocks like unraveling a string of pearls.
"I wish you were real," he said later. There were bugs around that bit them like his spider, just as there would be at an actual river.
"I am," she said. "How can I show you? What else can I do?"
"You've never told me anything I couldn't have made up on my own," he said. He didn't get the news in prison, so he didn't have anything to check her against. His only visitor was his mother, that first creature, and she only came once a month. He couldn't ask her to confirm what he'd learned in his dreams. "I love you anyway, but you're in my head. You were right back then, I guess. I could only ever love myself."
He wrapped her hair around his hand, and it scratched against the wounds.
The venom was starting to wear off; it usually lasted about an hour, in his estimation.
"You love me for real, Draco. It's funny, though – I bet you wouldn't be able to tell me if you knew I wasn't a dream. You'll believe me soon. I'll get you out and and and and and and and
The spider left him.
He sucked the bite again, but he couldn't taste it anymore. He was more tired than he'd been before, with his body aching and satisfied like he'd really just made love on a river bank. His skin and hair were wet, too, but he knew it was only sweat.
He slept and woke and stumbled around his cell. They fed him twice – breakfast and dinner. The guards never seemed to notice the sores on his hands, but he knew those weren't imaginary. He knew the spider wasn't, either, because it was the second of its kind. He'd killed the first one a year ago to see if it could die and leave a corpse, and it had. He'd mourned it for three days.
Then he'd eaten its body, but nothing had happened, and so he had vomited and set about chewing his sores so they never would heal.
When the next spider had arrived and bit him, Dream Hermione had been cross with him even after he'd explained his reasons. Don't do that again, she'd said. I can't keep coming up with excuses to go to Azkaban.
When the sun was setting, he lay in his cot and waited. He waited for dark and pain because nothing else brought him to her, and his spider was right on time.
He stroked it until it stabbed his skin over a vein.
They were in a Muggle kitchen. She'd taken him there before because she thought it would prove something: it was her Muggle parents' house, and she'd told him he couldn't possibly have made that up on his own. He could've, though. His dream version was probably wrong.
He was already seated at the table, and the windows were open with lace-edged curtains. She kissed his cheek and sat across from him.
"I have good news," she said. "I've just gotten a promotion."
"That's nice," he said. "I wonder what your job is in real life."
She barely frowned at all when he said that. She must've been really happy, or it would've gotten under her skin: Dream Hermione hated being reminded that she was only pretend. "That's exactly why this is so important – I'm the new head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I'm going to push for a new trial."
"That's not fair," he said. If she loved him, she wouldn't pull tricks like this. "Why can't you just admit that you're a dream? Why do you have to play games?"
She closed her eyes and breathed and breathed. "All right. If it upsets you, I'll stop talking about it. You'll see, though."
He asked to hear more fake news – the kind that didn't affect him – and she obliged.
Then she led him by the hand to her childhood bedroom, and they slipped in between white down and crisp blue linen.
His spider walked away.
He woke and slept and woke, ate and sucked his sores. Three times, he did this. For three nights Dream Hermione complied with his wishes.
He didn't want anything but spider fangs and venom in his blood and bread and water. There was nothing as beautiful as the shadow of bars on the floor of his cell – except her, but she was only his imagination.
He was comfortable on his stiff cot, and he'd been there so long that the world outside felt about as solid as his dreams. The lights went out, and his spider came and struck.
He was under a tree in Muggle London, where it was warm and raining. Her white dress was soaked through to the skin with nothing under it, and he stared at the spots where it clung. She reached back and wrung out her hair.
"I'm making progress," she said, and she was nervous. She knew he didn't want to talk about this. "Your crimes in the War don't add up to life in prison. At most, you'll have another year, but I think I can get you out sooner on good behavior."
"Shut up," he said, bearing down on her. "I told you not to do this."
She held her ground. She was as stubborn as he remembered from real life. "I need you to know," she said. "It's not like I can tell anybody else."
"No, you can't because you're a dream. You can't talk to anybody but me, unless you're cheating on me in other people's dreams."
She was offended. "Excuse me? This is important, Draco. It's not a game. It's not pretend."
"All right, okay." The wind was wild and the leaves shook above him. "Fine. Let's imagine it's not – what if I don't want to go anywhere? What if this is exactly how I want to stay?"
Her dress stuck to her thighs; it would not be moved. "Why would you want that? Don't you want to be with me for real?"
"It doesn't matter whether I do or not – you wouldn't want to be with me. This is the only place we can be together because there's no one else here, and no one else knows about it. Why would you want anything else?"
She understood what he meant, then. He could tell by the way all the air came out of her lungs. "You're wrong," she said. Her voice was soft. The rain was dying down. "I will want to be with you. You'll see."
"I don't believe you, and it doesn't matter, anyway. You would be like this, even in my dreams - you always want to change things because you think it'll make them better. It won't, though. You'll ruin everything."
No, she didn't waver. Her eyes snapped, and her jaw tightened. "It has to change, Draco. Think about me – suspend your disbelief just for one second, and imagine my real life. I spend my nights with you, and I spend my days planning where I'll take you and what I'll tell you, and that's most of what I do. It's been almost two years, and I can barely think of anything to talk about with my friends. I can't tell them about you: if anyone finds out what I'm doing, I'll lose my job. I want to bring you home with me. I can't do this anymore. Either you let me get you out of prison, or I'll stop coming. I won't let you stay there for life because then it's my life sentence, too."
"Well, I'd hate to do that to you." He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and the sores opened and smeared blood into the water. "If you hate it so much, then go and move on with your life. If you're so real, go back to your real life."
"No!" She stretched her hands out. "That's not what I want; you're not listening. I want us both to have a real life together."
"We can't, though. You're a dream, and I'm mostly dead. Maybe I'm all the way dead, now that I think about it. The spider thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense anyway, and I'm sure that part's not pretend," he said, thinking out loud. "That must be it. I'm already dead."
"You're not dead yet. You could be alive!" She grabbed his shoulders and shook him, and he let her. "And I'm not a dream. I'll explain how the spider works when you get out, but there's no point talking about it now. I'm sorry it has to really bite you, though – I had to start with an actual spider, or the guards would detect its magic."
"I don't mind," he said. "I like the bites. They're real. Not like you."
"Stop it! Stop it!" she yelled, again and again, and he swung her around and held her against the tree. The wet fabric tore easily. "We're not done with this," she warned against his neck. "I won't let it go."
For the life of him, he couldn't understand how she was able to argue against him. She was his dream, after all.
It always ended too soon, but he could always sleep directly after. In his first few months at Azkaban, he hadn't had a spider yet, and he'd hardly slept at all.
More guards than usual walked past his cell the next day. Only one or two went by normally, but something had energized them. They looked in at him and stared at his eyes and knocked their boots against the bars as they walked. They called names and laughed until night.
You'll never change, he thought, as his spider walked onto his hand. It would always be brown with soft fur and shining black eyes, with claw-tipped legs spread around like an eight-pointed star. Every night, it lowered its mandibles just the same.
When he realized where he was, he knew that Dream Hermione must hate him now. She'd never loved him at all.
"It's changed since you were here last," she said. "Did you notice?"
No. He hadn't gotten a good look at Courtroom Ten last time, unless she was counting the cracks in the table where he'd sat.
"You'll see," she continued. "You'll see it again soon, and it'll end differently this time."
He felt it building. His vision blurred, and his mind went blank and white. He rounded on her, wild and snarling and ready to attack. If he hit Dream Hermione, would it cause her pain? She seemed to feel pleasure, but maybe that was fake, too. Maybe he'd made that up. He decided not to chance it and punched the table instead, knowing he'd feel it.
"You're evil," he said. "You're not my escapist fantasy. You're – you're –" He paused, trying to flex his aching hand. "You're the manifestation of my guilt. You're me, punishing myself for wanting you despite your blood and hurting you despite that. You made me love you, and now you're making me pay. It's poetic when you think about it."
His hand was broken, and she must've known that. She pulled her wand out of her pocket to heal it; he felt the bones knit together, but she didn't vanish the sores. He was glad, at least, for that mercy. She held his hand then, standing in front of him with sadness.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not trying to upset you. I know your life's bad enough already, but I felt like I needed to prepare you. You're going to be back here soon, for real. I promise."
He shrugged her hands off and then thought better of it – he grabbed her and kissed her and then thought better of that. She tried to touch him again, so he shoved her back with force, and she caught herself on a table and stared at him in shock.
"Can you make this end sooner?" He whipped his head around, knowing he wouldn't find an escape. "I can't be here anymore. I want you to leave."
She held herself up with her hands. "You'd better not do that ever again," she said. "You'd better not shove me around once you know I'm not a dream."
"I'm never going to see you again," he said. "So, I guess I won't."
She drew in a long breath.
He woke in his cot and stroked the spider, still in his palm.
It was almost like it stared into his eyes, like Dream Hermione was the spider, but he knew she wasn't. He knew it just helped him see her, somehow. It was only a coincidence – just a regular spider that was going to poison him in increments until he died in his cell.
Slowly, he folded up his hand and felt its guts leak out, seeping between his fingers. He ate it right away this time, just so he wouldn't have to look at it. He wished he could heal his hands, but they'd take care of themselves now that it was gone.
Dream Hermione would take care of herself, too, he reckoned. She'd live in the back of his brain forever, hating him and loving him and helping him hate and love himself.
The guards roamed, agitated. Like somebody hit their hive with a stick. He watched them and they watched him back, kicking his cell door harder and harder. He hung from the bars. He was a corpse on a hook.
"You bastard," they said, and "You motherfucker," and "I'll see you in Hell." His food got worse: tuna he could tell they'd left out overnight, and once even a plate of rocks. He didn't care much, though. Dream Hermione was gone, and nothing else really mattered. He'd sentenced himself this time. He'd killed his own spider.
A week passed in this way, and each day he felt number than the last. He was starving and dirty, and his hands were mangled. He'd kept the sores open again, and they were probably infected by now. A guard came to his door, and Draco thought he'd kick it but instead he opened it.
"Get out here."
The guard kicked him hard when he did, and he hit the floor harder. He didn't make a sound, and soon he was back on his feet.
"Ministry wants you," said the guard. "Wish they'd just kill you, you piece of shit. You scum."
Draco didn't say a word. He followed and followed and thought of his dreams. Maybe they would kill him, he thought. That would be fine.
The guard waved his wand outside the interrogation room, and shining black chains like spider eyes snapped on and connected Draco's wrists and ankles. He shuffled in, dragging them on the floor, and stopped cold.
It was the real Hermione in the flesh. She didn't look happy to see him, and seeing her was maybe the most painful thing that had ever happened to him. He wondered if she was married, perhaps to Weasley or something, and if she'd ever thought even once about that one real-life kiss.
She motioned for him to sit opposite her, and he did. She checked the door, where two guards stood ready to strike him down as soon as they had the excuse. She cleared her throat.
"The Ministry has reviewed your files, Mr. Malfoy."
Her voice was all business. He couldn't look at her anymore, and so he kept his eyes on the table just like in Courtroom Ten.
"We've decided to offer you a parole hearing."
He still loved her, even though she was a different person.
"We will consider the possibility of your release next month – it could be as soon as four months from the hearing."
"Four months?" he blurted out, looking up at her despite himself. She wet her lips, studying him without contempt. She must've felt nothing at all for him by now, and that was even worse than hatred. "I was sentenced to life."
She seemed amused. "Mr. Malfoy, would you prefer that we held to your original sentence?"
He was about to say yes – yes, he'd prefer that. Something strange happened, though: a spider crawled onto his hand.
He studied it for a moment, watching the white venom slide over its fangs. With a hard black body and no fur, it was a different kind than the others. It crawled up the sleeve of his robes and into his shirt, where it burrowed itself against his chest and clung there. Hermione raised her eyebrows, and he remembered the question.
"No," he said. "No."
She told him the date of his hearing, and the guards led him home to his cell in a daze. It wasn't even dark yet when the new spider bit him, and he could've sworn it hurt more than it ever had before.
In the kitchen he could smell something burning, but he couldn't see a fire. The windows were closed, and Hermione wasn't wearing her white dress. She had on the same Ministry robes she'd been wearing in the interrogation room.
"I told you not to do that again," she said, with her mouth in a hard line. He didn't respond right away, and she slapped him across the face. He reckoned it was warranted. "You owe me an apology."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry for killing your spiders."
"And for shoving you. I didn't know you were real."
He stood before her wrapped in grey wool and dirt, and he watched her nod her head.
She walked to him with arms spread wide, shedding her outer robes as she did. They fell to the floor next to the shadow of her legs, stretched long to the doorway, and she gathered him up like a twisted knot of reeds.
A/N: Inspired by a Sumerian myth: Inanna's descent into the underworld. There are many references throughout the story to iconography of this goddess. Inanna's name was derived from "Nin-anna," which means Queen of Heaven or Lady of the Sky.