Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Sleepless. I hope you enjoyed reading along.
Chapter Thirty—A Delicate Dance
"How did it go?"
Harry ignored Hermione's voice for the moment, instead shrugging off his cloak and hanging it on the peg next to the door that had always been reserved for him. He stretched his arms above his head, and winced as a twinge worked its way down the middle of his back. He had hurt himself that morning reaching for a book on one of the high shelves instead of Summoning it—he'd been sure he could get it by himself—and then it hadn't been improved when Malfoy slammed him against the wall outside the pub.
From the sound of it, Hermione was practically bouncing in her seat at the table, she wanted to know how his date with Malfoy had gone so badly. Harry turned around and considered her in some amusement. Hermione immediately tried to compose herself, folding her hands in her lap and assuming a pious expression. Harry wasn't fooled for a second, and he didn't think anyone would be who knew Hermione well.
"It went fine," Harry said, and pretended that he would walk past her into the drawing room without saying anything more.
Hermione didn't bother casting her binding charm verbally. The first Harry knew about it was when the ropes lashed out and pinned him against the far wall, wrapping around his arms and legs to the point that he didn't have any give. He rolled his eyes at Hermione, since that was a movement he could still make, and she stepped towards him threateningly, the wand held out at throat height.
"You don't get to say that and then just leave," she said. "What was it like? Where did you go? If you'll remember, you were so secretive that you didn't even tell me the name of the restaurant."
"What makes you think we went to a restaurant?" Harry asked, though of course they had. He didn't think Malfoy would really trust Harry in his home at the moment.
"Because where else would you go?" Hermione asked, proving that she knew him well enough. She reached out, and the tip of her wand did pass beneath his chin this time. "Harry. Come on. There can't be anything all that scandalous to conceal, not compared to what Malfoy did to win you."
"Win me," Harry said. "As if I was a prize."
Hermione flushed and waved her wand again, this time severing the ropes. Harry rubbed his wrists and soothed his injured dignity, not looking at her.
"What was it like?" Hermione asked, but in a more subdued voice than before. "Come on, Harry. Was he horrible? Are you ever going to see him again? I knew you wouldn't have sex yet, so it's not as though you have to keep those details from me."
Harry grinned at her, remembering some of the times that Hermione had sneaked into their bedroom at Hogwarts, while Ron's roommates put up Silencing Charms or virtuously pretended to be asleep. "Why would I? You and Ron have shared your sex life with me in many and various colors. I should return the favor."
"I told him to study Silencing Charms!" Hermione's flush deepened. "That wasn't my fault!" Before Harry could tease her further about how she'd obviously been too caught up in what she was doing to even check for the Silencing Charms the way she should have, she leaned forwards insistently. "Well? What was it like?"
"I don't call him Draco yet," Harry said. "He's still Malfoy to me, and probably will for a little while."
"That answers some questions," Hermione said, though Harry thought it was nothing but the barest truth. "But what else?"
Harry shrugged helplessly. He wasn't certain how to convey the feeling of sitting n the other side of the table from someone who had cursed him, staring intently into his eyes, making awkward conversation, letting minutes pass when neither of them said anything because they were both thinking about the past. It had been weird enough to live through.
Hermione sighed and stepped back. Harry thought she'd given up until she said, "Well, do you think that he could make you happy, at least? Is that possible?"
Harry considered for a moment, then gave her the same answer he would have if Ron or Malfoy had asked him. "It's too early to tell yet."
Hermione hugged him then, something he hadn't expected and which it took him a moment to get over before he put his arms around her. "Of course it is," she murmured comfortingly into his ear. "I hope that you don't feel I'm trying to run your life for you again, Harry."
"Not run it, and not ruin it." Harry smoothed her hair back. "I know, Hermione. But it's hard for us all to let go of bad habits. I caught myself thinking tonight about what I would have to give Malfoy so that he wouldn't be too angry with me during the moments when I slip up and say something stupid. But I can't always do that. It's the same thing I did with Ginny."
"I think he might like it if you let him take care of you sometimes," Hermione said tentatively.
She told me that once about Ginny, too. Harry had disregarded the advice then, because he hadn't thought he needed to listen to anything anyone else said about him and Ginny. They were going along fine, thank you, and Harry thought they always would. But their relationship had crumbled the next year.
He shook his head to get himself out of the self-punishing mood, and then said, "I'm going to let him try next week."
"Really?" Hermione pulled back from him, her eyes bright. "How? Or is that a secret yet?"
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "I told him I'd let him choose the place for the date, as long as it was something he thought would make both of us comfortable, and then he could Apparate me. So I don't know where we're going."
Hermione nodded slowly, as though in time to some piece of music that Harry couldn't hear. "I think he'd like that," she said. Then she clasped his hands again and pressed down so that she was rubbing her fingers across the backs of his wrists. "Oh, Harry, I hope it goes well!"
"You and me both," Harry muttered, and then escaped to his bedroom so that he could think about their date full of stares, silences, moments when they both expected something to explode, only from the waves of Harry's magic bursting around them…
And the moments when Malfoy smiled, and Harry found out that he could call him Draco in his mind, after all.
He hovered on the edge of sleep for a long time that night, but went over the edge without fear. Now that Malfoy had come to terms with his feelings and decided that he wanted to date Harry after all, Harry didn't think he would have the dreams again.
"I thought coming to the place where you first appeared in this world would have some effect."
Harry started and turned around. A moment ago, he thought, he had been in the middle of a normal nightmare, one that featured him pounding down a dark tunnel with the assurance that Ginny was in the Chamber of Secrets again and that he would never reach her in time to keep her alive. But now he was definitely in one of the dreams. He recognized the large lobby in the center of the building where the Malfoys had been kept, except this time it was empty of people, and the platform didn't hold Discipula intent on destroying a bunch of lives.
No, wait, it did hold one person. Draco jumped down from it and walked towards Harry, eyes intent on his face.
Harry stared back, and swallowed. The silence hanging between them was different from the silence that had hung between him and Malfoy on their date. This was full of more recriminations than uncertainty, and Draco's shoulders were braced as if he were walking into battle. For that matter, Harry thought, his shoulders were braced much the same way. He made an effort to shake them out and bring them back into a normal position. "Draco," he said. "How are you?"
The air left Harry's body in a rush, and he would have staggered back, only there was nothing to actually support him here, and he didn't want to look as though he was about to fall. "That's wonderful!" he said, and Draco paused and looked at him as if wondering whether the happiness in his voice was fake. It wasn't, though, and Harry went on to ask the next most important question. "What about your mother?"
"Free, although under house arrest." Draco paused, and his face worked through some complicated emotions. "My father is in prison. In the end, the evidence of his crimes proved too much for the Wizengamot."
Harry nodded. He had thought that would happen, which was why he hadn't even tried to bind Discipula to it.
"I was told that our freedom was your doing, by someone who should know." Draco gave him an icicle-clear glance. "Your doing, even though you didn't bother to show up for the final day of the trial."
"I visit this world in my dreams," Harry said simply. He was beginning to wonder about that. Did this visit mean that Malfoy hadn't settled his feelings for Harry after all, and they would have to go through the whole tedious process again? Or did it mean something else? "The visits were the result of a curse. When the caster took the curse off—" all right, that was a simple description, but he didn't feel much like telling Draco about Malfoy, either "—then I stopped coming."
"Yet, here you are." Draco pushed his hands into his robe pockets and did some more staring at him.
"Here I am," Harry echoed, and did his best to smile at Draco. He didn't know what else to do. Then one of those piercing glances came back to him, and he winced despite himself. "Look—" he began, starting towards Draco with his hand extended.
Draco switched his shriveling glance to Harry's hand. Harry dropped it, flushing more than a little.
"You didn't try to free my father," Draco said softly. "You influenced Discipula, which none of us could do, but which isn't the action of a hero. And you weren't there. You weren't there to see us lose his freedom, to watch his face as it closed." He turned away again, but this was a more complete turn, and his hands were shivering at his sides. "He blames us for being free when he couldn't get there. I know he does."
"Draco," Harry began, and stopped. He wanted to say that he was sorry, but he had the feeling that it would be rejected. Actions spoke louder than words, and Draco must have thought that Harry's actions said Harry wasn't interested in him and his family any longer.
Which, really…Harry wasn't. He had thought that he had done his best by them and that he wouldn't have to worry anymore. Why was he here, then, and what kind of world had his dreams brought him to?
"I prayed for a hero," Draco said. "I prayed for someone who would help us stand up to our tormentors and win our freedom for us. I thought you were it." He was speaking hurriedly now, cold, clipped words that glowed silver, as though he expected someone to come along and interrupt. That interrupter might be me, Harry thought. "But then you left. And you treated me as a child all along, just as they did."
"I am sorry about that," Harry said. He remembered that he had been attracted to Draco, once, but it was hard to imagine now—although this Draco was more like the Malfoy of the real world than the boy he had been. "I couldn't—control it. And I thought I had done as much of my job as I could."
Draco spun around, hair flying behind him. His eyes were wild, and Harry tried to back up a step without alerting him that that was what he was doing.
"What about us?" Draco's breath was speeding up, and his words were no longer cold. "What about if I wanted more from you than to be a job?" His voice sank, and he forced the last part of his speech out. "What if I wanted more from you, and I thought you wanted more from me? What if I need you?"
The magic word, Harry thought, staring at him and able to taste the salt and copper on his tongue. Or it used to be.
He shook his head. "I can't be what you need," he said. "I know that now. I thought I could, but—I was fooling myself. If nothing else, the barrier between our worlds is simply too big. And I can't stay here."
"Even if I asked?' Draco said. "Because I am. Asking." He looked down at his hands, which were shaking, and then hooked them together behind his back, out of Harry's line of sight. "Doing nothing but asking. Do you think you can find the strength within yourself to say yes?"
Harry shook his head again. "Why would you want me?" he asked. "When you thought I betrayed and abandoned you, and I'm from another world to boot?"
Draco lifted his head. He had a sort of ragged dignity, Harry thought, and that might have been enough to seduce him back when he was still infatuated. Of course, being told that Draco needed his help still would have done most of the seducing on its own. "Because in the last two years, you're the only person who's looked at me with the desire to do something other than reduce me to a load of raw meat or a means to an end," he said. "Because you said that you believed I could stand independently of my parents, and I need someone with that belief. I don't think I have it."
"I can't," Harry said.
"You have the choice." Draco's eyes were steady on him. "If you go back to your own world when you wake up, you still don't vanish here. I've never noticed more than a small moment of distraction. Until you vanished, you were always here, always with us, or moving around somewhere else. You could stay here. It's your own free will that's making you say that you can't."
The world seemed to reel around Harry, and he wondered. If these dreams were real—and they might be, if they were continuing after Malfoy had supposedly made all his choices—then Draco might be a real person in all sorts of ways. And if he was right that Harry could live here, could have a second life…
He didn't realize he was backing away until Draco asked in a cracked voice, "Where are you going?"
Harry made himself stop retreating, and blinked. Actions speak louder than words. He shook his head. "I made the decision once," he said. "This is a temptation, in some ways." To stay in a dream world. To stay with someone who needs me, someone I was attracted to first instead of the other way around. "But it would be a cop-out."
"For you." Draco's voice had sunk like a dying flame, and he turned his head away. "Because you think that your world matters more."
"For you, too," Harry said. "You got through the last of the trial even though you didn't have my support. I want you to stand on your own. I want you to be more than your parents' plaything, yes. You were absolutely right. But I was treating you like a plaything, too. Your perceptions during the trial weren't wrong. I always treated you like too much of a child."
Draco looked torn somewhere between pleased because Harry was saying that he was right and angry at the rest of his words. And devastated. Harry swallowed, but made himself keep looking at the devastated look, because this wasn't just the result of Malfoy's curse. This was all his doing, and he had to be willing to live with that.
"It's hard," Draco whispered.
"I know. I'm sorry." Harry wanted to step forwards and hug him one more time, but he was too afraid of that gesture being misunderstood. He stood where he was and gave Draco an awkward smile, instead. "But you will get through this. I have that much faith in your strength."
Draco stood there with his head bowed, as if listening. Harry could only hope that he was listening to his better side, his stronger side, instead of Harry's voice. Ultimately, he would have to make the decision on his own, too.
He finally looked up and nodded, once. Harry thought he would speak—his mouth softened as if he would—but in the end he turned his back and walked away, spine so straight that Harry could have bounced coins off it. The world began to dissolve and tatter around Harry as he went, as if he was the linchpin holding it together.
Harry closed his eyes and bid a silent farewell to that universe he would never see again and to all the people in it, real, unreal, or somewhere in between. He wondered if he would ever know the truth of that. He doubted he would.
It was time to go home.
"So you had another dream?"
Harry nodded and stepped away from Malfoy, looking around. He had decided to let him Apparate the two of them without protest—although, until the last minute, he had seriously considered protesting anyway—and now he wanted to see where they were. But all he could make out was a vast dark room with only a few gleams of candlelight around the edges, which didn't help much.
"I don't understand." From the tone in Malfoy's voice, Harry knew that he was folding his arms and speaking with a frown. He didn't bother looking over to confirm that, though. Why, when he could read him so well? "I thought—I was sure that they would go away when I came to terms with my feelings for you."
"Maybe they were a real place after all." Harry leaned back and squinted, and this time he could make out torches along the walls, although he also knew they weren't lit. "Maybe Draco's need, or his family's need, summoned me."
Malfoy moved a step towards him, then stepped. Harry listened to the rustle and sway of his clothing and wondered what the problem was now.
"Do you still wish that you were back with him?" Malfoy's voice was low and intense, and Harry knew exactly why he was asking the question.
Harry turned around, shaking his head. "Didn't you listen to me? I was tempted. He offered to be with me, if that was what I wanted. It was certainly what he thought he needed. I can't imagine him offering otherwise. But I refused. I wanted to come back here. I wanted to go on this date with you."
Malfoy bowed his head, and his shoulders slumped into a relaxed posture that Harry hadn't seen so far, despite his much better acquaintance with the git's body language in the past few days. "I see," he whispered.
"Are you happy?" Harry asked. He thought so, but he wanted to be sure.
Malfoy stepped closer and pulled Harry towards him with one arm, studying him carefully in return. Harry lifted his chin high and stared back. He actually didn't think he was that hard to understand, but Malfoy had been acting as if he was.
"Yes," Malfoy whispered, and kissed him.
It wasn't their first kiss since the one they'd shared the day of the last dream—well, the second-to-last dream, as Harry had to think of it now—but it was the most comprehensive. Harry could taste the warmth in Malfoy's mouth, the saltiness, the copper, the wash of strength that came back to him when Malfoy's tongue pushed in at his. He tightened his hand on Malfoy's neck in return and strained up against him, returning as good as he got. Malfoy had another think coming if he believed that Harry would be submissive.
Malfoy pulled back, panting and looking both surprised and smug. He let one hand linger on Harry's neck for a moment, as though he was feeling for his pulse, and then pulled away and nodded. "I believe you," he said.
Harry considered him for a moment, decided he really did, and nodded at the darkness and the stone walls around them. "What is this place?"
Malfoy looked absurdly pleased. Because I didn't ask before this, or because I didn't use a Lumos to find out? Harry wondered. There were still lots of things he didn't understand. Malfoy lifted his wand, and the light blazed out from it in response to a nonverbal charm, throwing both illumination and shadows back from the far corners.
Harry caught his breath. It looked more like a cavern than a finished cave, despite the obvious joints in the stone of the walls. In the center of the cavern was a large, rough platform, like an altar, and crouching on it was a meticulously carved series of figures: lion, snake, badger, eagle. The same animals shone on the walls, one to each side, wings spread wide or paws lifted or teeth bared or body coiled according to their nature.
"What is this place?" Harry whispered. He might have thought it was inside Hogwarts, but he knew that Malfoy couldn't have Apparated them there.
"Some people talk about a place that the Founders met to discuss their ideas for founding a school of magic and make their pact," Malfoy said simply, tightening his arm around Harry's shoulders. "I think I've found it."
Harry shook his head in wonder. "And why come here?"
Malfoy stepped nearer to him. Harry wondered if it was for reassurance, and felt the slight tremble in his body before he answered, "Do you see the way the snake and lion are positioned? There's a room in Hogwarts like this, and they're on the walls opposite from one another. Opposing one another."
Harry looked. The lion and the snake stood next to each other on the altar, and their walls were right next to each other, too. He nodded.
"Slytherin and Gryffindor were friends, once," Malfoy said, even more carefully than before. "Before their rupture. I'd like to think that—friendship could grow between us. At the least. I wanted to show you that someone else once thought that wasn't impossible."
Harry turned towards him and studied his face. "You still think of me as the embodiment of Gryffindor?" he asked.
"Not so much anymore." Malfoy's gaze was steady. "But I did once, and you're still the person who's closest to it that I'll ever meet. Not to mention that I think I'm probably your embodiment of Slytherin."
"The closest to it I'll ever meet," Harry echoed, and slid a hand up Malfoy's arm to squeeze his shoulder. "Thank you. Now, I think you have a house-elf who can carry food to us here?"
Malfoy smirked and clapped his hands. Immediately the torches on the walls lit, and a table was revealed across the floor from the altar, with cushioned chairs, a dinner service, and plates piled with steaming food already in residence.
Malfoy waited, shoulders tense, as if he thought that Harry would object to it. Harry watched him for a moment.
No, he didn't have the simplicity, or the sweetness, or the youth of the dream Draco. But when they weren't actively trying to annoy each other, Harry thought, they could get along. And he found what he saw and learned when they were getting along interesting enough to keep trying.
"Thank you," he said, and moved forwards to the table. Malfoy followed, looking dazed.
Harry paused with one hand on the back of his chair—Malfoy had made a motion as though to pull it out for him, but there were limits to what Harry would allow—and added, "Thank you, Draco."
Draco's slow, confused smile still filled the room with light. In that smile was every emotion Harry himself felt at the moment.
This might not work. But it could.