Title: If I Should Die Before You Wake
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Weirdness, heavy angst, sex, profanity, violence, ambiguous ending.
Summary: Harry is in a magical coma—and dreaming of Draco Malfoy. His friends are trying to find out why. For that matter, the Draco in the dreams is trying to find out why.
Author's Notes: This is a one-shot, written for lunasky3's request: Harry is cursed and stuck in a coma, living out dangerous dreams and suffering the injuries even as he sleeps. His friends are able to see the dreams, and see that there's something in common- Draco Malfoy in some form, is in all of them. This came out much darker than I originally intended, so take that for what you will.
If I Should Die Before You Wake
"What's the matter with him?"
"That's what we're trying to find out, Ron." Hermione didn't look away from the globe of shimmering light that she'd cast around Harry. She was breathing shallowly as she watched it, and her wand traveled up and down as though she was stroking the outside of the globe. Her eyes were calm, but Ron could see the lines traveling down the side of her jaw, the cords in her neck, and knew that she was anything but calm.
Ron swallowed and leaned against the wall, unable to take his eyes from his friend. Harry was restrained in the bed in St. Mungo's, because when he wasn't, he clawed at his eyes and his hair. The marks of recently healed wounds raced along his chest and his shoulders and his arms. Everywhere Ron looked, he thought he saw a scar that hadn't been there when Harry first came into hospital a fortnight ago. Even the knowledge that most of those scars would fade as the healing potions and charms worked didn't help Ron.
Harry had collapsed one day in the middle of his kitchen, right in front of his best friends, and lain there, apparently asleep—except that nothing anyone could do would wake him up. Ron and Hermione had taken him to St. Mungo's in the end, where the Healers didn't seem to know what to do, either. And the sleep that had seemed peaceful at first brought Harry nightmares and spontaneous injuries.
Ron was afraid that Harry was living through dreams where Voldemort tortured him. The wounds seemed to appear whenever his eyes darted back and forth under his eyelids.
But they didn't know. The globe Hermione was making, if it worked right, would let them see into his dreams and maybe help them fight whatever Harry was fighting.
If it worked right.
Ron lowered himself onto the foot of the bed, never taking his eyes from Harry. He reached out and took his friend's hand. The fingers flexed and curled uselessly as another dream began, and Harry cried out incoherently.
Wake up, mate. Please wake up.
Draco didn't know how he had got here, but he knew who he was with, and that was enough to make him protest.
"I say, Potter, put me down!"
The broom they were flying on tipped, and Draco's stomach rose up and tried to fall out of his mouth. Potter's face glared at him, and he unwrapped one arm from Draco's waist to point at the ground. "Really? You want to be down there, with them?"
Draco made the mistake of looking.
Beneath them stood rank after rank of massed animals, staring up at them with hungry, glittering eyes. They were made of flames, and Draco realized in a moment what they were: the animals from the Fiendfyre. Beasts and demons, with jagged claws and more teeth than any normal animal's mouth could contain. They rose on their hind legs when they saw him looking and began to hoot horribly.
Draco huddled back against Potter and closed his eyes.
"Good," Potter said, though Draco couldn't see what was good about the situation. "Now, hold on so I can fly."
Draco held on, but he also tried to look around so that he could get some idea of what country they were flying through. Mountains loomed ahead of them, and far behind, a faint, misty suggestion against a dazzlingly bright blue sky. The ground between the two ranges might be grass or ocean or desert; since the beasts covered it completely, Draco couldn't be sure.
He noticed something else after a while of looking ahead and behind. The mountains never came any closer. Potter soared up and down, avoiding the attacks of winged creatures and the fiery breath of some who looked like dragons, but they might as well have stayed in place.
"Potter," Draco whispered. "What happens when the broom's magic runs out?"
"I don't know." Potter's voice, for once, was deep and quiet, and free of any childish heroism.
They flew on, and on. Draco could hear the crackling coming from the bristles of the broom when it began to struggle. Potter said nothing, but his face tensed when Draco looked back at him. He tightened his arms, though, and aimed the broom up, as though to say that the beasts would have to chew their way through him before they got to Draco.
Draco touched his arm and wished he knew what to say to that gesture. He didn't even know if it was stupid, or incredibly brave, or just the way that Potter was, which made it useless to object.
The broom spun, and they were falling. Draco screamed. He couldn't help it. Potter's weight remained warm behind him, his arms as steady as they had been when he'd snatched Draco from the Fiendfyre.
At the last moment, wondering why he did it, other than the sheer companionability of what he was feeling, Draco leaned his head back on Potter's shoulder.
Potter caught his breath. Draco thought he felt the passage of lips through his hair, too.
He was sure felt the impact of jagged teeth around his waist.
Then darkness flickered, and they were somewhere else.
Ron turned around. Hermione had taken so long that he'd started contemplating the wall, because that was better than watching new wounds open on Harry's body. "What? What do you mean? Malfoy did this?" Ron could easily believe that, given the git's entitled attitude towards Harry ever since Harry had returned his wand. He had sneered and preened and pranced about for weeks, as if there was anything more between him and Harry than Harry just being nice. He had even sent nasty owls to Ginny, which Ron thought was beyond the pale.
"No," Hermione said. She was watching the surface of the globe with wide, startled eyes, seeing things in the shimmering colors that were invisible to Ron. "Malfoy is in the dreams. In most of them, it looks like, with Harry." She turned her head and shook her hair out of her eyes, frowning absently. Ron knew that she wasn't frowning at him, and she didn't even look particularly upset. This was just her "research" frown, the one she wore when she was thinking about the next question she should ask. "I can see some of the past dreams in the globe. It's—odd. Malfoy is there, but he seems to be a victim along with Harry. I haven't seen one yet where he gets Harry in trouble."
"The dreams themselves are nightmares, right?" Ron didn't understand why Malfoy would be there or how Hermione's globe worked. He was grateful to get back to ground that he did understand.
"Yes," Hermione said. "But they don't seem to be linked to anything in particular in Harry's past. Oh, there was one that featured animals that might have come from Fiendfyre, and there was a place that looked like the Forbidden Forest, but they weren't a replay of scenes that happened there. They just mingled and mixed elements."
"Like ordinary dreams." Ron frowned, trying to remember if Harry had ever mentioned dreaming about Malfoy. Then he shuddered. There were certain details that he had never wanted to learn about Harry's sexuality, especially since Ginny would smirk when someone asked her why she and Harry had broken up.
"Yes," Hermione said. She had returned to tapping her wand against the globe. Sparks leaped out of it and wrote something on a piece of parchment she held. She studied it, and she frowned again. "These results don't make any sense. I mean, they do theoretically," she added, and Ron held his breath in fear that she would try to explain the theory to him. Luckily, she didn't, but went straight ahead. "But the mingling of spells—it's as though Harry's brain doesn't know what to do with Malfoy. He doesn't know if he hates him or fears him or dislikes him or wants to rescue him. So Malfoy keeps showing up in all these dreams." She blinked and sat back in her chair. "It's strange, Ron, but it seems the sleep is attempting to give Harry inner peace about Malfoy."
"By hurting him?" Ron started as another wound opened up on Harry's leg. It was small, and Hermione immediately leaped to her feet. Then an alarm sounded, and the Healers piled into the room.
"I know it sounds strange," Hermione observed when they'd retreated over to the other side of the room so the Healers could work. "But yes, it looks like that. By putting Harry and Malfoy together in situation after situation, the dreams are trying to make Harry decide what he feels about him."
"How many more does he have to go through?" Ron stared in sick fascination at the lines of scars covering Harry's body. He couldn't imagine taking that long to decide about anybody, certainly not someone he had barely known in school like Malfoy.
"I don't know."
Hermione's voice was soft. Ron, who had been friends with her for ten years and married to her for two, knew what she needed, and put his arm around her shoulders. Hermione didn't weep, but the way she leaned against him said she wanted to.
They were running through the bloody Forbidden Forest, Draco decided, that's what they were doing, although a moment ago he distinctly remembered flying between two mountain ranges with beasts below them. The transition had all the meaning and all the logic of a dream.
A dream. That's what this might be. And of course Potter has a mind filled to the brim with nightmares.
"Come on, Malfoy!"
Apparently Draco had slowed down while he had that thought, and it was in a way that didn't give Potter satisfaction. He snatched at Draco's wrist and pulled him forcefully along. Draco stumbled, regained his feet, and heard the howls behind them, steady and unmistakable, coming closer and closer.
It didn't take the sight of moonlight stabbing through the branches to make him run like hell, once he heard those.
Potter and he leaped roots, ducked past trunks, and dodged swinging branches. Draco felt his ankle twist when he put his foot down wrong in the middle of a little hollow full of pine needles, and suddenly he sprawled on the ground, crying out in pain. Potters swung around and confronted the werewolves, his face alight with despair, but his body carefully maneuvering so that he covered Draco.
"What the fuck are you doing, Potter?" Draco wheezed. If this was a dream, he didn't intend to die in it. "Why are you keeping me here? We could get somewhere else if you would just concentrate on making them go away."
Potter didn't seem to hear him, which Draco could understand. Peering between Potter's legs revealed a pack of eight werewolves coming, with studied slowness, over the top of the small hill that framed the hollow.
The leader was a great grey brute of a beast, eyes glaring with a savage intelligence. Draco didn't think these werewolves had taken Wolfsbane. But they didn't need it to be cunning, or dangerous.
The leader melted down the hill towards them. The rest of his pack sat on their haunches and panted in what looked like amusement, or enjoyment. Potter stepped forwards to meet the leader, who paused and cocked his head thoughtfully, as if Potter was a new kind of sweet.
Then he dropped his belly to the ground and howled. Draco flinched and put his hands over his ears at the same moment that Potter yelled out a spell, so he wasn't sure what it was. He only saw the bright silver crack of light in the air, bright as a coin catching the moonlight, and the explosion it set off beneath the werewolf's paws as he leaped.
The leader split in two. Draco stared, watching the lower half as it sprayed blood and pinwheeled over their heads to fall into the center of the hollow. The upper half, including the head, flew away and landed somewhere in the Forest. The werewolves still on the slopes sprang to their feet and stared in silence.
Potter dropped his wand and stared back at them, meeting pair after pair of glowing eyes without a sound. Draco wondered, nervously, if one of the wolves would take the alpha's place and come down the hill to challenge Potter, but instead they turned and trotted back into the shadows of the Forest.
I reckon werewolves give up if you make their alpha explode, Draco thought, closing his eyes. I'll—have to remember that. A hysterical giggle escaped him, and went on growing to the point that he thought he wouldn't be able to contain it. When Potter turned around, he only shook his head and hauled Draco to his feet with one hand.
"Come on," he said. "We have to get out of here as fast as possible, before something else comes after us. There are worse things than werewolves here on a full moon night."
Draco blinked and stood. "How would you know?" he asked. "Did you come out here a lot when we were in Hogwarts?"
Potter gave him a sideways glance. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Of course I did." He began to stride forwards, his feet making the grass hiss and sway. "And I bet that you did, too, although of course Snape would look the other way if he caught you."
Draco followed Potter, fuming. The accusation was unfair, and any moment now he would find a way to respond to it.
Any moment now.
After long minutes of walking deeper and deeper into the Forest, rather than back towards the school—or so Draco thought, though he had to admit that he wasn't sure of the direction and he couldn't see the moon behind the trees—he had finally thought of the perfect response. He turned to face Potter and opened his mouth triumphantly.
The world turned sideways as someone cried out—
"There isn't any way to wake him up?" Ron clutched Hermione's hand, feeling her tremble against him. They had done the best they could for days on end. Well, Hermione had done most of the work, while Ron fed her facts that he'd looked up and a stream of minor ideas that Hermione took and wove into her theories. When he found her crying in exhaustion by Harry's bed, he had finally managed to convince her to give up and let one of the Healers take over.
The Healer they'd chosen to take her place, Gabriel Milverwhite, looked at them for long seconds before answering. Ron felt his heart rise, but Milverwhite shook his head, his long hair, braided with straps of leather and small dangling bells, swaying back and forth and chiming softly.
"There is a way," he said. "Every magical malady has a cure." Ron had heard many Healers say that since Harry arrived in hospital. He would have found it more comforting if, half the time, they didn't seem to be saying it in pure desperation, rather than because they believed it. "But we don't know what it is yet."
Hermione shook her head and burrowed into Ron's shoulder. Ron wrapped his arm around her, feeling helpless. Since Hogwarts, they had been there, always together. There were always two of them to comfort one who was feeling upset or depressed. He and Hermione had helped Harry through the end of his marriage with Ginny, and Hermione and Harry had held Ron when he failed two of the exams that should have made him a full Auror and had to sit them again, and he and Harry had closed protectively in around Hermione when she started to receive threatening messages for her work with house-elves.
But now Harry was gone, lost far away in dreams involving Malfoy, and Hermione was collapsing, and Ron had to hold up a house that should have been the work of two.
"Let's look again at what happened to him." Milverwhite had a soothing voice, and at least he seemed to understand when someone needed soothing. He gestured, and two cups of tea seemed practically to appear in the room, though Ron knew a mediwitch had brought them. He gulped his and felt better immediately. Hermione sat still with her cuppa clutched in her hands and her head bowed over it, unmoving. Ron leaned a hand on her shoulder, and hoped it would be enough.
"I'm new to this case," Milverwhite said, softly but insistently. "I hate to remind you of what happened, but I must have some facts."
Ron swallowed and took another gulp of his tea, noticing this time when he burned his lips. "Of course," he muttered. "I—we'll tell you what we can, but there's so little we know about what's going on." He turned to his wife. She had to take the next sentence, since he had taken the first.
Luckily, Hermione seemed to know that. She nodded, slowly at first, but quickly and strongly in the next moment. "Harry was in his kitchen," she said. "He'd invited us over for breakfast. He was talking about how his life felt empty without Ginny—that was his wife, Ron's sister—in it, but he also felt free in some ways. He wanted to travel the world, or face some fear that he'd always had and conquer it."
"Did anyone cast a spell at that particular point?" Milverwhite asked. He had a scroll open on his knee and was scribbling down words as fast as Hermione could speak them. Ron wondered if there was really something in the telling of the story that would help them, given how often he and Hermione had discussed it and put their memories in Pensieves and looked up obscure references on kitchens, and then snorted softly. At this point, anything was worth a try.
Hermione shook her head. "Harry turned around with the teacup in his hand and stared off into space. I thought he was getting ready to say something. Perhaps tell us what he'd decided on? Instead, just as he opened his mouth, he fell over, and the teacup fell from his hand, and shattered on the floor." Her voice was steadier now, and Ron knew why. She always did better when she could talk about something objective, in this case a series of facts. "We thought he'd fainted, but he seemed to be dreaming, and we couldn't wake him up. A few hours later, the first wound appeared. We brought him in to St. Mungo's then."
Milverwhite nodded. "And of course the tea was tested for potions and other foreign substances?"
"Of course," Hermione said. "I performed the tests myself, and then brought the tea to the experts here."
Milverwhite gave a soft whistle. "Do you know of anyone in particular who might have had reason to wish Mr. Potter harm?" Ron snorted uncontrollably, and Milverwhite looked up, caught his eye, and said, with a faint smile, "That's why I emphasized 'in particular.'"
"No," Hermione said softly. "All the Death Eaters have been captured. The people who used to send Harry crazy offers of marriage or letters that said they would kill themselves if he didn't date them have stopped. He's on good terms or at least neutral terms with most of the people we went to school with."
"There's Malfoy," Ron said. "Hermione can see images of Malfoy in his dreams."
Hermione made a quick, irritated gesture with one hand. "But we checked him out, Ron, and all he's doing is living in the Manor and working like a dog in the Ministry because he wants the funds to repair his home. There's no evidence that he's been near Harry in years, or even near a Potions lab."
Ron simply raised his eyebrows and said nothing. What Hermione said was true, which was why Ron wasn't arguing with her. But he still thought Malfoy had something to do with this. His appearance in Harry's dreams was too great a coincidence if he didn't.
Milverwhite rose slowly to his feet. His eyes were on his notes, but Ron saw a gleam in his face that hadn't been there when he sat down. It looked like a gleam of subdued excitement, more than any of the Healers had shown so far.
"What?" Ron demanded.
Milverwhite blinked and glanced up at him. "Pardon?"
Ron pointed a finger at him. Hermione promptly tried to drag it down. She thought it was impolite to point. Ron simply pointed with the other hand. "You know something! You have a theory about why Harry's in this coma! Why?"
Milverwhite paused for long seconds. Then he said, "I hesitate to distress you over a suspicion that may be nothing. And while it's true that it reminds me of cases I've seen in the past, I don't know yet that it is one of them. Besides, I need you to collect some evidence for me. Did Mr. Potter keep a journal?"
"Does," Hermione said suddenly, her voice a raw bark of pain. "Does he keep a journal. Not did," she added, when both Milverwhite and Ron turned to her. "He isn't dead yet."
Ron nodded. He should have been the one to say that, he thought. At the moment, he had more hope that Harry would wake up than Hermione did.
"I am sorry," Milverwhite said softly. "I am not used to this sort of thing. I am only a theoretical Healer, rather than one of my brethren accustomed to dealing with the relatives and friends at bedsides. And you can see why." He gave them a sad sort of smile, and then shook himself briskly. "But does he?"
"He does," Hermione said. "Of sorts. It's private Pensieve. We haven't got into it."
Ron nodded fervently. Among other reasons, like not wanting to invade Harry's privacy, he had no desire to see the memories of sex with Ginny that he was sure Harry had stored there.
"I would suggest looking into it," Milverwhite said. He apparently saw the objection in Ron's eyes and Hermione's opening mouth, because he shook his head and said, "If he dies, he will never know. If you can help save him, I am sure he would thank you. And I need the confirmation. Look for the image that appears again and again."
And then he swept out of the room, while Hermione made complaints about how abrupt he was—which made Ron have to bite his lip—and how he could have simply told them what he was looking for—something that made Ron have to bite his lip again. Ron stared after the Healer and frowned.
If he wants us to look for traces of Malfoy—
But why would Harry be thinking about him? We've already established he wasn't anywhere near the git.
And Draco was neck-deep in thick, cold grey water, shivering violently as he tried to climb to the surface and hold himself there. His parents had made sure he knew how to swim, but he didn't often practice.
He glanced around for Potter automatically, and saw him slice through the waves a short distance away. Draco frowned when his head dipped and he didn't immediately appear again, though. What was going on? Had a creature under the surface pulled him down? "Potter?" he called, as loudly as he dared.
There was no response, except the sawing call of a bird overhead. Draco shivered. This was a much more silent place than either the Forbidden Forest, ringing with the werewolves' howls, or the flight over the mountains, full of Potter's cursing. He would have welcomed noise like that at the moment. At least it would tell him where his enemies were, if he could hear them.
No response, and pressing silence, and the fear of a tentacle curling around his leg. Draco grimaced, sucked in as much breath as his lungs would hold, called to mind his father's strictures on diving and looking around underwater, and then went down.
The water was the same shade of grey silence beneath the surface, unmoving, unnerving, still. Draco felt the tug of currents against his body, but they seemed dim and distant. He could see with no more difficulty than before, and he shoved his way forwards, stifling the impulse to call out when he remembered it would fill his mouth with water and turn into bubbles anyway.
He saw a shape in front of him and sped up with neat movements of his arms. It was—yes, it was Potter, drifting with his hair floating behind his head and his arms spread out, just like your generic drowned corpse.
Then Draco saw his hand twitch, and at the same moment a coil of black and grey formed into being beneath Potter, heading for his ankle.
"Potter!" he shouted, and water filled his mouth on cue. Draco spluttered and dived further, trying to ignore the immediate pounding in his ears and the need for air that seemed to compress his chest. He could do this, really he could, as long as he could make Potter's ankle before the snake did—
Suddenly Potter's hand was around his, the grip strong, real, alive. Potter surged up and gathered Draco in his arms as if he had been shamming dead to draw the snake close, and then stroked for the surface. Draco gagged on his tongue and on blooms of black and tried frantically to press his lips together against the incoming sea.
They broke the surface, and Draco coughed and hacked and bobbed ungracefully. Potter supported him with one strong arm, gaze so intensely fixed on his face that Draco felt simultaneously thrilled and ashamed. It was long moments before he realized that he was the only one spitting. Potter, to all appearances drowned a few minutes ago, now looked all right.
"What?" Draco demanded, and then had to give way to another cough that seemed to tear its way directly out of his lungs.
"Right," Potter said, as if his half-question had been an intelligible sentence, and nodded. He leaned closer. Draco blinked at him, wondering if he had a crab in his eyelashes or something.
Potter hesitated two heartbeats away, staring. Draco was flushed now, and had to close his eyes. He would have turned his head away, too—he meant to, at least—but his skin felt so tight he wasn't sure he could do that without rupturing something in his face.
"In for a Knut, in for a Sickle," Potter said to himself, which made Draco want to protest, because wasn't he Muggle-raised? He had no business to use wizarding proverbs like that. The ones who came late to Draco's world never managed it, and it always made them sound slightly foreign. He opened his eyes so that he could catch a glimpse of the expression Potter would wear when he made his pronouncement.
Potter kissed him.
The air that had recently come back into Draco's lungs drained out of them once more. His head fell back, and spun dizzily. He would have gone under again if not for Potter's embrace, which perhaps explained why it had been so tight from the beginning. Draco closed his eyes and wondered what would happen if he threw up in Potter's face right now, or had to break away to cough.
But he didn't, because this was Potter, and this was something Draco hadn't ever thought about before but still desired with all his heart, and that made it wonderful and dazzling and perfect. The silence on the ocean came into Draco's head, too, and quieted the dizziness. His hands spread open so that the fingers rested, splayed and useless, on the sea. His muscles quivered, no longer holding him up. He felt wonderful and horrible, filled and emptied, at the same time.
Potter drew back at last and gave him a stare that Draco could have said was too hard, since it had its critical element, if he was capable of giving so much feedback in the first place. As it was, he just stared, and Potter chuckled as if the sound was pulled out of him against his will, touching the back of Draco's head.
"I thought so," he said, once more as though Draco should know what he was talking about.
"Potter," Draco said, and had to breathe before he could say it again. His mouth already missed the taste of Potter's tongue, which wasn't a pleasant discovery to make. "What the fuck?"
"I know," Potter said, giving him an embarrassed smile. "I thought—I dreamed—I wondered—I fantasized—but I didn't know." Again he touched Draco's hair, this time with a reverence that Draco could have said was loving.
If he was ever mad enough to apply such words to what he and Potter had between them, of course. Which he wasn't.
"You're not making sense," Draco said. "In fact, this whole damn bloody mess doesn't make sense. How did I get here?" He tried to remember what he had been doing before he found himself on the broom with Potter, but couldn't. There were the ordinary memories of Hogwarts and his parents and the war and all the rest of it, but no recent ones.
Potter's eyes grew dark and serious. He opened his mouth to answer—
"No wounds have appeared in a little while."
Ron blinked and woke up from the half-doze that he'd fallen into, standing against the wall and facing Harry's bed. He wanted to leave the chair for Hermione, who needed the sleep more than he did. Ron had managed to sleep some of the time last night, while poor Hermione spent most of it awake and searching for a cure to Harry's problems in the books of the Black library. Ron would have protested if he had thought it would do any good, but he knew Hermione's greatest comfort at times like this was to be left alone so that she could get on with the research.
"What did you say?" he asked, through a yawn.
"I said," and Hermione cast a look at him that told him he should have been more alive to the possibility that she would say something important and therefore more awake, "that he hasn't had any new wounds in a while." She turned and bent over Harry, her eyes so concerned that Ron would have been jealous if it was anyone other than Harry. There was only one other person in the world that mattered that much to both of them, he thought, only one person he would want his wife looking at like that. "I don't know what that means," she added lowly. "It could be a good sign, or it could be a sign that the magic its gathering its strength and something even worse is going to happen. Or happening inside him, somewhere we can't see."
"Milverwhite said that there's no sign of internal bleeding or ruptures," Ron said. He did remember that from yesterday, since it was one of the few pieces of hopeful news that Milverwhite had been able to bring them.
"What do Healers know?" Hermione made an agitated motion with one hand.
Ron raised an eyebrow and left it there. Hermione had the grace to look a bit ashamed, even flushing.
"Yes, all right," she muttered. "But that doesn't mean that they can't be mistaken. I've read about a few cases like this now, where someone fell into a deep sleep plagued with dreams, or a coma, and couldn't be awakened. It's never good, Ron. It means that they could die slowly. Sometimes you wake up the next morning, and someone who seemed fine the night before is just—gone."
Ron came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "We brought Harry to St. Mungo's almost as soon as this happened," he said softly. "And we've done all we could. And the Healers are working on him every moment of the day and night." Ron knew that was true, even when few of them were in the room. And if they did more because of Harry's name and fame than because they cared about him, still, Ron thought he could trust them to do as well as they could. No one in hospital wanted Harry Potter to die on their watch. "He'll be all right."
"It's the almost that worries me," Hermione said, and one of her hands crept up to take Ron's while the other continued to stroke Harry's forehead. "What if we hesitated too long? What if Harry would have been all right if we'd just moved a little faster and got him into hospital that much sooner?"
Ron kissed her forehead again. "And what if he had fallen over something, as we thought at first, or fainted from lack of food and sleep? A fine lot of fools we would have looked, taking Harry into hospital when there was no need for it."
Hermione sniffled and then gave him a watery smile. "You really think it'll be all right?"
"I do," Ron said.
Hermione bowed her head. "You've said that I'm your intelligence, more than once," she said, in the shy voice that she often used when she was saying something personal. Ron had never known anyone else who would rather discuss obscure magical facts than her own feelings, but that was Hermione, and she was special. His heart warmed as he listened. "Well, you're my strength."
Ron could think of no better answer to that than a kiss on the lips. Hermione put her arms around his neck and clung to him.
Ron could see Harry's face, past her shoulder, and he exclaimed in surprise. Hermione turned around at once, flushing so hard that Ron thought she must have assumed a Healer had walked in. "What?" she asked, when she saw that the doorway was empty.
"Look," Ron said, and pointed to Harry.
He didn't need to say what the difference was. Hermione could see it for herself. They both examined the happy smile on Harry's lips in silence, and hoped it meant better things to come.
—and they dropped into the middle of a starry void, with light and darkness opening up beneath them at depths that made Draco gasp.
He looked around automatically for Potter, fearing that it would be like the ocean, where he couldn't see him at first. But Potter was right there, arms still clasped around Draco, and staring at the void with a worryingly Gryffindor expression. He seemed to think that he was duty-bound to find out what was at the bottom of the drop and report back on it.
"Where are we?" Draco shouted into his ear. "Why does this keep happening to us?"
Potter blinked and turned his head to look at him. "What?"
"Why do we keep bouncing from place to place, and why did you kiss me, and why don't you seem more concerned?" Draco added as an afterthought. "I don't know where we are, I can't remember anything that's close to this time, but you're handling it like you expected it."
Potter hesitated. Then he said, "I think we're in a dream."
"What," Draco said. He didn't make it a question, because it didn't deserve to be.
Potter shook his head. "I know it sounds mental." Draco opened his mouth to say that it sounded considerably worse than that, but Potter went on consideringly, and the chance to say something was lost, unless Draco wanted to interrupt. Come to think of it, why didn't he do that? "But it's the only thing that fits what's happening here. I don't remember anything recent, either. And I know that I've been bouncing from vision to vision for a long time."
"I only remember four," Draco said.
"Four?" Potter cocked his head at him and firmed his arms around Draco, as if he assumed that Draco was eager to get away from him and plunge into the void that had no firm footing for and no place for him.
"Yes," Draco said. "The mountains, or that valley, if you prefer, when we were on your broom above the animals made of fire. The Forbidden Forest with the werewolves. The ocean, just now. And then this." He looked around, struggling to find identifying features in the blackness, and continued to see nothing. "I don't understand how we get from one place to another."
Potter sucked his lips in, which was more distracting than Draco liked to admit. "There have been more than that," he said. "I remember us in Hogwarts, dueling. And then running down a corridor away from Death Eaters. I think the corridor was in Malfoy Manor. And we nearly killed one another above a sea of blood."
Draco would have doubted him, thinking he was lying, but Potter spoke with too much simple confidence. And what in the world would he have to lie about? Why would he want to confuse Draco? Their bouncing madly from place to place was doing a good job of that already. "Why don't I remember those?" he whispered.
Potter peered at him, and Draco saw the shadow of a suspicion in his face. Potter had never been good at concealing his ideas (when he bothered to have them). But he said nothing, so Draco poked his face into Potter's and demanded, "What is it?"
"It might have been a different version of you that experienced those with me," Potter said. "You were a lot more—hostile."
Draco leaned back, shaking his head. He didn't know why, but panic had tightened his chest so that it felt as if someone was squeezing his lungs. "No," he said reasonably. He intended Potter to know that he wasn't about to give in and start believing something as ridiculous as that. "You can't—that's not right. You pulled me into your dream somehow, as I lay asleep, and the dream that you've had is the part you had before your mind touched mine. It's not—it's not that there was a different version of me here."
"I don't like thinking of it, either," Potter said, his hands smoothing down Draco's sides. "I like this version of you better. The other one probably would have punched me if I tried to kiss him."
Draco felt a brief burn of wonder through him at the reminder that Potter had kissed him and he had survived. But he shook off the clutch of the past. He wasn't going to let go of the main point, although he thought Potter probably would prefer it if he did. "I'm not—you can't argue that I'm not real."
Potter shook his head. "I don't know what's happening either, Draco." Draco had to concentrate so that he wouldn't get distracted by the sound of his first name on Potter's tongue. "I do know that it's something very strange, stranger than can be accounted for by the nature of dreams. I never used to dream about you in this intense way. It feels real. I can remember different parts of the dream, even if you can't." Draco pinched Potter on the shoulder, but said nothing. "So I don't know what to tell you. You could easily be real, and asleep, and our minds touching, the way you said."
He was silent, and Draco was silent while they fell some more, until Draco worked the courage and the spit into his mouth to speak. "But you don't think that's true."
"No," Potter said. His voice could be lovely when it was soft, Draco thought, which he could have gone the rest of his life without discovering. "I think that this is my dream, and I'm bringing you to life because this is the only way I can face the complex of my desires about you. To kill you, to rescue you, to be with you—I've wanted to do different things at different times, since the war. But I was too much of a coward. I was going to marry Ginny, and then I was going to live a normal life, and seeking you out again would have been too much like admitting to myself that the desires could come true."
Draco tried again to remember what he could. His memories ran to the end of the war, and no further, he realized after a few moments. He had a hazy image of what the Great Hall at Hogwarts had looked like after the last battle, and he remembered Potter giving him a curt nod of acknowledgment as Draco leaned back in his mother's embrace.
That was the moment when Potter and I parted ways, Draco thought. When he lost track of me, so he couldn't give me any more new memories.
A surge of something passed through him. Fear? Despair? What was the appropriate name for the emotion you felt when you realized that you might not exist, that you might all be part of someone's dream?
A hysterical laugh bubbled up from Draco's throat. He shouldn't fear death, he thought. Why? He wouldn't remember anything or suffer any torment when Potter woke up. He would simply and easily cease to exist. There were a lot of people who would give much for deaths that painless.
A lot of people. Was he a person, if he had only come into being because Potter wanted to see and speak with someone who was like Draco without taking the risk of confronting the real thing?
And why couldn't he remember the portions of the dream that Potter was talking about? Had he created a different Draco for those parts, a Draco who had vanished clean away when it turned out that he wasn't needed any longer?
"I'm sorry," Potter whispered, his arms clasping more firmly around Draco's waist and shoulders. Draco wondered if it was his imagination that their fall was slowing. It had to be his imagination, he thought. Potter wouldn't have a reason to change his stupid means of trying to cope with his stupid fantasies at this late date. "If I'd had the courage to do this myself instead of my magic having to force me…"
And then they were elsewhere, long before Draco could think of any answer that he could have made.
"What you're saying," Ron said, quietly, because he didn't want to wake Hermione and he also didn't want to get so angry that he would smash in Milverwhite's face, "is that we can't do anything to wake him up."
"I have no doubt about my findings." Milverwhite only gave Harry a brief glance before he turned back to the scroll of scribbled thoughts in front of him. Ron ground his teeth. Sometimes he wondered if he and Hermione were the only people who ever saw Harry as real. Did everyone else think he was only a hero or only a victim, someone to be admired from a distance or healed when he needed help?
Well, sometimes Ron had seen someone who had a look on their faces when Harry was near, as if they saw his loneliness and his needs and could fulfill them.
He didn't like to remember that Malfoy had once been one of those people.
"I know what I found," Milverwhite repeated, meaning that Ron had to pay attention to the git. "It is Mr. Potter's own magic that keeps him under the control of this—coma. We will call it that because it has no better name," he added, so condescending that Ron ground his teeth. "He will not wake until he breaks the spell himself, from the inside."
"But that doesn't make sense," Ron said patiently. "How can he break the spell if he doesn't remember there is a spell?"
Milverwhite shrugged and met Ron's eyes, oddly defiant. "He has unusually strong and common dreams. I have timed them now, and his dream cycles last longer than they should, and resume sooner than they should, as well. I would submit that the answer will come in his dreams. He will remember that way, and choose to return to the real world. I do not think that you and Mrs. Granger-Weasley occur in his dreams. He will want to come back to a world that contains you, sooner or later."
"Maybe," Ron whispered. He could see the attractions of an endless youth, in the dreamworld, if he thought about it. He didn't want to, but he could.
"Yes," Milverwhite said. "Mr. Potter's sudden collapse, and the unexpected thoroughness of the coma and the depths of the dreams, indicate that his magic has undertaken it to fulfill his desires. Why the dreams are necessary to his desires, I am not sure, not knowing what he wanted or what he was most interested in." He paused and shot Ron an oblique look. "Did you look into his Pensieve diary as I suggested that you do?"
Ron flushed. He didn't like to admit it, but both he and Hermione had entirely forgotten about those instructions, since they had wanted to be in hospital any moment they could with Harry. "No, we didn't. We didn't want to invade his privacy, and we know that he'll wake up," he added virtuously, wishing that Milverwhite's skeptical look was more conducive to virtuous feelings.
"Those memories may contain information that would help me understand this case further," Milverwhite said harshly. "Do so." He stood up and stalked towards the front of the room.
"How can it, if what you've already said is true and Harry is the one who has to wake himself up?" Ron called after him.
"More understanding may help us with other matters than whether Mr. Potter would wake up," Milverwhite said, and exited, leaving Ron to stare after him in frustration.
They lay in a comfortable place, Draco thought. It was the first place they had been that he would call by that name. He blinked and looked around, trying to understand the flickering shadows and light on the walls.
They were in a room with a fire. Draco stretched out one hand greedily to the warmth. He was shivering for some reason, although he thought there was something soft beneath him. A blanket? Then he should be in bed, and plenty warm enough. He didn't have memories of the Manor, he had begun to realize, other than the hazy images that Potter had constructed for him, but he was sure he had a warm bed there.
Then he realized that he lay on an embroidered cloth of some sort, spread across the floor, and that he was naked.
No wonder he was cold.
Draco turned his head sharply. Potter stood on the other side of the room, watching him with wide green eyes that absolutely shone with hunger. He was naked, too, and curving up towards his belly was an impressive erection, dark with blood, that made Draco's mouth water before he thought about it.
Not that he was hungry for Potter. Not that he had ever thought about such a thing, for all that he had submitted to Potter's kiss in the ocean.
"Draco," Potter said again, and began to walk forwards. His cock bobbed and swayed with the intensity of his pace. His eyes burned and devoured, and Draco found himself arching his belly towards that flame before he considered what he was about.
"I've wanted you so long," Potter whispered. "That was why I couldn't see you until I came here. My conscious mind wanted me to avoid acknowledging you. It tried to protect me from the strength of my own passion."
Draco licked his lips. "Someone cast a spell on you so that you wouldn't desire me?" he asked, wanting to be clear.
Potter shook his head. He was standing above the cloth now, staring down at Draco with an expression that was—Draco would call it flattering and say nothing else for now. "My own mind wanted to prevent me from seeing you. The way you really are. The way I wanted you to be."
Draco took a deep breath. He was shaking with fear, but he had a source of power here, even if he could hardly bring himself to look straight at the light of it. "I'm only a creation of your mind, Potter. Of course you have me the way you want me. I don't have any say in it. How could I? I'm just your creature, made to do what you wanted."
Potter's eyes widened, and a look of such perfect anguish came over his face that Draco couldn't help looking twice; it satisfied some part of him that had lain dormant since his Hogwarts days. Or should he say some part of himself that had always been prominent, because he had only cause to think of those Hogwarts days? He hadn't existed before he met Potter; he would not exist after Potter woke from the dream.
A choked whimper broke from him as he thought of that, no matter how hard he tried to keep himself from it. Potter knelt beside him at once and wrapped him in his arms. Draco closed his eyes and clung to him—his creator, his destroyer. His skin was so warm that it became obvious now why Draco had been imagined naked with only a fire for company. Potter had thought that he would be able to keep Draco warm.
"I'm so sorry," Potter whispered. "I don't—I don't understand exactly what happened, but I'm sorry."
Draco took a deep breath. His moment of weakness was past, and as fun as it was to remind Potter of whose fault this had been and that he wasn't perfect after all, he couldn't encourage this view of himself as broken. There was something else that he wanted to do instead, and he reached down and grabbed Potter's cock.
"If this is all exactly as you desired," he muttered into Potter's mouth, "then make it something I can desire, too."
Potter drew back at once, face flushed with passion, and kissed him. Draco gasped and opened his mouth, letting Potter's tongue delve to the back corners. Wetness slid along his own tongue and his cheeks, and such a powerful bolt of weakness ran through him that he was glad he was already lying down.
Potter bit his collarbone, and licked his cheeks, and stroked his chest with hands that reverence made tremble. Draco found himself leaning back with a sigh and spreading his legs, inviting Potter between them. He wondered if that was his own idea, or an impulse picked up from Potter's brain, reflecting his creator in the way that a good little creation should.
Then he decided that it hardly mattered, not when Potter's mouth on his nipple felt like a revelation of paradise.
Potter prepared him with small squirms of his fingers, with lube that Draco hadn't noticed being in the room when he first looked around, and with constant pauses for staring that would only last until Draco lifted his hips or gave an impatient cough. Then Potter had to sit back on his heels and stare at Draco's hole. Draco lifted his head and pretended that he got someone staring at this part of his body every day of his life, fighting the flush that leaped through his cheeks like wildfire.
It's a part of your body, he told himself. Another beautiful part of your body. Do you know what some people would give to see you like this? But Potter is the only one who gets to. And Draco entertained a mischievous vision of what would happen if someone else tried to look at him like this and Potter chased them off.
Not that anyone can. This is all happening inside Potter's head.
Draco winced, but before he could sink into self-pity, Potter took himself in hand and lined himself up with Draco's entrance. Draco gasped out loud and flung his legs around Potter's waist in self-defense. Potter grunted and closed his eyes, face worked with desperation.
"God, you're tight," he said.
Draco knew no compliment had ever pleased him better, which was ridiculous, but there you are. He rocked back and forth in response, mouth working small grunts out into the atmosphere, gasping as strings of saliva slid down his face. Harry dipped his head and licked them up in a fervor. Draco wondered if he should have been able to be that flexible, and then reminded himself again that this was a dream.
"Draco," Harry said.
When did I start thinking of him as Harry? But Draco had to admit that it was pretty hard to think of someone by their last name when they were buried in your arse, rocking back and forth in such a brilliant way. Small flashes of heat, more than enough to match the worry and shame he had felt earlier, surged through him and then built into big flashes. Harry began throwing his back into each thrust, and Draco cried out. Harry paused at once, staring at him, but Draco shook his head furiously and gestured for him to go on, and Harry did so, more than enthusiastically.
Draco could feel his own breath leaving him in gasping grunts, as if he was running a race, or as if he was detached from his body. And at the same time, he had never been more attached to his body, never more a part of it. His fingers tingled where they clutched at Harry's arms, his shoulders, his flanks, any part of him that Draco could reach. His eyes were fastened on the small things, like the bead of sweat that slid from Harry's fringe down his scar and then to his eyes, making him blink and turn his head irritably from side to side, or the flush that seemed to form and fade on his face as he rocked in and out of the firelight.
Pleasure began to build, low down in his belly. Draco whimpered. Harry smiled at him, but it wasn't the smug, knowing, superior smile that Draco knew he would have been given when they were schoolboys in Hogwarts.
"Ready?" Harry whispered, and before Draco could ask him what he meant, he bent his body forwards and seemed to stab Draco's arse with his cock.
He hit Draco's prostate. Draco arched, froze, his body and his thoughts ringing, and then cried out aloud as his orgasm rushed through him and his spunk rushed over his belly.
Harry followed behind him, head hanging back, shoulder blades arched like wings, breath rasping out of his afflicted lungs, and then fell on Draco, half-crushing him before Draco could convince him to roll to the side. He had a look of such satisfaction on his face that Draco half-thought it might be worth it, to suffer through the changes of the dream with no certainty of the end, to have caused such pleasure.
Ron shook his head silently. Hermione's voice was stunned and shaken, and if Ron had wanted to speak, he knew he would have sounded the same way.
It was becoming obvious why Harry had kept a Pensieve diary instead of a written one (well, maybe there were lingering echoes of reluctance to keep a written diary because of You-Know-Who's one that had almost killed Ginny, too, Ron thought). He wanted to store his fantasies somewhere far away from his head, where there was no chance of them breaking past his lips.
And they were detailed fantasies, though they leaped back and forth so much between memory and unreality that Ron didn't know for certain which ones might have a basis in something that had really happened between Harry and Malfoy and which ones didn't. There were memories of Harry fighting Malfoy that suddenly turned to snogging, and sometimes they taunted each other high above the ground at Quidditch games but then started flirting instead, and Harry had thoughts of, um…
Ron cleared his throat as he blushed. There was a reason he and Hermione hadn't stayed in some of the memories very long.
The clarity of the memories varied, from the misty forms of dreams to the bright and sharp images that Ron thought came from meetings with Malfoy since Hogwarts. The worst memory, for him, wasn't one where Harry was fucking Malfoy or Malfoy was fucking him, though. The worst one was one he remembered.
Harry had opened the Daily Prophet and gone still, staring at the photograph on the second page. Ron, who had been sleeping over at Harry's house after one of his fights for Hermione and hadn't received his own copy of the paper, had to crane his neck past Harry's shoulder to see what was going on.
Once he saw the picture, he was confused. It was just a picture of Malfoy at the opening of some fundraiser, his glass of champagne in the air as he proposed a toast. Ron shook his head. "What's the matter, mate?" He hadn't heard Harry talk about Malfoy a lot since school. Did he still hate him that much?
"Nothing," Harry said in a low voice. But when he thought Ron wasn't watching, he'd reached out and laid a finger along the pictured Malfoy's cheek.
Ron had thought it was an odd way of punching someone across the distance between you. But, he had to admit now, not such an odd method of caressing someone.
Who could tell why Harry had got fascinated with Malfoy? The diary didn't show them any beginning to it, only the memories, in a continuous stream, in the order Harry had deposited them in the Pensieve. And they never had a chance to see Harry's reaction to things like waking up from dreams about Malfoy. It seemed that he had simply accepted the fantasies and gone on with his life.
But when Ron said that to Hermione after they had finished examining as many of the memories as they could bear, she stared at him in pity and shook his head.
"If he could accept his fascination," she said, "he would have kept the memories in his head and integrated them with the rest. He would have made up his mind to do something. Instead, he hid from it, and didn't want to think about what it meant. Maybe it even played a part in his marriage with Ginny ending," she added softly. "But he wouldn't face it. So his magic dropped him into a coma where he wouldn't have any choice but to face it."
Ron grimaced. He didn't like to think about Harry hurting his sister for the sake of a fantasy. But perhaps she hadn't known. And Harry had been punished by being put into dreams where, if Hermione was right, Malfoy was the only familiar figure Harry had to cling to. By the time he woke up, he would be ready to forget about Malfoy or confront him.
Then Ron realized that he was thinking as though Harry actually would wake up. If he couldn't bring himself to think about what he felt for Malfoy—and the Pensieve diary was only more proof of how good at denial Harry was—there was a strong chance that he wouldn't.
And there might be even more reasons for him to stay safely within the confines of the coma, as he would see it. What if he thought his friends disapproved of his choice of Malfoy? Would he want to come back if he thought it would mean facing their scorn, their pitying smiles, and their efforts to make him go back to Ginny?
That was how Ron ended up in hospital later that same day, bending down and whispering into Harry's ear, "Mate, it doesn't matter. You're past her, over her. If Malfoy is your future—well, I'll live with it somehow, and so will Hermione. Bill and the rest of the family might be a little harder to convince, but we want to see you back and awake most of all. So come back."
Draco opened his eyes. He didn't know what had awakened him at first, but then he saw that Harry's head was turned, his breathing short. He had his eyes focused on one particular part of the ceiling. Draco looked with him, expecting to see a starry void or a whirlwind or something else that would signal the dream was changing, but there was nothing.
Nothing he could see, anyway.
"Do you hear that?" Harry whispered. "I think I hear Ron calling me. He wants me to come back." A small, bitter smile touched his mouth. "To wake up, I suppose." He turned over abruptly and flung an arm across Draco's chest, staring into his eyes. "But how can I do that? It would mean killing you."
"Can you kill someone or something that's not even properly alive?" Draco tried to smile, but his face froze stiffly. "I don't know if you can. You should go, Harry. You have a real world out there to live in, while I only have the world here inside your head."
Harry pondered that for a moment, then brightened. "But if I stayed here, we could have all of eternity, or it would seem like it. We would only die when my body died. Don't you want a longer life?"
Draco swallowed. He hadn't thought that particular temptation would confront him. Of course he wanted to live and not die. Of course he was terrified at the thought of oblivion overcoming him after Potter opened his eyes. (He thought of the Potter with him as Harry and the one who lay asleep and whose mind had created him as Potter, he realized).
"In fact," Harry went on, eyes so bright it was hard for Draco to look at him, "I'm only a figment of his imagination, too. I won't exist in the same way when he wakes up. I want to live. I always have. Why shouldn't we go on?"
It was the hardest thing Draco had ever done in his—life? existence?—but he shook his head. Harry, staring at him, let his mouth fall open slightly.
"Why not?" he whispered. "Don't you love me?"
Draco looked away from him, letting his eyes unfocus as they stared at the wall. "I couldn't forget what I am, now that I know," he said, which was true. "I don't—I want to be real, even more than I want to survive. But that's denied to me. The best thing I can do, I think, is allow you, or your body, to wake up, so that my real counterpart might at least enjoy a real romance with him."
Harry snorted and ran a possessive hand down Draco's chest. "We know that he won't. You only gave in to me in the first place because he made you so that you would."
Draco squeezed his hand hard enough to hurt. "Then you're denying me even the privilege to make my own choices," he said fiercely, "and that's more of a lack of reality than anything else. How can my decisions matter if they're all foreordained? I want to make choices that matter. I say that we let him wake up. If he's come to a point where he can go and ask my real self for a chance, then I'd say we've accomplished the purpose we were made for."
Harry's eyes were wide and dark. He stared at Draco and started to speak, then snapped his mouth shut again each time. He turned his head to the side and made a little whinnying, sighing sound, like a horse settling down to sleep.
"Will it hurt?" he whispered.
"I don't know," Draco said, kindly. At the moment, he was the one with the strength, something he relished. "Let's try."
Harry seemed to shimmer, and this time, even Draco heard the shout that came from somewhere beyond the room where they were sitting. "Hermione! I think he's waking up! His eyes just half-opened!"
Draco turned his head to the side and buried his face in Harry's shoulder. He didn't want to change his mind now, but he thought he would give in to fear if he saw the room dissolving. Harry's arm curved around his waist, still strong and firm.
"I hope we made the right choice," Draco muttered.
"We did," Harry said steadily. "I think we did. We—we can't live in dreams, not really. We would just repeat ourselves over and over, especially if we don't have the power to create new things and just get tossed from place to place by his mind."
Draco nodded. He could smell sweat and skin and semen, and how could something false smell so real?
"Look at it this way," Harry whispered. "Maybe we'll go on living, in memory or somewhere else, after he wakes."
Draco nodded again. Harry's skin was soft and yielding against his forehead.
"I love you," Harry said.
Draco whispered it back and closed his eyes.