Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the end of All Desire in a Day. Thanks for reading along.
Chapter Nine-The Lineaments of Desire
"Hold on, Draco! Breathe..."
This wasn't the way that Draco had intended to return to his own world, or had thought he would. He felt as though he was drowning in bubbles, in fabric. Something thick and soft filled his lungs, and when he tried to raise his head and breathe on his own, magic clamped him and forced him back down. Draco struggled madly. He had had enough of magic controlling his life and making things impossible for him to do in the vision. He would do something on his own right now, even if it didn't seem all that much.
"Draco, you're going to be fine," Harry's voice said in his ear, and Harry's voice as he knew and understood it, without undertones of hatred and anger. "But please, you have to let me do this. There's something in you I don't understand-something that's preventing me from helping you..."
Draco understood in seconds, but then, he always had been more intelligent about the Dark Arts than Harry. He waited until a little air worked its way into his lungs, and rasped, "It's a ritual. I promised to pay any price, and it's my life that it wants."
For a moment, Harry stopped moving, and Draco was glad that his eyes didn't seem to work. He didn't want to see the expression Harry was probably wearing right now, or the questions forming behind his lips.
Then Harry audibly shook his head, said, "Fuck that," and turned. Draco heard him chanting, the chant building to the point that Draco shivered from its potency. When he could see again, he looked.
Harry was standing with one foot squarely planted on the ritual circle that Draco had wrapped himself in, and the other just outside it, his wand aimed at what looked like a melted candle, and might have been. The words snarled out from his lips, and the magic in front of him hissed and wavered back and forth like an uncharmed cobra.
Draco, superior understanding or not, still took some time to grasp what he was seeing. It went against the principles of the ritual as well as the laws of magic, and against the conviction, buried pebble-hard within him, that no one could prevent the ritual from claiming the price it had demanded.
But Harry faced the magic that Draco had roused, the debt he had to pay and the price he had agreed to, and forced it back.
The ritual magic manifested as a coiling creature of black and gold, strong and flexible and slender, that darted in multiple directions so fast Draco was left to sort out afterimage from movement long after it was gone in a new one. But it always snapped back together into the melted lump that might well be one of the ritual candles and launched itself at Harry again.
Harry's wand spun and leaped in his hand as if to match the magic, and his words hissed in response. If he was trying to charm the magic, Draco thought in soft wonder that filled his head and rustled in his limbs, then he was doing a good job to choose Parseltongue. But Draco didn't know if that would really work or if there was any such thing as a Dark ritual that Harry could conquer by speaking Parseltongue, either.
He wanted it to work. He wanted to live, so that he could ask himself questions, and Harry questions, and the universe questions, and appreciate this universe for not being the one he had left behind.
Harry took a step backwards, which made Draco try to gasp in concern, only to choke and yield to the spell that worked his lungs again. But Harry had only brought one foot into alignment with the other, and stamped down as if trying to break the metal of the ritual circle that way.
Dark magic shivered into being, away from Harry, running the circle and splintering it as it went, digging bits of metal out of the stone and flinging them about, or melting them, or changing them into half-hazy creatures that dissolved. Harry roared out Parseltongue syllables at the same time, and the coil of magic facing him fell apart. Harry took a step towards it and stood staring down at it for a moment.
Then he kicked the melted lump it had focused on, and the lump fell sideways and dissolved.
Draco tried to say something, but froth still filled his lungs. Harry turned around and came to his side, kneeling down to put a hand on his shoulder. For the first time, Draco became aware of the awkward way he was lying, his head to the side, his legs sprawled across the stone floor of the cellar as though he had tried to kick someone, and grimaced. He would have pushed his arms beneath him and stood, but that was a bit difficult when he was still so focused on breathing.
"I know what you're going to say," Harry said. "And I don't think that you want to say it when you'll get your arse kicked. We'll take you to St. Mungo's and tell them that you went wrong with an experimental potion that miraculously has the exact same symptoms as a foiled ritual. They'll buy it, when I'm talking."
Draco choked on indignation this time. That he had gone wrong with an experimental potion? Did Harry know the harm that would do his reputation? He would have to make sure that-
Then he caught Harry's eye, and fell silent, gaping up at him.
There was something else he hadn't realized, something even more important. Harry knew the Dark ritual Draco had used, and he knew how to foil it. That was knowledge Draco had counted on him not having, because he had thought his ritual circle and all the rest of it safe from Harry's interference. That Harry knew about it suggested either he'd been spying or he wasn't the innocent Draco had thought he was.
Or that Draco had been more careless and clumsy with his preparations than he thought he was.
"Let's get you there," Harry said, after a long moment of silent communion that Draco thought might have told Harry even more than it did him, and Levitated Draco into his arms. Draco closed his eyes and concentrated on working more with than against the spell on his lungs.
He could do this. It looked like he was going to survive this venture into an alternate universe, and survive, also, to ask his questions.
And answer them. Something about the hard gleam in Harry's eyes told Draco he would insist on that.
The mediwitch finally stopped smiling at him and realized that Draco Malfoy was still the same snotty man he'd always been, and left in a huff. Draco leaned back against the pillows and sipped at the Healing Potion that some not completely incompetent brewer had made up for him, one that would heal the scars the ritual had apparently left on his lungs and clear up the haze in his mind that the Healers had been afraid could affect his memories.
Draco appreciated the gesture, although he suspected that the memories of the ritual and the universe it had granted him would always stay true and clear in his head. And it meant that he was as sharp in his thoughts as he could be when someone knocked on the door, and did it in a manner that said they weren't a Healer and wouldn't be put off by claims of rest.
"Come in," Draco said, and debated whether he should try to sound contrite in the forthcoming conversation. No, he doubted that would work. Harry knew he had done this dangerous ritual in the first place, after all. The best thing Draco could aim for was honesty.
But I'd better not be the only one. A blood quill, Harry?
Harry stepped in and stood there for a moment, against the door, examining Draco with narrow eyes that made it seem as though he was trying to see through smoke. Draco gritted his teeth and did nothing. Doing nothing might be the best course for the future, too. Let Harry come to him and speak his suspicions. Then Draco would know what he had to admit and what he had to deny.
What happened to total honesty?
Draco shifted to the side on the pillow. Well, maybe he could admit what he needed to admit, about the ritual and the price he had paid and why he had done it and that Harry had saved his life, but save the most important parts for himself. Like how devastated he had been by Harry in the other universe turning his back on him, and going to Blaise instead. His tongue burned with the desire to ask if his Harry would ever do that.
But to get to that point, he would have to admit more than he wanted to about how the vision had affected him. It was awkward.
"I know you promised to pay any price," Harry said quietly. He sat down on the edge of the bed. Somehow, Draco hadn't noticed him moving over there from the door. Harry put one hand on Draco's blanket-covered foot and gazed at him. "What I don't understand is why. What could be that important to you?"
The truth might be valuable after all, if it can shock him into admitting what I wanted him to admit. Draco met Harry's eyes, smiled a little, and said, "I wanted to know what you would have been like if you'd been in Slytherin."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Different."
And that was what sometimes irritated Draco the most about his Harry, the fact that Harry could just take important things like his House identity and turn them into matters of no concern. He leaned forwards. "But different how? Would we ever have become friends? Would you have stayed friends with Weasley? Would we have been on the same side in the war? Would we have become lovers?"
Harry twisted his head to the side. "I know myself well enough to know the answers to those questions and what the vision might have showed you, Draco. In order: No, yes, no, and no."
Draco opened his mouth, then closed it. "I talked about the vision in my sleep, and you were with me when I was doing that," he said, but his voice faltered, and he hated to hear something like that.
Harry sighed. "I told you, I know myself well enough to know the answers. If I was in Slytherin House my first year, it still wouldn't change the way you reacted to me on the train, and the way I reacted to you, since that happened before then. And it wouldn't change the way I grew up, which has affected the way I react to lots of things in the wizarding world, which you knew. And I would have gone on chasing Ron until he agreed to be my friend again. Having one person who seemed interested in me and wasn't scared away by Dudley was too precious to give up. Why do you think I never really made all that many more friends except for Hermione during the rest of the time I was at school? Oh, sure, Neville and Dean and Seamus and Fred and George, but they weren't close to me the way Ron and Hermione were. I didn't need that many. Two were enough."
"You can't know that," Draco said faintly. It was the way Harry had acted in the vision, of course, but Draco didn't think he could have predicted his other self's cruelty. "And what about the war? Someone in Slytherin might have persuaded you that you had the wrong idea about what the Dark Lord wanted to accomplish."
Harry's face shut down. "No," he said quietly. "And do you know why, Draco? Because no amount of politics was ever going to make up for the fact that he killed my bloody parents."
"But someone could have-"
Harry shook his head. "It doesn't work that way," he said. "Not with the way I was raised. The Dursleys told me fuck all about my parents, and all of what they said was bad. But I idealized them and clung to them anyway, because they were all I had to cling to, the only people I knew for certain had ever cared about me. That's why it was such a shock later to realize that they weren't perfect, the same way that it was a shock to realize Dumbledore wasn't perfect. I didn't have that many adults to look up to, either. And Voldemort took two of them away. All four of them, really, if you want to count the curse that killed Dumbledore and Bellatrix being loyal to him and killing Sirius for him. I was always going to be his enemy. Always."
Draco swallowed. He had known Harry was fierce and uncompromising in his loyalties, even the ones that appeared to contradict each other; he had seen the way Harry defended Draco to his friends and his friends to Draco.
"Someone could have made an argument that brought you round. We were all young, and our parents were involved in our lives. Someone could have-"
"I'm actually a very simple person," Harry said placidly, to the disbelief of Draco and probably a large number of the particles that made up the universe. "No, really, Draco, I am. I stick with things I know and I only take risks to defend those things, not because I'm naturally curious about everything like Hermione or because I knew all about the politics you were already steeped in by the time that you were eleven. And I can't think of any argument that would have made an impact on me when I was eleven, no matter how subtle it was. I would just close my eyes and stick by what I knew. Which is childish, yeah, but the right choice just then."
"If you never change your mind, then why are you here?" Draco asked, and his hand might have brushed Harry's accidentally when he gestured.
Harry smiled at him. "Because I grew up, and saw that you were more than I thought you were," he said simply. "I realized that I was wrong when I was eleven. But if I'd known you from the time I was eleven, I would probably just have solidified my hatred of you and not been convinced that anything could ever change it." He paused and gave Draco a direct look. "That's what happened, isn't it?"
Draco nodded slowly. "But you did end up being lovers with Blaise," he said. "Or friends with Blaise. Or something."
"Let me guess," Harry said, a smile hovering near his lips even though his eyes were dark. "He was nice to me?"
Draco nodded again, unwillingly.
Harry sighed, and the smile disappeared. "Draco," he said, "I think you did this because you want to know me, in all the ways and all the universes possible. That's kind of a compliment, and I'll try to take it that way. But it's just-if you want to know about me, you have to ask me. I could have told you all the answers I think you probably discovered in your vision, and for a much smaller price."
"I found out that Umbridge used a blood quill on you," Draco snapped, the words breaking through the fragile barrier of his self-control, "and you never told me that. Just like you never told me about being almost Sorted into Slytherin before the other day!"
"Because I didn't want to, and it wasn't important."
Draco gaped at Harry. Harry stared back, and there was a door shut behind his eyes, Draco knew there was, when he'd prided himself on being so honest just moments before. Draco took a deep breath and sat up, testing carefully, but there was no froth in his lungs, no exhaustion in his muscles, which meant he could say what he wanted to say.
"You say that I should just ask you if I want to know something about you," he began. "But then you say that you didn't want to tell me about those things. If you hide things, then why should I just ask you? Of course I have to resort to rituals like this, if I want to know you!"
Harry gave him a smile that had more teeth in it than Draco knew he possessed. "And you've been conducting the Dark Arts in my cellars," he said. "Why didn't you tell me that, which seems a little more important than whether Umbridge used a blood quill on me years ago?"
Draco shook his head. "You're not going to deflect me," he said. "This is a conversation about what you haven't told me."
"And not about the stupid ritual that you did that made you risk your life?" Harry leaned towards him. "Why should it be? You're the one who nearly died, Draco. I'm the one who had to struggle to save you, and found out that you were hiding secrets that you could have endangered your life. Why?"
Draco ground his teeth. Somehow, conversations with Harry went this way about half the time. Draco found himself on the defensive, where he hated to be, and he could only give the true answer, not the one that would have made him look right.
"Because you're right," he said. "I do want to know everything about you. But I can't know it if you don't tell me."
"You can't know everything in any case," Harry said, and snapped his teeth on empty air like a dog. Draco thought it was a substitute for getting up and pacing around the room. "Draco-there are some things I've forgotten that you might want to know, and there are some things I can't tell you because they're other people's secrets, and there are some things I just don't want to talk about. You're not entitled to know everything."
"But you're the honest Gryffindor," Draco said, and barely recognized his own voice, the mocking edge was so sharp. Sure, he mocked people, but not Harry, not like this, not anymore. "You're the one who's supposed to tell the truth, you're the one who claims you share all secrets-"
Harry's hand slammed into the pillow near his head, and Harry bent over him. Draco blinked and shut up, out of surprise and not fear. He knew that Harry would never do anything to hurt him, really hurt him.
"You should have known," Harry hissed at him, "that you're the one who characterized me that way. I never said I would share everything. I said I would tell you the things that were important, and that concerned you, and that I wanted to share. You have your Dark Arts in the cellar and your Potions business and all your other secrets. It's not about one of us being a Gryffindor and one of us being a Slytherin, Draco. It's about having some respect for privacy, even in the middle of a relationship that you seem to think should be completely open. If I have to share everything, then you have to, too."
Draco stared at him. Then he said the first thing that sprang to his tongue. "But I'm a Slytherin, you can't expect me to..."
His voice withered in the sun of Harry's glare.
And he remembered the way Harry had looked, hovering over him during the Fiendfyre, hovering over Malfoy, debating leaving him there. The Hat had considered Harry for Slytherin in that other world and here. Maybe he never would have developed to his potential if placed in that House, but it had seen the potential in the first place.
Harry wasn't just a Gryffindor. Draco had gone into the vision knowing that, desiring to know what he would be like if he was different. And now he was acting as if it wasn't possible for Harry to be different from Draco's conceptions of him.
He could be different. He might be. He could have walked away from Draco after the war and never given him a second thought. He might never have reconsidered that he was wrong when he was eleven, the way he'd just said he had, and hated Draco for the rest of his days. He might have tried being lovers with him and turned away in disgust when it turned out to be difficult.
Draco tried to swallow again, but his throat was too dry. He couldn't just decide that Harry was a separate being from the Harry in that universe, and never think about it again. He couldn't demand that Harry be absolutely honest with him without Harry demanding it back. He couldn't set up House definitions that Harry objected to and not have him knock them down. Harry hadn't believed that people were totally defined by their Houses for a few years now. Draco knew that, had taken advantage of it by dating Harry, and still had thought it was-the same for Harry as for him.
There was all the potential there, glinting, able to be changed. Perhaps that was the true price Draco had to pay for the vision, knowing that chance had played more of a part in the way things turned out than any great personal virtue or the political arguments that Harry claimed wouldn't have convinced him, and that his future relationship with Harry would never be totally secure and might end.
And maybe he would never totally know Harry, either, and he would have to live with that.
He took a deep breath and looked up. Harry was watching him carefully, and Draco knew this was a moment that could change them if he let it. Say the wrong thing, and Harry would walk away. He wouldn't stay with someone who wanted to know every moment of his past but wouldn't let Harry into half his present.
"I think-wanting to keep some privacy is a good thing," he said.
Harry hesitated, then gave him a delicate smile. "Yeah, I reckon so," he said, and sat on the bed. "Now. Are you going to tell me what was in this vision? And was it worth the price, what you saw?"
Draco winced. He hated doing things that would make him look stupid to Harry. That was another reason he had kept the extent of his Potions business hidden. On the one hand, some of what he brewed was illegal; on the other hand, he hadn't wanted Harry to know that he ever failed in his experiments.
"Or, if you like," Harry said, in a voice as delicate as the smile, "we can leave it here, if you like, and never talk about it again."
Draco hesitated. The escape stretched in front of him, a path he could walk down, and when he left hospital, the world would be exactly as it had always been-
A world where he could never tell Harry exactly what had happened in the vision, if he decided that he wanted to, and where he could never ask some of the questions the vision had inspired, questions that Harry might want to answer. A world where Harry pretended ignorance about his potions and rituals, and Draco pretended ignorance of the ways that Harry was different from him.
A world that wasn't really the same at all, no matter how you looked at it.
That was the thing about glinting moments, edge moments, provided that he recognized them in time. Someone could change them, sure, and for the worse. But if Draco was the one to recognize them, then he had the power to decide how they should change.
And he wanted this one.
"No," he said. "I want to tell you."
Harry gave him a long, assessing glance. Draco could watch the thoughts moving behind his eyes, thoughts that he knew he would never have noticed before. Harry might think he was a simple person, or used to be, but right now, this was a man who was judging, cautiously, the costs of listening.
Draco saw the moment when he decided the reward was worth the costs, even before Harry took his hand up and turned it over.
"I'm listening," he said.
In other worlds, Harry wasn't mine, Draco thought as he closed his fingers firmly around Harry's and started to speak. We never got together. He was Blaise's, or Weasley's, or he died.
But in this world, he's mine. Even if the threat that he might not be forever isn't going to go away.
And as much as I can influence it, I want it to stay that way.