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Chapter 4: 4.
Hummankind cannot bear very much reality. — T.S. Eliot
Almost inevitably, it starts to happen:
Harry begins to dread waking up in the post-war world, to his navy sheets and empty bed and his empty old life. His room, and in fact his whole flat, is smaller than the one he and Draco share, but every noise he makes seems to echo in the space, making it seem cavernous and cold.
Because here he has no one. Sure, Ron and Hermione and the Weasleys all love him and the whole Wizarding world considers him a hero and a celebrity, and one day he and Ginny will probably get back together like they’re supposed to, but right now, his apartment is so hollow and empty and Harry feels totally and utterly isolated.
Harry used to think the nightmares he had before, when he was younger, were the worst — the ones filled with Voldemort and blood and death and failure. But now things have changed. The nightmares that scare him the most are like this:
He is completely alone.
It isn’t love, because Harry thinks he knows what that’s like.
Ginny had loved him with an almost terrifying fierceness and she had always let him have his way — anything you want, Harry, anything for you — and it had scared him. He’d never had anyone before that and how was he supposed to know what to do?
But he knows not all relationships are like that. Ron and Hermione are still Ron and Hermione even though they’ve been together for years. They fight constantly and sometimes it takes them days to make up, but Harry just chalks that up to the fact that their love for each other burns so brightly that sometimes it catches fire and it always takes some time for the flames to go out.
He and Draco don’t fight, not really. It’s more that they tease, hit each other with tiny verbal jabs and even when they do argue, neither of them can go for more than a few hours without apologizing. And it isn’t like when Ron and Hermione make up either. Neither of them like saying the words ‘I’m sorry’, that much is obvious, so there is never a big scene of catharsis. Draco, Harry knows, likes gifts, and so there usually is some kind of peace offering and all is forgiven. There is no vindictiveness, no grudges or mistakes held against anyone. Harry mostly figures this is because if someone manages to give Draco a gift that he really likes, they suddenly became his new favorite person for at least the next hour.
Harry finds that he likes it. Draco isn’t overbearing or controlling, and yes, he is kind of a brat and pouts if he doesn’t get his way, but at some point, Harry realizes that he likes doing things Draco wants to do. And even if he doesn’t really enjoy it, Draco’s enthusiasm usually more than makes up for it.
Really, it’s just like living with his best friend or something.
Of course, this logic doesn’t hold up quite as well when Draco does things like trapping him against the kitchen counter and kissing him lazily until he is dizzy for air and whole flat smells like burnt pancakes because Draco has forgotten about the pan he’s left on the stove. Laughing, Harry pushes him away and pops some bread in the toaster instead before helping himself to the coffee.
He likes weekends here for this reason. Back in the other world, Saturday and Sunday are just a seemingly endless period of empty time that gets in the way of Harry’s work week, but here it has become relaxing, blissfully unscheduled, when he and Draco can spend time together. Sometimes they do mundane things, like cleaning the bathroom or going to the food shop together, and other times, they Apparate out to the Wizarding park with Ron and Mac for a game of pick-up Quidditch (even in this world, Draco is still fiercely competitive when it comes to Seeking, so when Harry’s team wins he’ll pout for days until he beats Harry at something else, keeping score in his head in a way Harry can never figure out) and when they come back, sweaty and exhausted, they collapse onto the sofa, talking and listening to the wireless until one of them finally caves and calls for takeaway.
Before, Harry would never have said that talking with Draco was something he thought he would enjoy, but their conversations are random and amusing and if anything, Harry is certainly never bored.
One afternoon, when they’re sprawled out together on the sofa, and Draco finishes telling him about the dream he had last night where he had to save a poor ram from being mauled by a flock of puffins and how he had asked his friend at work to analyze it for him and he said that Draco had a ‘popularity complex’ (which Draco vehemently denies and Harry privately agrees with) Harry asks Draco about his old nightmares.
“Do you think it was it something you did that made the dreams stop?”
Draco fidgets with the couch cushion, picking at one of the stray threads and avoiding Harry’s eyes.
“Honestly, since it’s my job I’m talking about, I probably shouldn’t say this, but counseling didn’t seem to have much effect. Do you remember?” Harry shakes his head and Draco sighs, explaining, “After we started seeing each other and I would stay over, you didn’t have them, and then when we moved in together permanently they just… stopped altogether.”
“So, what, you think that dating you fixed me?”
“Fixed you?” Draco laughs, eyebrows flying up towards his hairline. “Anyone who’s ever met you knows you’re a complete nutter. I don’t pretend to have the power to fix issues like that.”
“I’m a nutter? Hello pot, this is kettle calling.”
“Good afternoon, kettle. Has anyone ever told you that talking to other cookware is probably a sign of insanity?” Leaning in, he sarcastically stage whispers, “Don’t worry. I know this because I am a trained professional.”
Harry glares. “Twit.”
“Pig.” Draco squawks indignantly and Harry pokes him in the chest with an angry finger. “You ate all the scones at breakfast this morning. Don’t think I didn’t see.”
“Fine,” he huffs, shoving Harry lightly in the ribs with his elbow. “Now go be a good little kettle and make me some tea. Perhaps, if it is very good tea, I shall forgive you for wounding my delicate sensibilities.”
As Harry putters around in the kitchen, pulling out a package of biscuits while he’s waiting for the water in the kettle to boil, he listens to Draco chatter away about his favorite kinds of tea and the pros and cons of each variety (his favorite are the kinds that come in pretty packaging) and looks around their flat: their jackets hung together by the front door, the stacks of Quidditch magazines mixed with the stupid fashion rags Draco always insists on getting, two dirty mugs still in the sink from earlier that morning but only one shared knife for the jam.
Love is fireworks and rebounding curses and kissing on a battlefield. He’s seen it in action, has felt the after-effects for his entire life.
But this — this is normal. It’s comfortable and easy, and Harry is happy knowing that whatever it actually is, it isn’t love.
Sometimes, Harry will wake up from the nightmares and he’s alone.
The darkness of his bedroom is oppressive, filled only by his heavy breathing as he sits up in bed. The sheets are freezing and empty and something about it makes his hair stand on end while the sweat that has gathered at his temples and above his upper lip becomes chilled and anxious.
Harry wipes the moisture away and burrows into his blankets again, curling into himself to try and get warm, but the nightmare, filled with acres of cold space and something cutting, ripping, tearing at his insides, hacking his heart and soul to pieces, is still so fresh, and waking up alone afterwards has chilled him to the bone.
He can’t seem to get comfortable. The sheets are scratchy on his skin, chafing as he tosses and turns and this is the part he hates the most. Harry has been waking up from nightmares alone for most of his life, but no matter how often it happens, he never feels any less weak. That horrible free-falling feeling he gets just before he wakes up always stays with him, so that the bed doesn’t hold him like it should, and that feeling, sickeningly weightless and always plunging towards the ground as if to move through it, is the definition of helplessness.
Harry twists his fingers into the sheets to still their shaking, not quite feeling the fabric, and thinks of Draco. His pale hands drawing soothing strokes along Harry’s spine, arms twisted around him as if to anchor him to the bed, keeping him from falling away through the mattress, and Harry can feel the springs against his back, the blanket laying on his chest. The cold prickling feeling starts to go away finally and as he closes his eyes, everything just feels so much more real.
It’s funny though, because the day that Harry realizes he’s actually in love with Draco is just a normal day.
It is drizzling outside, like it almost always is during the fall, and Harry forgets his umbrella like he always does because he is, at least as Draco always tells him, “the worst Englishman ever”, and so he comes through their front door looking like a drowned rat because he couldn’t Apparate while holding all the takeaway bags.
“Draco?” he calls, toeing off his shoes. “A little help here?”
No response. Harry hears giggling coming from the kitchen.
“I brought your favorite eclairs for after dinner?” More giggling. “God damn it Draco, if you don’t come and help me, I swear I will track mud all over your favorite rug.”
The laughter abruptly stops and Draco is by his side in seconds, taking the bags out of his hands and glowering. “You better not have been lying about the eclairs.”
Harry grins through his wet hair and Draco’s scowl softens slightly. “Go change before you get yourself sick again. And if you get dirt on my rug, I will end you.”
Harry changes, toweling dry his hair, and pulls on a Weasley jumper before heading into the kitchen. Draco is setting out their dinner, the chocolate eclairs already placed on the platter of honor in the middle of the table, and he is humming some nonsense song like he always does while doing housework.
“Told you I came bearing pastries.”
Draco hums some more and Harry finds himself studying the line of his neck and the way his skin catches the light, the sleeves of his gray dress shirt rolled up to his elbows and the collar undone. The first thing Draco always does when he gets home is fling his tie in some odd direction and Harry is always finding them days later, hanging off lampshades and peeking out from under the couch. He spots Draco’s burgundy patterned tie from that morning laying across the back of one of the kitchen chairs and picks it up, smiling fondly.
Draco turns to carry their plates to the table and cringes when he sees Harry standing in the doorway. “Oh god, you’re wearing one of the jumpers. Why do I love you when you dress like that?”
“You’re the one that throws his ties all over the place.” Harry waggles the tie in front of his face. “What were you laughing like a madman about earlier anyway? It sounded like you had solved nuclear fusion or something.”
While he and Draco do lead a fairly Muggle life at home, which is pretty normal for this reality as far as Harry can tell, Draco somehow still has zero knowledge about anything having to do with actual Muggle culture. “Nothing.”
“Oh but Harry, you’ve got to see!” Draco sets their plates down and goes over to the counter excitedly. “I sent a fake love letter to Ron using Lavender Brown’s name and look what he sent back.”
“Draco. You didn’t.”
Handing Harry a piece of parchment, he cackles again.
Harry sighs and skims through the bumbling letter, Ron’s awkwardness written in every untidy scrawl, until he gets to the post-script written in Hermione’s tidy writing.
“Oh my god, she’s going to kill you when she finds out you sent this.”
Draco snatches the paper back and clutches it to his chest protectively. “She’s not going to find out.”
“You really think Hermione is never going to figure out you sent that and not Lavender? She works for Magical Law Enforcement, you know. She’s not stupid.”
“My forgery was very convincing!”
There is a small note of wounded hysteria in Draco’s voice and so Harry gives up and goes to sit at the table.
After putting the letter carefully on the sideboard again, Draco follows him, ignoring his sesame chicken in favor of the plate of eclairs, and Harry shakes his head. His boyfriend is so odd and Harry really can’t understand why he loves Draco in spite of his ridiculousness.
He digs into his food, chewing pensively as he goes over what he had just thought. There’s something about it niggling at him. Something that is making his skin prickle uneasily…
Suddenly, Harry realizes what it is and his heart slams into his chest like it’s riding in a car that’s going too fast and the driver has suddenly slammed on the brakes, spattering it all over the windshield. He chokes on his fried rice and Draco slaps him on the back.
“Yeah, just… distracted.”
Harry clears his throat again and downs a glass of water at an alarming speed. It isn’t just his food he is choking on, it is those words, which he and Draco probably said to each other here ages ago because you don’t just move in with someone against your parents’ will unless you know how they feel, but to Harry, this Harry, it is the most terrifying feeling in the world. He’s never said that to anyone before, not even to Ginny — well, except his own father a few weeks ago and that had really just gone so wonderfully — and maybe that means he’s emotionally stunted or something, but that’s just how it is.
On the one hand, it isn’t strange at all that Harry would be in love with his own boyfriend, but in this reality, his boyfriend is Draco Malfoy and this whole thing is just a dream, and the next thing that Harry thinks is, great, now he’s gone and fallen in love with someone that only exists in his head.
“Is there something wrong with your food?” Draco asks curiously and Harry snaps out of his horrified reverie.
“You’ve been staring like you found a cockroach in your rice for the last five minutes.”
“Oh. No. It tastes fine.”
Of course, now that Draco has put that thought in his head, the only thing he can taste in his next bite is cockroaches and Harry takes a second to damn him to hell. Huffing, he pushes his fried rice away and reaches for an eclair instead, only to find that the plate is already empty. He narrows his eyes at Draco, who still has half a pastry in his hand with the rest stuffed in his mouth haphazardly.
He sees the look on Harry’s face and points to his dinner plate hopefully. “Sesame chicken?”
Crumbs from the eclair spray out of his mouth with every word and Harry reaches over, snatching the other half of the dessert out of Draco’s hand and holding it out of his reach.
Draco is looking mutinous when Harry refuses to be placated and points to his plate, saying, “Hurry up and eat your dinner, you twit.”
He tries not think about it, about that thing that he had thought, as Draco resentfully stabs at his chicken, glaring at the bit of eclair he is holding. Harry stares at it, noticing the shapes of Draco’s teeth bitten into the side. He imagines how Draco’s lips would have met the flaky edge, warm and just a little chapped from the wind outside.
Harry sets the eclair back down on the plate hastily.
It’s not like it’s real. This whole thing is a dream, so what he thinks here doesn’t matter much. After all, it’s just happening in his head.
A/N: We're over halfway there! And Harry is... getting in a little deeper than he thought he would, isn't he?
A hundred thank you's to my beta Janechel (TenthWeasley) for dealing with my bad spelling, to Melissa (witnesstoitall) for all her support and love for this story, and to my posse -- you're the Super Junior to my kpop, I don't know what I would do without all of you!
Disclaimer: The wonderful world of Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. I own nothing you recognize.