Chapter 5 : 5.
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We live as we dream — alone. — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
One day, when Harry is alone in his normal life, he runs into Ginny. He has just stepped out of the door of the food shop, holding his bag and staring blankly at the neon sign that is flashing in a window on the other side of the street, when something knocks into his shoulder.
“Ooff!” It’s a woman, her long head of red hair covered by a white hat. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I — oh, Harry! Hi!”
He looks down and sees a pair of brown eyes and a freckled nose scrunched up in surprise. “Ginny. Hi.”
“It’s been ages since we’ve seen each other.” In reality, Ginny has hardly spoken to him since the day she moved out and Harry quashes the memories of so many uncomfortable dinners at the Weasleys’ deep down as she asks, “How are you?”
“Me? Er, I’m fine. Just working and… stuff. Came to the food shop to pick up some — “ Harry motions with the bag in his hand before remembering that the only thing he ended up buying was a package of scones because he knows Draco likes to pretend that they’re posh enough to have cream tea on the weekends and he keeps forgetting that he’s not in the dream anymore, with nothing waiting for him at home except for an empty kitchen and a cold bed. “ — er, things. You?”
“Good! Just started training again for the new season even though it’s still bloody cold out. But, hazards of the job, you know.” Laughing as the wind pinks her cheeks and twists up her long hair, Ginny studies his face. “You look happier than you used to.”
“Yes. You look like you’re in love,” she smiles, sounding teasing and nudging his shoulder playfully. “Who’s the lucky girl?”
Harry stutters, unsure of what to say and Ginny’s look changes from teasing to something that is almost resigned and unsurprised. “So it’s like that then. I always wondered. Well, I’m glad you’ve found someone. You always deserved that.”
The fact that she had always tried to give it to him is left hanging in the air along with so many other arguments they never finished and Harry realizes with a sinking feeling that they are never going to talk about it.
He opens and closes his mouth, searching for the words to tell her that whatever she’s always wondered about him isn’t true, but Draco must be having a great deal of influence on him because he can’t seem to force out the lie.
Harry thinks of her fate in the other world, with her boyfriend ‘Mac’. Ron always makes them seem so deliriously happy and in love, and when he had seen them together Ginny had been shining with contentment, and suddenly Harry is sad for her. What if she’s missing out on the person she’s supposed to be with because he doesn’t exist here? Did it even work like that? He isn’t sure he actually wants the answer to that question.
Running into Ginny here like this, Harry finds himself missing her. Not being with her, not like they were before — but he misses the small things: her jokes and impressions, and the way she is always tugging at a lock of her hair, and her wild, boundless energy. He wonders, if things had just gone on as they had been, whether he and Ginny would have ever fallen in love all over again, or if he would have ended up just as alone as before. Harry isn’t very sure, and he stops himself from trying to figure out which outcome would have made him the happiest.
“I — thanks.” Harry has to clear his throat and she pats him on the shoulder again, smiling brightly. Then she looks down at her wristwatch, a pretty jeweled thing, and he wonders if she’s with someone that bought that for her. He hasn’t kept up with Ginny’s personal life since they split up and now he almost regrets it.
“Okay, I’ve got to run. There’s practice tonight and coach will roast me on a spit if I’m late.” Ginny turns, in a whirl of scarlet hair and white teeth, calling out, “It was good to see you, Harry!” before disappearing around the corner.
Harry watches her go until his eyes catch the sign from across the street again as it shines bright red above the door of the bed and breakfast. Blinking rapidly, he turns to walk down the street, but the text of the sign is still flashing hotly behind his eyelids:
Vacancy. Vacancy. Vacancy.
Another day, while he’s at work in the dream world, Harry sneaks a look at Draco’s file.
He isn’t surprised to see that it’s not that different from what he is familiar with: Slytherin with high marks in school, Prefect, born into a wealthy family. Harry does see that his parents have long been divorced, which Harry didn’t expect, and that he had spent most of his time growing up with his mother. According to the file, Draco is one of the world’s leading magical psychiatrists (an assessment Harry disagrees with on principle because leading psychiatrists just don’t date their clients) and he imagines Draco saying that he picked that specialty because he liked the idea of being able to mess with people’s heads. Because, while he may not have been from a family of racist Death Eaters, Draco is still a git.
The nice thing about Draco’s job is that he gets to set his own schedule and he hates to work late, so nearly every night, Harry comes home to the sounds of him fiddling around in the kitchen trying (and usually failing) to cook dinner. About half the time the apartment is filled with hazy smoke and Harry prays that Draco isn’t in one of his (many) stubborn moods and will be willing to abandon cooking in favor of takeaway.
Thankfully, when Harry comes home from the Ministry that evening, Draco has already ordered pizza and is sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by books and files.
“Don’t ask me about my day. It was dreadful and I don’t want to talk about it,” he drawls the moment Harry enters the kitchen and Harry shrugs, swiping a piece of pizza off Draco’s plate. “Hey! That was the last slice of anchovy!”
Harry looks down at the pizza in disgust and hands it back to him. “That is a disgusting topping, Draco. Pizza isn’t supposed to have eyes.”
“Well I tried to order caviar, but they didn’t have it. This was the next best thing. I don’t know why we always order from such a rubbish pizza shop anyway.”
Harry mutters, “Spoiled brat,” under his breath as he opens the other box and picks out a slice of cheese pizza instead.
“Shut up with your muttering and tell me about work. I could use a distraction.”
“What are you doing anyways?” Harry asks through his bite of pizza, other hand tugging at his tie.
Draco hums and says almost too quickly, “New patient.”
“Oh?” Harry cranes his neck to read the book he has open, curious. “Someone having problems sleeping or something?”
“That’s confidential!” Draco snaps and then sighs, running a hand through his hair. “It’s not for work. I lied. I’m sorry.”
Something that has surprised Harry to learn over the last few weeks is that if there is anything Draco really hates, it’s lying.
“What’s it for then?”
“I’m just… you’ve been really restless lately when you sleep and you keep waking up from nightmares and I’m just concerned that maybe your old dreams have started up again. Maybe when your mum died… it brought all that stuff back to the surface. Emotional trauma can easily induce a relapse. That’s what I’ve been looking into.”
Harry sits down heavily in the chair across the table. He only remembers waking up from a bad dream once with Draco there — though really, Harry still thinks of the whole thing as one giant bad dream — but the way he was talking about it made it seem like he had been having nightmares here constantly over the last few weeks. He remembers burying his face in Draco’s neck, listening to his heartbeat as hands smoothed his back and thinks that it is entirely possible that he may have just forgotten the nightmares entirely.
“What were my dreams about before?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No, I can’t seem to think of any of them.” It isn’t really a lie, so Harry doesn’t feel guilty saying it.
“Well, maybe that’s better.” Harry looks at him waiting, and after a moment, Draco relents. “You said you kept dreaming of another world, where you were stuck in this endless cycle of fighting, helpless to escape while everyone you loved died around you. And somehow, it was all your fault. The bad guy couldn’t die and it was up to you to figure out how to stop him but it was too hard and you just couldn’t.”
Draco finally meets his eyes and Harry swallows hard.
“And then you would wake up.”
A chill runs up his spine. Those dreams… they sound a lot like his life during the war.
Draco had told him that they met here years ago, because Harry had suffered those paralyzing dreams. In his real life, during the war and after, Harry can count the nights he has slept well on one hand.
And now Draco is saying he’s worried that the trauma of his mother’s death might have triggered a relapse and Harry has started coming here in his dreams so suddenly from his normal world.
Harry doesn’t know why, but the whole thing has him feeling uneasy. It’s almost too simple to think that this dream and his reality are connected. But… isn’t it odd enough that he keeps coming here night after night?
Is it really such a stretch to think that maybe this whole thing isn’t as much of a dream as he has always told himself?
What if this is real and the life he always remembered living is all in his head?
The idea is so confusing, so insane, that Harry takes it and forces it as far back into his mind as he can, vowing never to look at it again.
“I’m fine.” Harry shoves the crust of the pizza in his mouth roughly and says around it, “Work was crap. Gonna go shower.”
He strips down, leaving his clothes in a scattered pile on the threshold of the bathroom and no matter how hard he tries not to think about it, everything just seems a hundred, a thousand times more sure and real that it did before.
What if Harry’s parents had never died and he had grown up learning to play Quidditch from his dad and Sirius. What if he had never had a destiny and there had been no Voldemort, only Tom Riddle, and no prophecy and no horcruxes.
What if he and Draco had never been rivals at school, if they really had met for the first time in Draco’s office during an appointment when they were twenty-three and started dating because Harry had asked him out, and he had kissed Draco in front of the Christmas window display of the toy trains at Selfridges. And what if they had liked each other enough to move in together, for Harry to fight with his parents when his father found out he was dating another man because it was worth it to him. What if they had shared everything, had shaved together at the bathroom sink, had gone to the market and cooked together and kissed each other on New Year’s and made everyone they knew jealous of how happy they were.
Or what if they had gotten into fights, blazing rows where they screamed at each other across the flat until one of them stormed out without a coat in the dead of winter and the one left alone in the apartment had to resort to scrubbing the kitchen floor by hand to distract himself because they might get angry and walk out, but they still care enough to worry.
Harry turns the knob of the shower, his reflection wibbly and distorted by the shiny blue tiles on the wall and he can hardly recognize the planes of his own face in the wavy surface.
Maybe, whenever the other comes back after a fight, he always brings an armful of Honeydukes chocolate and they end up having make-up sex on the half-cleaned kitchen floor or the couch or in the shower or on their bed, because no matter how angry they get, there’s a mutual understanding that chocolate and gifts can fix just about anything.
The water of the shower is still ice cold when Harry steps under the spray but the goosebumps that burst out all over his skin barely even register as he looks down at their shared body wash sitting next to Draco’s special designer shampoo on the edge of the tile.
What if, Harry thinks. What if this is his life and he’s somehow missed it all, lost in the dreams of another world?
He stands in the shower so long that his teeth start to chatter and Draco knocks on the door, jokingly asking if he’s trying to drown himself or if Harry is just filling the bathroom with water so he can attempt to reenact the swimming of the English Channel.
Harry doesn’t say anything. He just shuts off the water and stands, dripping onto the rug and trying with all his might to convince himself that this is all just a dream.
But when Draco opens the door a few minutes later and Harry has to lunge for a towel to cover himself, he finds that he hasn’t made any progress at all.
A/N: So I cracked a joke to Gina the other day that the first half of this story is the feelings bit and the second half is the mindfuck, just like a real relationship, haha. I was kidding, but you've probably noticed that Harry is getting a whole lot deeper into this other world than he ever imagined he could and everything is starting to go a bit weird. What do you think? Exactly how delusional is Harry being? (feel free to describe this on a numbers scale if you lack the proper descriptive skills)
Thank you thank you thank youuu to my beta Janechel (TenthWeasley) for humoring me and my comma abuse, to Melissa (witnesstoitall), who is super stressed with exams right now, so send a bit of luck her way (ILY YOU'RE DOING AWESOME I JUST KNOW IT MEL), and to all my dear friends: I don't know what I would do without you because well, normalcy what is it can I eat it.
Disclaimer: The wonderful world of Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. I own nothing you recognize.
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