He Nearly Killed the Cat
The Just Deserts
He came awake in the darkness with a gasp, unsure of where or even who he was. Then memory crashed over him, and he clenched his teeth against a sickly moan, his mouth paper-dry with mingled terror and helpless fury.
His enemies had won. They'd beaten him again, in the moment of what ought to have been his triumph—he'd been so flushed with victory, so gleeful to see them brought low at last, that he'd looked precisely where they'd intended him to look, at the fight two of them had staged as a diversion, and hadn't listened to the little whispers of caution within his own mind that something wasn't right—
And Potter forced a resealing on me. I'd have realized it if I'd been paying attention, I'd have felt the bonds breaking, but no, I had to watch Weasley and the blood-traitor version of me beating each other up, and Granger crying over it, and then she got me across the face with her damned ring, and—
And then there had been nothing, or nothing until just this moment. His eyes were starting to adjust to the near-total blackness within the room, he realized, he could begin to make out shapes, a table with two chairs close to his bedside, rectangles on the walls which must be either framed pictures or windows, a larger one to the side which was likely a door—
Wait, table and chairs? Pictures? Windows? I ought to be in the Slytherin boys' dorm, that's where I would have been if nothing had ever happened in my world, if I'd never had Granger's help fixing that blasted Cabinet, if I'd gone ahead and finished out the ridge the way I ought to've…
Unbidden, his mind supplied an image of him gloating over the woman named Danger, telling her that he never again intended to be the mewling brat who was the Draco Malfoy of his original world's ending. He gulped, or tried to. His throat was too tight to make much of it.
They took me at my word. They didn't just let me assimilate into my ridge character, they pulled me out with them and sealed me to some other bit of Inner Time, some spin or tell out there somewhere. Merlin's pants, there are millions of those, they could take their pick, and probably a few hundred thousand of their Chroniclers had "Draco Malfoy getting taken down a few pegs" on their top-ten list of things they wanted most to see…
Or what if they didn't even bother staying within our series? What if they looked through all of Inner Time, every world there ever was, for a place they thought would be…suitable? His stomach went into free-fall, thinking of a few of the fates he had so gleefully designed for the people he had thought would never be able to retaliate in kind. And depending on how vengeful they're feeling, they could keep an eye on me, let me suffer through the worst time in whatever world I'm in, then pull me out and shove me into another one, to go through it all again. And again. And again. As often as they want, through any hell anyone's ever written down, forever…
One speck of his mind tried to point out that he was forgetting something about the people at whose mercy he now lay, something important, but the rest of him wasn't listening. The full horror of the eternity ahead of him crashed over him, the first wave of a rising tide of heart-stopping fear within his soul, and he whimpered like a child in the grip of a nightmare, curling into a ball with his hands over his face, his last vestiges of sanity begging silently for someone to come and make it not be real—
He stiffened. The voice was a woman's, cultured, shaken, and impossibly familiar.
No. No. This can't be happening—she can't really be here—
"Oh, love, I thought you'd sleep for hours yet!" A light sprang on beside his bed, dim yet painfully piercing to his dark-adapted eyes. He flinched away from it automatically, shielding his face with an arm, and was still off-balance and trying to adjust when the mattress dipped beside him, as though someone had sat down. Before he could manage to look up, a pair of arms closed tightly around him, plucking him free of the bedclothes and bundling him into a lap, where something warm and deliciously soft was wrapped around him, bearing a faint fragrance as well-known, and as impossible, as the voice had been—
"Yes, my little one, yes, here I am," she murmured, the chest against which he lay vibrating with the sound. "I'm so sorry you had to wake up alone, but it's all right now." Her soft, smooth hand touched his forehead, his cheek, the side of his neck. "Everything is going to be all right."
Her fingers stroked gently through his hair, combing it back into place, stealing more of his fear with every touch. He tried desperately to remind himself that this was not, could not be, real, but it felt so good, so true, so right…
"The fever is almost gone, love," his mother went on, her tone becoming warmer, more brisk, as though she addressed someone else. He opened one eye, peering cautiously to his right, and sure enough, there was the figure of a man, standing in the doorway he'd seen earlier, brightly backlit so that only his outline was visible.
Father? The idea woke an instinctive spike of fear in his belly, but it eased almost as soon as it had come. No, it can't be. He's not tall enough, and his hair's too short. Confusion tightened in his chest to replace the fear. But then who…
"Will you get him another potion, while I stay with him?" his mother requested before he could complete the thought.
"Of course," said the man in the doorway, his deep and resonant tones striking a chord of familiarity, the profile displayed for a split-second as he turned and the gleam of light across sleek black hair bringing the half-realized recognition to its fulfillment.
But what's he doing here? Wherever here might be? And why's my mother calling him—
"Luke," her voice broke into his thoughts. He started to look around for the person she was addressing, and she laughed low in her chest. "I mean you, silly boy. Look at me."
Me? But my name's not—
"Up here." Her fingers snapped in the air beside her face, and without thought he turned his head, tracking on the sound. "That's better." She smiled at him for a moment as he got himself adjusted against her arms, but then her beautiful features composed themselves into an expression of quiet gravity. "I want you to listen to me very carefully, my love, and don't try to talk until I am finished. Do you understand?" Her smile flashed for a brief, shining instant. "Nod your head if you do."
I was wondering how she expected me to answer if I'm not allowed to talk. Dutifully, he nodded. Maybe now I'll find out what all this is about…
"You have been very ill, my darling, for…well, for longer than I care to think about." Her arms tightened for a moment, possessively, as though she were afraid he might somehow be snatched from her even now. "We almost lost you several times, and I know…" She had to stop and swallow before she could go on. "I know that you must have had some truly terrible dreams." Blue eyes, stern and warm all at once, focused on him with piercing intensity. "But now those dreams are over, do you understand me? However real they may have been to you while they were happening, they are not real now." She drew him closer to her again, kissing the top of his head. "We are here, together, and you are safe, and that is all that matters."
Safe. The word spread a glow of warmth all through him, dissolving the knots of tension and worry under his ribs, stealing the strength from his limbs and leaving them pleasantly limp as the truth began to sink in. It was a dream, a bad dream, that's all it ever was. I never got the Dark Mark on my arm and tried to kill Professor Dumbledore, or hurt people and stole them away from their families—I never wanted to do those things, or thought they were funny and good while I was doing them—it was a dream, every last bit of it, I was never Draco Malfoy at all—
Don't let them do this to you! a voice shrieked from somewhere deep inside his mind. They're lying to you, it's all a trap! You are Draco Malfoy, don't let them fool you this way, fight back! Don't fall for it! There's a trick somewhere, there's got to be a trick, this is just the sort of thing those Pack-bastards would think is funny—
Luke yawned, nestling his face more comfortably into the curve of his mother's collarbone. Go away, he told the voice sleepily. I don't want you. You aren't a very happy person, or a very nice one, either, so I don't think I want to be you anymore. Another yawn, this one so wide as to almost crack his jaw. Besides, I'm not allowed to use words like that "b" one you said. It's not a polite word to say. He closed his eyes as his mother began to hum to him, rocking him back and forth in her arms. Now go away. I want to sleep.
No! the voice howled, but Luke wasn't listening. His mother's song was much more interesting, as was a masculine chuckle from somewhere nearby.
He cracked one eye open to see the dark-haired man from the corridor smiling at him, setting down a vial of potion on the small nightstand by the bed. "I see this won't be needed," said the deep voice, and one strong hand drew a wand from within black robes and Summoned the rocking chair Luke had somehow known was in a back corner of the room. "We'll ask your Aunt Eve tomorrow, when she comes for Christmas breakfast, what potions you should take to help you grow strong through the winter, so that you can be outside running and playing as soon as the snow melts in the spring."
Oh, of course it's Christmas, the voice said bitterly. I should have known. Do you have any idea how blatantly they're manipulating you with this? I'm astounded there isn't sap dripping off the walls! Now try to get a grip here—they're bound to pull the rug out from under you any second now, whenever they get tired of winding you up—
Luke glanced down at the soft green carpeting beneath his parents' feet. Now you're just being silly, he informed the voice. That isn't the kind of rug you can pull. And why shouldn't it be Christmas? I like Christmas. Only—
A sudden fear assailed him, and was able to do so in peace, the voice seeming to have been temporarily struck speechless. "Mummy," he said, tilting his head back to look up at her. "Did being ill make me sleep a lot?"
"You could say that," his mother agreed, nodding her head.
"But…" Luke shivered a little at the terrifying thought which had come to him. "What if I get ill again? What if…" He had to whisper it. It was too frightening to be said aloud. "What if I sleep through Christmas morning?"
"Then we will wait to have Christmas until you're well, my darling." His mother's tone was warm, amused without laughing at him, and Luke smiled in answer, feeling his fear slide away again. "Your presents will hardly run away!"
"Ah, now, Cecy," his father put in, chuckling again. "One of them might."
"True enough, but not away away. Only around the house." His mother sighed. "And up the tree, every chance it gets. And all over my good furniture, and my lace curtains…"
"All of which are easily repaired with magic," said his father firmly. "And you had your chance to object when you saw what I was bringing inside with me the other day."
"So I did." Another sigh, but this one held a laugh inside it. "Oh, Russ. You know perfectly well I was never going to turn away such an abject little morsel of woebegonity—if that is even a word…"
Luke closed his eyes again, letting himself drift. He thought he might know what the present was that his parents were discussing in adult words, and the idea filled him with delight as warm and wriggling as that present itself was likely to be. He had always wanted a pet, something soft and cuddlesome that could curl up on his bed, but his father had said such things were for girls or Muggles—
But that was only in the dreams, he reminded himself, not in real life. I don't have to worry about the dreams anymore, not ever again. Mummy said so.
Will you listen to me for a second? The voice was back, and sounding increasingly desperate, Luke noticed. You're getting it backwards! This is the dream, the fake, the setup, something, but whatever it is, it isn't real—it can't be real—
"Why not?" Luke asked, opening his eyes. He stood in the middle of a gray, featureless plain, looking at a boy several years older than himself, a boy who looked very like the man Luke hazily recalled as his father from the bad dreams, or the face he'd seen for himself when he looked in the dream mirrors. Draco, he remembered with a jolt, that was the name I had then. Draco Malfoy…
"Because it's good." Draco paced back and forth restlessly, twisting his hands together in front of him. "And it makes no sense for it to be good, not after what I did to those Pack…" He glanced at Luke and scowled once. "People," he finished. "They've got a score to settle with me, more than one for most of them, so this can't be what it looks like. They're leading me on, setting me up, stringing me along until just the right moment, and then—wham!" He slapped one hand into the other. "Oh, but I'm wise to their little game. I'm not going to let them fool me, no, sir, not me. I'm not falling for it, not for one minute…"
Luke sat down on the ground, trying to work this out inside his head as Draco continued to rant. He remembered the Pack from some of the dreams, and rather hoped that like his mother and father, they were real as well as dream-people. They always seemed happy, even when things weren't easy for them, and wanted other people to be happy too—
And there it was, the answer he'd been looking for, sitting right there in plain sight. Luke smiled, got to his feet, and walked over to Draco, who was still addressing his diatribe to thin air. "'Scuse me," he said, tugging at the older boy's robes.
"What?" Draco snapped, looking down.
"If the Pack's good," Luke said carefully, "maybe they want everybody to have good things too. Even people who don't like them very much."
Draco opened his mouth, and closed it again. Opened it, and closed it. "But," he said finally. "But, but why?"
"I don't know." Luke shrugged. "Maybe because that's what good people do."
This seemed to stymie Draco completely. "But I don't understand," he complained, sitting down with an almost offended air. "They could have done anything to me. Anything at all. And they're going to turn me into a little kid and give me a kitten for Christmas?"
Luke cocked his head to one side. "Don't you like kittens?"
"I like kittens fine. It's the principle of the thing." Draco spun his hands in the air as he tried to explain. "You don't pay somebody back for ripping your life apart by turning around and giving them the life they always secretly wanted! That's just not how the game is played!"
"I think the Pack uses different rules than everybody else." Luke sat down to be more on a level with the other boy. "Did you always want a life like mine? With my mummy and daddy, and a kitten for Christmas, and no having to grow up and do bad things just because the snake-man said so?"
"What, a life with the only two people I ever really trusted, and no stupid grandiose expectations I should always have known I couldn't fulfill?" Draco sighed. "Kid, I'd have killed for it." He snorted what would have been a laugh if there hadn't been so much hurt behind it. "Or maybe I wouldn't have. Couldn't have, judging by the ridge. Instead I just piddled along, trying to play both sides against the middle and failing miserably, and wound up…well, would have wound up starting the whole mess over. Marry the 'right' girl, have the 'right' kid, raise him up the 'right' way, 'round the bend and here we go again." He leaned back on his hands. "Not that this is so much better. Stuck inside my own head forever, watching what I always wanted…" A small smile slipped unwillingly onto his face. "At least you get to live it."
"But we're the same," Luke objected. "You're just partway caught inside the dreams still, and I'm not. Can't you find the way out of them?"
"Find the way out?" Draco looked nonplussed, as though Luke were speaking a foreign language. "Out of what?"
Luke groaned under his breath. He doesn't understand, and I don't have the right words to tell it to him…
But what if I could show him? He brightened as the idea came to him. What if I use the ideas inside his own head to show him what I mean? Because if we really are the same, he does understand, he just doesn't know it yet…
He jumped up and clapped his hands. "Do it!" he shouted. "Do it right now!"
"Do what?" Draco clambered to his feet, looking alarmed. "Luke, what're you—"
The gray plain vanished. They stood in the middle of the Room of Hidden Things at Hogwarts, beside the black-and-gold Vanishing Cabinet, with Hermione Granger frozen in shock in front of them. Luke dived behind the nearest pile of broken objects and peered eagerly around the side. I hope this works, I hope this works, I hope this works…
"I trusted you!" Hermione shouted. "I liked you, and all the time you were lying to me? Using me? That's not what friends do!"
"I never said a word to you that wasn't true," Draco began hotly, "and of course I changed the way I look! Wouldn't you, if it was the only way anyone would ever look at you without seeing…someone else…" He trailed off, stepping back a pace, as Hermione blinked at him in confusion.
Yes, yes, go, go, Luke cheered on his other self silently, pumping his small fists in encouragement. This is your chance, this is your time, you can do it…
"I've been here before," Draco said softly. "I remember this. And it doesn't fix anything. Just like the ridge, all it ever does is start the whole messed-up loop all over again. I don't want to do that, especially not now that I know I lose in the end…"
"What are you talking about?" asked Hermione, hands on her hips, but Luke thought he saw a smile trying to hide on her face. "What loop?"
"I have to break it." Draco nodded, still speaking in the same quiet tone, as if to himself. "That's the answer. I have to do something else, something different. I have to…" He grimaced instead of finishing the sentence, then looked up and met Hermione's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, swallowing as though the words left a bad taste in his mouth but not flinching away from her hard blue stare. "I shouldn't have lied to you."
Hermione blinked, then let her hands drop to her sides, mollified. "You're right, you shouldn't have," she said. "But I think I see why you did. You wanted a chance to start over, to do things right this time, without all the baggage from the past. To prove your destiny isn't fixed just because of who or where you were born." The smile wasn't hiding anymore, and Luke pressed his hands over his mouth to stifle a giggle. "Yes?"
"Yes," Draco acknowledged. "But I muffed it up, and then I went on and blamed you for it, and decided I had to have my revenge, and in the end everything circled right back around and—" He waved one hand, indicating their cluttered surroundings. "Here we are. So whatever you want to do, whatever shot you want to take, go ahead. I deserve it."
The smile turned wry, and Hermione shook her head. "You still don't understand," she said wonderingly. "But all right, if that's what you really want, I'll do it. Just to clarify, you're giving me full permission to do as I wish with you, and you'll go along with it?" This time, Luke thought he heard her self-censor. "You won't fight it or try to get out of it?"
Draco winced, but nodded. "Not like fighting would do me any good at this point," he said. "Yes, that's what I meant. Just…" He stepped forward to stand directly in front of her. "Get it over with fast, all right?"
"Fast it is." Hermione lifted her hand and reached for Draco's forehead, pausing for an instant before she touched him. "Sweet dreams," she said softly, and pressed one finger to his skin.
Luke poked his head out of hiding as Draco folded up and dropped to what would have been the floor if a couch hadn't sprouted beneath him as he went down. "That's nice," he remarked, pattering over to Hermione. "Did you do it, or did the Room?"
"I think the Room must have. Even if it is a dream Room, it has the same characteristics the real one has." Hermione went to one knee, looking at him gravely. "He's hurt pretty badly in some places, you know. It won't be easy sharing your head with him. Are you sure you want him back?"
"I need to learn how to make hurts get better if I want to be a Legendbreaker like you and Mum and Dad when I grow up." Luke turned to look at his older, other self, lying motionless on the couch. "And besides, he's part of me. It's his head as much as it is mine." Another point occurred to him. "And besides besides, he's the one who really needs a mum and a dad and a Christmas with a kitten, because he should have had them a long time ago and he never did. I just didn't get there yet. So we'll go together."
Hermione laughed a little bit, under her breath. "I like you, Lucas Daniel Evans," she said, holding out her hand. "It's going to be fun having you grow up next door."
"I like you too." Luke squeezed her hand tightly, then let it go. "Are you going to send us home now?"
"That's exactly what I'm going to do." Hermione picked him up and held him on her hip, sketching runes in the air with her free hand. "Close your eyes and count to ten, and whatever you do, don't think of a red and green hippogriff…"
Luke giggled and buried his face in her side, trying to concentrate on his numbers instead of the silly image she'd supplied. One, two, three, four, would it have spots or stripes? Maybe zig-zags. Six, seven, eight, no, wait, I missed five—five, six, seven, and how would it get green anyway? Crashing into the tops of trees, or rolling on the grass? Eight, nine, nine and three-quarters, ten…
Arms were warm and strong around him, a voice murmured a lullaby above, a hand lay protectively on his hair. Everything was just as it should be on this Christmas night.
What happened? a sleepy voice asked from the back of his mind. I thought she was going to…
Ah-ah, Luke said hastily. You said you wouldn't fight what she wanted to do.
And what she wanted was to put me back here? Terrific. A long, deep sigh. I'm never going to understand this, am I?
Maybe when we aren't different anymore, you will. Luke cuddled closer to his mum, letting sleep sneak up on him. Christmas morning, after all, could only come when Christmas Eve night was over. Until then, just do what the song says.
His mum's voice rose soft and pure for the final two lines of the carol.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace…
Elsewhere in Outer Time, a dark-haired, bespectacled young man gathered firewood into his arms, humming "Good King Wenceslas" under his breath. As he turned to start back to his family's comfortable cottage, he stopped in his tracks.
He wasn't alone. A woman with long red hair, her breath steaming in the cold, stood a few feet from him, gazing at him as though she could never see enough. Green eyes met green and held, one set already shining with unshed tears, the other beginning to glisten suspiciously behind their curved lenses.
"You must be Henry," the woman said quietly after a few moments. "Henry Black." She smiled once, tremulously. "Your sister tells me you're very brave."
"Does she?" Henry set the wood back down on the pile and crossed to the woman. "Well, that makes you Miss Eve, then. Miss Eve…Clay, wasn't it?"
"It was." Eve smiled again, more truly. "And is. I'm very pleased to meet you."
"Likewise." Henry held out his hand, and they shook. "I've heard a lot about you. What are you and Miss Suzie doing tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow?" Eve blinked. "We had planned to go to my brother's house in the morning, and then spend a quiet afternoon at home…"
"Would you care to come over here instead?" Henry gestured towards the cottage. "The more, the merrier."
"We wouldn't want to intrude." Eve's glance was wistful, but her tone was firm. "Christmas is for family."
Henry stepped a pace closer and looked once more into the eyes so like his own. "That's why I'm offering," he said softly. "We'd really like to have you." He took a deep breath. "I'd like to have you."
Eve looked away, but Henry had already seen the stunned joy in her face. "In that case," she said a bit unsteadily, "I believe it would be rude of me not to accept." She turned back to him, her smile more natural than he had yet seen it. "Which I do, and thank you as well. I will…look forward to it. Very much."
"Great." Henry grinned at her. "See you tomorrow, then."
Striding back to the woodpile, he scooped up his armload again and headed for the house, whistling to himself and letting the words which matched the tune run through his head. They seemed appropriate to the place, the mood, the moment.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan's power
When we had gone astray…
As he reached the door and rapped for admittance with one end of his load, he heard Miss Eve joining in the chorus, very softly.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
And there we have it! Though actually I'm going to be doing a brief epilogue, because there are a couple more things this story needs to be truly finished. Like a roll-call of Pack and Pride by their new names, and very possibly a cameo by their own personal Chronicler. So I will put all the notes that I was going to put on the end of the story on that epilogue, because that's where they belong!
One quick piece of information: if you have the Dangerverse paperbacks, or want them, or are just now hearing about them, hit the Facebook page. I just linked a Google document where you can find the purchase links for all of them, plus I've added signed bookplates with either my picture or the DV paperback covers to my Etsy shop, just in time for the holidays…go have a look!
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