Title: Vox Corporis
Spoilers: Post-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Summary: Following the events of the Goblet of Fire, Harry spends the summer with the Grangers, his relationship with Hermione deepens, and he and Hermione become animagi.
Author's Note: I have read all of the Harry Potter books (up through "Half-Blood Prince", anyway), and I did enjoy them, but I was not lured over to the Harry Potter fandom until the Goblet of Fire movie. I loved that movie. On the whole, I think the movies were better than the books in the Harry Potter 'verse. That may put me in the minority, but be that as it may, that piece of information is necessary before jumping into "Vox Corporis". Because I liked the movies better, I take my cannon from them as opposed to the books. I borrowed from the books when the movies left me no recourse (the most obvious example that comes to mind is that Ron has Pig in this fic; the movie never showed Ron replacing his familiar after Scabbers turned Wormtail but the book did), but for the most part if you didn't see it in the movies I don't use it as a foundation for my fic. If that's going to bug you to no end, turn back now. If not, read on.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine. I'm just a fan writing out of affinity for the source and I get nothing out of this other than enjoyment. And neither am I Sara Teasdale, from whose poem the title "Vox Corporis" hails.
The beast to the beast is calling,
And the mind bends down to wait:
Like the stealthy lord of the jungle,
The man calls to his mate.
The beast to the beast is calling,
They rush through the twilight sweet-
But the mind is a wary hunter;
He will not let them meet.
Things were in a state of near-total chaos in Mad-Eye Moody's office. Apparently, discovering an escaped prisoner of Azkaban and loyal servant to Lord Voldemort (who had gone through a recent rebirth) in their midst, assisting the real Moody (who'd been trapped in a chest for months without reprieve), handling the death of a Hogwarts student, juggling the visiting schools and officials for the Triwizard Tournament, and intercepting and placating a suddenly nosy Ministry of Magic was enough for anyone to get lost in the shuffle. Even a boy like Harry Potter.
After Crouch Junior had been unmasked for the impostor he was, Dumbledore had herded Harry to the anteroom of the office when the Minister of Magic had caught up to Hogwarts's head wizard and demanded to know why a young boy's body was being transported home for burial.
Dumbledore had gently led Harry aside and, with a pat on the arm, left him there to tend to the unpleasantries of a student death mostly out of earshot of the traumatized boy.
'Tending to a few details' had become entanglement in a thousand and one knots, and everyone was so busy and confused that no one noticed eerily quiet Harry on the outskirts.
Harry watched the heads of magic, both in the ministry and at Hogwarts, pass in and out of his line of sight. They moved hurriedly but with a strange flatness. They were like puppets or paper dolls, insubstantial and somehow unreal. They moved and talked and gesticulated and congregated but Harry saw only vague blurs of human shapes. It was like he wasn't wearing his glasses; he couldn't focus on any one person. He just let them flow in and out of his sight. No effort to catch and hold on a single object, no attention to the faces or shapes... just images, flowing past, coming in and vanishing.
His arm hurt. The lancing pain had given way to a throbbing, fiery sensation. He knew his arm hurt, part of him felt it, but even his own injury seemed disconnected. He cradled his wounded arm but it seemed autonomic, preprogrammed and stilted.
There was a blackness in his blood. He felt a thick, dark weight push through him with every hollow heartbeat. It pounded in his temples, ached on his forehead, sludged with freezing tendrils to his limbs and skin.
With each passing moment he felt less and less. The pain wasn't searing anymore, the terror ebbed, even the grief thinned. It left very little person in its wake when all the substance of him was stretched so far. He existed because laws said he did, but Harry watched his teachers bustle about, and he thought maybe he was a ghost. His mind played tricks and maybe he wasn't really there; maybe he'd died in the graveyard. Maybe he was a ghost, like Cedric, like his parents. Maybe he was dead and didn't know it.
He certainly felt more like a ghost than a person. An odd peace, a stillness, settled around him with that thought. Yes, dead... where there was no pain, no fear, no self... he could be that.
Maybe he'd disappear at any moment. No one seemed to see him. He could be dead. He should be floating but for the thick evil in his blood, bound to a demon and thrumming with a darkness he didn't own. It was in him like a disease, a possession. Black, thick, and oily instead of smooth, watery red. He would be a ghost but for that heaviness in his veins.
Death was cold. He was certainly that. One of the few sensations that did register, a sense that penetrated his nonexistence to hint of physical form, was cold. The room got colder and colder as time trudged on. He couldn't move to ward it off, his body wouldn't let him find someplace warm, but he felt it. Like the icy air when Dementors swarmed. He shouldn't know that, he was just a boy. A boy with demon blood.
Vaguely, distantly, he knew his body was trembling. It tightened painfully in his arm, made his insides ache and his brain pulse against his skull, but it wasn't enough for him to do anything about it. He wouldn't move for that... couldn't.
His blood roared in his ears, an increasing tempo of 'whoosh, whoosh' that grew louder, filled his senses, and then he heard nothing of the conversation flying around him. He saw lips moving, hands gesturing, but as for sound, comprehension... it was out of his grasp. They weren't making sense, they were on another plane, in a dream, hazy and illusory.
He thought he was colder. He thought his arm hurt. It was hard to think, but then, ghosts with evil blood didn't have to think. They were, and Harry only was, in his corner, invisible, unnoticed.
And so cold.
McGonagall stepped back from the ministry attendants as they finally came to collect Crouch Junior. She could not be far enough away from the man. He'd go back to Azkaban where he belonged, and if there was any justice he'd suffer the most hideous punishment for what he'd done.
The full scope of what exactly he'd done and the activities to which he was party, however, were still a little uncertain. Things were in upheaval. Dumbledore had gone to speak with the heads of the other schools; they demanded to know what had happened in the maze. No one knew. There were pieces, speculations, assumptions, but so much was still unknown.
So very dreadful that a student had died. And Voldemort... if it were true then Hogwarts was bound to see dark times ahead. Especially with Harry–
McGonagall quickly scanned the room, almost frantically, when she suddenly remembered the boy. Surely he'd been taken away from the center of all this ugliness, but she couldn't remember seeing anyone leave with him. She was aghast to see him still in the room, standing unsteadily by a far wall. His clothes were in tatters, dirty and torn, and his skin was mottled with grime and blood. He was loosely holding his bloody arm to his body, and his eyes were locked and unfocused on a distant, unseen point. His skin was pale and his eyes terrifyingly empty. He looked so small. She had told Dumbledore it was a mistake to let Potter compete in the tournament. Just a boy. A mere boy. How had they allowed it to come to this?
McGonagall moved quickly across the room and only slowed when she was two steps from Harry. "Mister Potter?" she ventured gently and canted her head to try and meet his gaze.
Harry didn't respond to her voice or presence. He continued to stare vacantly and absently cradle his arm.
McGonagall drew closer and soon realized Harry was shaking. His breathing was shallow and irregular.
"Mister Potter," she tried again and reached out to touch him. Her fingers curled softly around his shoulder and Harry swayed drunkenly under her hand. Moody's room had quickly cleared, only Snape remained behind rummaging through Moody's belongings, looking for anything that might be tied to the Dark Lord and Crouch Junior's handiwork.
"Harry?" McGonagall said, this time in concern. Harry wasn't answering, he wasn't listening, and he was so pale, his skin frighteningly cold to the touch, his entire frame trembling.
Snape, hearing McGonagall's tone, paused to look over his shoulder in their direction in mild curiosity.
McGonagall gasped and quickly wrapped her arms around Harry's shoulders when, without warning, he started to fall. "Severus!" she called reflexively, and Snape reached their side in two strides. Harry was leaning heavily into McGonagall, still feebly cradling his arm, still staring sightlessly, still shaking.
Harry's legs started to fold under him.
McGonagall gave a pitiful sound and Snape reached out and gripped Harry's upper arm in a firm fist. In the next moment it wasn't enough when Harry's legs buckled and he started to fall. In one movement Snape scooped the boy up and presently stood with Harry in his arms. McGonagall's hand came to her mouth and Snape held the boy's limp body away from him like it was a wet raccoon.
Harry's head lolled and his arms simply folded atop his stomach.
"Quickly, we must get him to the hospital wing," McGonagall said, and Snape gave one appraising look at Harry in his hold and had to agree with McGonagall.
Hermione scarcely dared to breathe. She could feel her heart pounding against her ribcage and her muscles tensed to the point of shaking. Ron's body pressed so closely to hers made it uncomfortably hot under the cloak, but Hermione barely noticed him. Ron was just as silent as she, and probably just as terrified. From the look on his face before they'd nicked Harry's cloak from his chest, she considered herself lucky that he wasn't vomiting down the back of her neck. As for herself, she was holding her breathing so strictly in check because she feared any exhale would come out a sob.
They must not be heard. She and Ron were crouched by the far wall of the hospital wing. Waiting.
After Harry returned to the arena with Cedric's body there had been shocked stillness, numb inactivity. Hermione noted only that Cedric was dead, Harry had been led away in a bad state, Cedric was dead, people were crying, Cedric was dead. When the remaining professors snapped out of the mass stupor they ordered the prefects to herd the students back to the castle.
It was then Hermione started thinking straight. Harry was missing. They had to find Harry. From the glimpses of blood, from his wails, she was certain he'd be taken to the hospital wing. She'd grabbed Ron's arm, dragged him unflinchingly up the boys' stairway, fetched Harry's invisibility cloak, and with it masking their passage they made their way to the hospital wing. They would not be stopped, Hermione would not be stopped, they had to see Harry.
They arrived, however, to find the room empty. No Harry. No Pomfrey. Just silence. It was baffling, it made no sense, but Hermione shuffled herself and Ron to a wall, out of the way of traffic, and they silently waited. Harry would be brought here, Hermione wouldn't let go of that certainty. She had to see Harry, had to know that he was okay. That one student had returned dead, but Harry was all right.
It seemed they waited a small infinity before the doors opened and the empty room was suddenly inundated. Hermione's heart leapt into her throat and her knees threatened to fold under her. She heard Ron abruptly stop breathing beside her at the same sight that had made Hermione feel decidedly unsteady.
Dumbledore led the procession, followed quickly by McGonagall. Both turned to look back at Professor Snape. Snape was carrying Harry's limp form. Hermione grimaced and bit her lip, wanting to scream. No! She wanted to rush from the cloak's safety, run to Snape and snatch Harry from the teacher's hold. Harry wouldn't wake up for him! Harry hated Snape. But she and Ron could wake him, she was sure of it. They were his best friends; he'd wake for them well before he ever would for Snape. She knew Harry would. More times than she could count she'd convinced Harry to do something on her urging. She knew how to win Harry's will, and that was no small feat to boast. She could make him wake up. Harry would listen to her, he had to! He absolutely could not be dead.
Snape looked rather put out having to carry his despised student, but he obeyed Pomfrey's commands as she trotted in after Snape and bade him to lay the boy gently on a bed.
Gently. One wouldn't gently lay a corpse. He had to be alive! Hermione's hands clutched the cloak savagely and her heart tried to tear at the seams under the stress of not knowing.
Harry was placed, gently, on a cot. He was completely unresponsive. His face was deathly pale under the dirt and blood. He didn't move at all of his own volition, lying limply where he was placed. Hermione could barely stop the screams lodged in the back of her throat. Do something! Help him!
Snape retreated and Pomfrey was at Harry's bedside immediately. She physically rolled Harry's head so she could pry back his eyelids, look at his gums, feel his pulse. Harry was like a coma patient, oblivious. Dumbledore watched worriedly while McGonagall wrung her hands and chewed her nails like a school girl wondering if any boy would ask her to the dance. Being Hermione of only a few weeks ago, actually; Hermione was too sick with dread to find the humor in that.
Pomfrey withdrew her wand and whispered an incantation over Harry's prone form. She gave a small flick of her wand.
To Hermione's immeasurable relief, Harry's eyes snapped open.
For a split second he merely stared, wide-eyed and unfocused. Then he panicked. Like a spooked cat, Harry leapt up the bed, away from Pomfrey. He hit the wall and gasped.
"Harry…" Dumbledore said slowly in his softest, most soothing voice.
Harry clutched his right arm to his body, curled into a ball, and collapsed to one side as he let out a strangled, pitiful moan and threw up.
McGonagall jumped back and Snape moved farther from the bed with a disgusted sneer.
Pomfrey conjured a small vial of potion and reached toward Harry. After vomiting he had curled on his side in a fetal position, cradling his arm and shaking. Heart-wrenching whimpering sounds were coming from his throat.
When Pomfrey touched him he cried out as though struck.
"Mister Potter, please… drink this, it will calm you."
Harry tucked into a tighter ball and clenched his eyes shut, as though to blot out awareness of others' existence.
"Mister Potter," McGonagall pleaded.
Dumbledore held up his hand to silence both women and walked over to Harry's cot. Without a care to the mess Harry had made, Dumbledore sat down on the edge of the bed, reached out a hand to Harry's head, and began petting his hair like one would a beloved dog. The old wizard's lips moved in silent words, but the effects were soon noticeable. Harry began to relax, he stopped shaking and crying, and eventually he was taking deep, ragged breaths.
"That's a good boy," Dumbledore said, then held out his other hand for the potion. Pomfrey gave it to him, and Dumbledore leaned forward, closer to Harry, and said, "Now do take this, Harry. Better than lemon drops. It will help, I promise."
Harry languidly rolled on to his back and looked up Dumbledore. He looked as though already in a drugged stupor, lulled and numbed by the headmaster's magical words. Dumbledore gave a small nod and smile and brought the vial to Harry's lips. Harry obediently opened his mouth and the potion was slowly poured in.
Then everything stopped for five minutes. In that time Harry visibly relaxed under the potion's effects. He started to react more normally to his surroundings, no longer behaving as though painfully gun shy of every little movement and sound. Dumbledore eventually stopped patting Harry's hair, but he remained seated beside the boy.
Harry finally blinked and asked in a cracked voice, "What happened?"
Dumbledore patted Harry's arm softly. "Afraid to say you passed out. Completely understandable."
Harry frowned, still a little confused. "I don't remember…"
Pomfrey was quick to dart back in now that the patient was no longer hysterical. "Nasty state of shock you were in, Mister Potter. Now, let me see that arm of yours."
Harry sat up carefully, eyed Pomfrey, then held out his wounded arm. He glanced down at the soiled bed and stammered, "I'm sorry…"
Dumbledore waved his wand deftly and the mess disappeared. "Sorry about what, Harry?"
Harry swallowed but didn't answer.
"We need you to tell us what happened, about Voldemort."
Hermione was silently crying by the time Harry gave a broken report of what had happened during the third task of the Triwizard Tournament. His recount was stilted and brief, everyone in the room to a person knew it wasn't the full story, but by the end they knew enough. They knew the Dark Lord had returned. Ron's arm found its way to Hermione's waist and by the end of Harry's hesitant tale he was squeezing her so tight it hurt. Hermione couldn't speak to tell Ron to let up.
McGonagall was holding a hand to her mouth, Snape was deep in troubled thoughts, Dumbledore looked personally afflicted, and Pomfrey was trying to focus only on her work without much success (if her croaks and gasps were any indication).
After his abbreviated account, the blank expression Harry had held ever since drinking the calming potion began to change into a tense, pained look. He winced, grimaced, and finally pulled his arm away from Pomfrey to hunker down on the bed in a curled up position, arms crossed over his stomach, his right one with care.
"Harry?" Dumbledore asked in obvious concern.
"It… hurts," came Harry's reply in a thin voice.
"Where?" Pomfrey queried, sounding a little surprised.
Harry shivered and his voice was harrowingly small. "Ev…everywhere."
Pomfrey looked to Dumbledore, consternated. "That potion should have eased any pain for at least three hours."
Snape, from his sentry position some paces away, said pointedly, "Anesthetic potions wouldn't hold with the after-effects of the Cruciatus."
Complete silence descended. Hermione's heart seemed to stop cold in her chest. No. Oh, please, no.
Dumbledore's eyes turned down to Harry searchingly. Harry didn't speak, wouldn't even look at the teachers, only hunched his shoulders and knit his brow. His silence was answer enough.
Pomfrey was the first to speak. Infuriated. "He wouldn't! To a boy! Of all the bloody, vicious, cruel… an unforgivable curse!" The stout woman's face grew red. Hermione couldn't remember seeing Pomfrey so angry. For the time being, Pomfrey seemed to have forgotten that this was certainly not the first time Harry had been on the receiving end of an unforgivable curse.
McGonagall was just as affronted. "That beastly creature of a man!"
No one questioned Snape's assessment or his expertise in the subject.
Dumbledore seemed resigned… for now. He'd be mad on Harry's behalf later. "What can you do for him, Poppy?"
Pomfrey took control of her fury and said sadly, "Not much, not nearly enough. One of the horrors of the Cruciatus is its resistance to potions and spells to ease the suffering of the after-effects. It's ghastly," Pomfrey looked defeated that there was so little she could do to help Harry.
Dumbledore nodded. "In that case, let us do what little we can."
Hermione and Ron remained crouched by the wall under the cloak while Pomfrey cleaned Harry's wounds, gave him numbing potions for what little good it would do to try and ease the aching, and finally did a cleansing charm to rid his skin of the dirt and grime of the contest. He could still do with a hot bath and some sleep; there were some things even the best charms and spells couldn't replace. For now, Pomfrey had done all she could do.
"I think we should let Harry rest," Dumbledore finally proclaimed. Hermione's attention peaked. They'd dared not move, lest they give away their presence, and her muscles were aching from staying frozen in such an awkward position. At odd intervals she'd had to elbow Ron when he, too, felt the cramps of staying crouched down and tried to lean on her to spare his own muscles. But now things were changing, people were clearing out. Maybe they would at last get to go to Harry.
Snape had left some time ago, but McGonagall had to be escorted to the door, clearly reluctant to abandon Harry. Pomfrey was almost apoplectic when she was also herded away. She stuttered and huffed, but Dumbledore merely said, "I admire your dedication, my friend, but as you said there is little you can do. He needs some peace and rest."
As the two women were leaving Dumbledore said loudly, "Minevra, should you happen across Mister Weasley and Miss Granger on your way back, do send them down here, won't you? They must be dreadfully worried."
The door was barley shut, and Dumbledore still standing with his back turned, when Hermione boldly threw off the cloak from her shoulders and stepped out brazenly. Ron made one attempt to grab her and haul her back, but Hermione's determination and resolve made her too quick and Dumbledore turned at that moment.
Ron, knowing they were caught, dropped the cloak and waited.
"Ah, Mister Weasley and Miss Granger," Dumbledore said in a knowing tone, "how fortunate for you to show up so unexpectedly."
Hermione tried to think of something to say but the words were caught in her chest. She wasn't functioning beyond the need to see Harry. After a few seconds staring mutely at Dumbledore, she abandoned the attempt to formulate any kind of explanation for the headmaster and strode across the room to Harry's bed. Ron was right behind her.
He looked even worse up close. She could see the faint remainders of bruises and the red lines of cuts that had been healed closed. He was so pale, his face lined with the grimaces of pain, as he curled on his side, arms tucked close. He looked like he was bracing to be kicked, bent double to guard against blows.
"Harry…" she said gently and sat down beside him. She dropped her hand to his arm and felt the chill to his skin.
Harry opened his eyes at the touch. For a split-second he tensed and started to shift away from her. He only stopped when he registered that it was Hermione. He looked openly at her, a harried, sick anguish in his unabashed gaze. Hermione felt a tear trickle a path down her cheek. She could see so much pain, in his eyes, in the thin press of his lips, in the pinched skin around his eyes. It was there, bare and raw. The horror of Voldemort, the grief of Cedric, the agony of Crucio.
Harry tried to smile for his friends, but it was pathetic and pointless. In the end he settled on a strained, "Hey, guys."
"Bloody hell, mate," Ron muttered from over Hermione's shoulder.
"Truly the act of a despicable being," Dumbledore said somberly in agreement.
Hermione moved her hand to Harry's head and tenderly brushed his disheveled black hair back from his knitted brow. She was consumed with the need to touch him, to feel him living and real under her hands. She didn't care how it might look or who else was in the room watching. They'd nearly lost him tonight. She touched Harry. Harry shivered and his breath sounded strained, but he permitted the contact.
"It may be a difficult night for Harry," the headmaster said gravely. "The effects of the Cruciatus curse are not easily shaken. As there is regrettably nothing Madam Pomfrey can do to ease his pain, I imagine he would be most comfortable in his own bed."
Hermione was only half-listening, too preoccupied with the sight of Harry so battered and torn. She felt as though she couldn't properly come to grips with just how close he'd come to dying. Was there even a way to properly come to grips with something like that? It could have easily been Harry's body, cold and lifeless, instead of Cedric's. With Voldemort, death was always a very real threat, and it had been a horrifyingly close call for Harry tonight. It made her blood run cold to think of it, even as she watched Harry hurt for his narrow escape.
Dumbledore turned to Ron. "Mister Weasley, if I arrange for Misters Longbottom, Thomas, and Finnegan to be lodged elsewhere for the night, could you and Miss Granger see Harry discretely back to his room?"
Ron nodded. "Yeah, all right, we can do that."
"Very good. I leave him then in your hands."