What Lingers

Harry jerked awake with a strangled cry, sitting bolt upright in bed, heart hammering in his chest. The images from the nightmare remained for a moment, so vivid, so clear, so completely terrifying; Bellatrix's mad laugh, a flash of green light, dull, dead faces. Dennis Creevey, Lavender Brown, Fred Weasley. Cedric, Tonks, Remus, Sirius … dead, dead, all dead, and yet still staring at him, so betrayed and faintly accusing… He gasped aloud, and let his face drop into trembling hands.

More hands were there, then, soft, moving up his tense back, curving over the hard caps of muscle on the tops of his shoulders, long, dexterous fingers massaging gently, concern apparent in each lingering touch. Lips brushed the back of his neck, and another head came to rest carefully against his. All of the movements were slow, cautious, giving him a chance to differentiate between the nightmare, and what was real, a practice learned by hard experience.

"Are you awake now?" the deep voice asked near his ear, and Harry nodded. One of the lithe, warm hands slid down Harry's upper arm, and Harry lifted his head and reached for it, grabbing it perhaps a little harder than necessary, linking their fingers, squeezing tight. The other arm slid around Harry's torso, and Harry let his head fall back onto a square shoulder, his eyes tightly closed as he fought to steady his breathing and calm his galloping heart. The palm of a long, pale hand came to rest over that struggling heart, and the soft press of the warm flesh against his seemed to begin the work of slowing the mad rush. Harry took and released a deep breath.

"This was a bad one."

It wasn't a question; they had been through this enough for the answer to be very clear, and yet Harry nodded raggedly. There was a weighty pause.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

The shake of his head was far more emphatic than the nod had been.

"Do you think you can go back to sleep?" Undemanding words, spoken so tenderly. After a moment, Harry nodded, and turned in the encompassing arms, pressing his face to a strong throat as they lay back down. The agile hands pulled the comforter up and tucked it around his shoulders before the arms encircled him once again, holding him in a firm embrace that was no less gentle for it's strength. A hand lifted, long fingers carded through damp black hair, massaging the scalp beneath, and slowly, Harry's breathing returned to normal. He melted into the body holding him as the tenseness left his muscles, and he spoke softly on the edge of sleep.

"Why can't I forget?" he murmured on a breath of sound. "Why can't I just forget?"

The hand in his hair stilled for a moment before beginning the slow, soothing rhythm once again.

Draco did not answer until he knew by the laxness of his partner's body and the deepness of his breathing that he had returned to sleep.

"Because if you did, my love --" he murmured gently, blinking away tears of compassion and regret, "-- you would not be you."