Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Incandescence. I hope everyone enjoys reading it.
Draco swiped his hand through his hair and slumped back against his pillow. Then he scowled at the far wall and muttered, "If you're still able to take notice of anything in the outer world any more, Yolanda, then I reckon you have your revenge."
He wasn't sure if it made matters worse or better that Harry had told him he was sure the dead didn't remember who they had been after a relatively short time in the world of the dead, at least not in any connected, coherent pattern. Flashes of memories were all that remained to them, like the fragments of many different stories.
Draco rolled out of bed and leaned against the wall of his tower, listening to Justice preening on his perch in the next room. He reminded himself that he was here, he was safe, and that if he really wanted Harry to spend a night or two with him, then he could firecall him. Harry had spent the last few days hinting gently that he didn't think Draco entirely recovered from his ordeal at Yolanda's hands, and that he would be happy to help if Draco needed him.
Draco sighed and dropped his head into his hands.
The memories were coiling and rippling through his mind, surprising him with sudden and shocking pain that he thought he had dealt with years ago. A normal dream about a complicated chess problem or somehow having written a book that appealed to everyone would be interrupted by the vision of himself standing, wand in hand, eyes wide with horror, while a random Death Eater writhed under his wand.
Or Voldemort would be standing over him, threatening him with the deaths of his parents if Draco disobeyed. It wasn't even that Draco disobeyed all that often; Voldemort was just mad enough to like to threaten people whether they did or not.
Or he would be back in sixth year, pressed by terrible crushing fear. He didn't want to kill anyone, but if he didn't, what would happen to his family? And everything had gone so badly wrong, shattering his illusion that he was perfectly powerful and perfectly in control of his life because he was a Malfoy.
Draco lifted his head and dug his fingers into his hair, tugging on it until he was calmer. Then he dropped his hand with a grimace, because that was something he hadn't done since sixth year, either.
Well, presumably the Mind-Healers knew what they were about. Draco went to find the lists of words they'd given him to memorize. He'd only done it a few times each day, because the words were not ones he found exciting and he would much rather think about the stories that occasionally sparked in his head. Maybe he should do it more often.
Two hours later, he woke with a start from another nightmare and threw the Floo powder into the fire without further delay, calling Harry. Harry appeared with a calm, alert face—Draco supposed there had to be some benefits from spending so much time awake at odd hours, such as being able to do without sleep—and nodded when Draco explained the problem in stumbling words.
"Of course," he said, and a moment later he had Flooed in, stumbling over his cloak as usual, and sat on the couch with his arms curled around Draco. Then he muttered something in annoyance and tapped his wand on the couch. It promptly grew bigger and more comfortable. Draco sighed in contentment as he rolled to the side and piled his head on Harry's chest.
"So you're human after all," he mumbled. "Never thought I'd see you admit the day when you liked comfort."
Harry hummed in response, his fingers sliding through Draco's hair and somehow finding all the itchy parts of his skull that he most wished someone would scratch. "Go to sleep, Draco. I'm here. I won't let anyone or anything harm you." Draco thought he could hear a smile in Harry's voice, though it was so low and serious it was hard to be certain. "If someone tries, I'll call on the dead."
He can, too.
Draco let his arms sprawl over Harry's chest and sank into sleep.
Apparently that was all Weasley could come up with to say when he found Draco and Harry together in Harry's office.
Draco looked up with a lazy smile from the opening paragraph he'd been scribbling on a piece of spare parchment. Lately, paragraphs and words had been haunting him, swirling around in his head but refusing to form into a coherent story. That was the opposite of the way he usually started, with a character and at least a shadow of a plot based on that person's real actions during the war, but the words were so insistent that Draco wrote them down anyway. "Yes, Weasley? Was there something you wanted?"
"What are you doing here?" Weasley at least had the sense to shut the door before he almost bellowed the words.
"We're friends," Harry said, glancing up at his partner briefly before he turned back to finishing a report on a case that Draco knew to be much more boring than the Timpany case, because Harry had lectured him about it in exhaustive detail. He looked innocent when Draco complained and said that he merely wanted to make sure that Draco had some idea of the truth if he wrote about Aurors again. "Or dating. Or something."
Weasley sat down hard in his chair, which Draco had noticed was never clean. Sure enough, several pieces of parchment crinkled and cracked in protest, and he had to stand up and pull them out from beneath his arse before he continued. "Harry, the last I knew, you hated him for breaking into this place."
"Not his shining moment," Harry agreed, with a sideways glance that made Draco flinch. No one scolded like Harry. Of course, Draco didn't care about anyone the way he cared about Harry, which made the words sink the deeper. "But we shared some experiences and some truths that make me inclined to trust him." He shrugged and continued working on his report.
"But," Weasley said, and then stopped, apparently baffled as to what he should do about Draco's presence if Harry didn't find it objectionable.
Draco kept his face turned downwards so Weasley couldn't see his smile, which would probably spoil things, as he scribbled out the next sentence that had come to him. And in light embrace the darkness. Then he paused and realized that that wasn't a full sentence, and perhaps he shouldn't be thinking about Weasley when he tried to compose; obviously it had a terrible effect on his writing.
He returned to his original thought. Harry had told him that this was the best way to handle Weasley: act as though something was merely part of reality, and there was a much larger chance that Weasley would accept it because someone else had accepted it. Harry called it "guiding" his best friend. Draco saw it as more proof that Harry should find other friends. Between Weasley's shovel of an intellect and Granger's dagger, the poor man had no idea what a normal mind looked like.
"We're still trying to decide what our relationship is," Harry said, with a small shrug and a smaller smile in Weasley's general direction, and then went back to working on his report. Draco stared at his parchment and tried to figure out how to turn that irritating fragment into a complete sentence.
Weasley sat down at his own desk, still giving them nervous glances from time to time. Harry ignored him so serenely that Draco ceased to watch for pranks from the corner of his eye and became more involved in figuring out how to continue this story.
If it was a story. If the various whirlpools in his head meant anything.
"I do not like to think that I once welcomed Yolanda Timpany into this place."
Draco sat back with his glass of wine. Delicate Summerlands wine, the very best, and a red so bright that it was hard to look at. Draco hadn't asked for that; Cassidy had simply given it to him after he told her the tale of Yolanda's death. She leaned on the bar now, staring at the nearest corner where a fire blazed.
"You couldn't have known," Draco said. "Or rather," he added hastily, as Cassidy glanced back at him with that slow way of turning her head that a bull would use, "you knew as much as the rest of us did. Yolanda wrote about real people, and she made use of political victims. None of us realized how much she made those victims, rather than simply picking them up because she paid attention to the papers."
"You are quite certain of her ultimate fate?" Cassidy turned a wineglass over in her hands as if looking for flaws in it. The way her fingers curled around its edge reminded Draco of a rock formation he had passed on his way into the Writer's Labyrinth tonight, ready to spear anyone who took the wrong turning. He shuddered and buried his uneasiness in the Summerlands wine. It was strange to realize that Cassidy frightened him more at the moment than the memory of Yolanda did, but so it was.
"Yes. When Potter kills someone, they stay dead." Draco hadn't been able to tell the full truth without revealing Harry's gifts, of course, but he had been able to say that Harry had engaged in a duel with her and a rescue of Draco.
"A pity." Cassidy sighed out the words and put the wineglass down. When she turned, Draco found himself pinned with a sharp gaze. He blinked back at her, wondering what he had done wrong that she should look at him like that.
"You have expressed more melancholy this evening than I have ever seen you do," Cassidy said. "And it has been nearly a month since your Golden Stories emerged, with no rumor of your working on a new novel. Are you still a writer?"
Draco smiled as he understood, though he couldn't relax. Cassidy wanted to know whether she should still admit him to the Labyrinth. "I have a story brewing," he admitted. "But so far it has no title, and it's only scattered bits and pieces, and I can't focus it on one figure the way I usually do." She was the first person he'd told. Draco liked Harry a lot, but he simply didn't understand the deep urge to tell stories that Draco had, and he had to pacify Angela and his other editors with vague promises of a tale that he was trying to figure out the best way to tell. Angela thought it was the Ollivander novel, and kept suggesting titles that were all terrible. Draco hadn't wanted to know that his copy-editor knew that many horrible puns on "wand."
"Good," Cassidy said unexpectedly.
Draco blinked. Cassidy leaned forwards across the bar and poked one fingernail into his shoulder. Draco hid a wince and hoped that no one else had noticed. Of course, most of the people in the Labyrinth's central nook had been leaving him strictly alone this evening once they realized that Cassidy wanted to hear him talk.
"You've been writing the same way for more than a decade," Cassidy said. "Your writing is showing signs of weariness and strain. You should take a different path and write in a different way."
Draco leaned forwards. "Don't tell me that until you've read The Hope-Well."
Cassidy looked unimpressed. "I've read all your other novels, Malfoy, and I can trace a clear progression. Yes, you gain more control of your technique, and I'm sure you still write the endings and beginnings of your stories in a fever of enthusiasm. But the middles sag and lose their way. The last one didn't have anything like a plot. Fire in the Darkness was clear enough at points, but then it would sink back into a slough. It's all to the good if you have to change your method and start writing in a different fashion."
"Telling stories about the war is what I do," Draco said patiently. "And basing my novels on the life histories of people in the war is what I do. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a different kind of writer, I would be a non-writer."
Cassidy laughed. "You do not know how many times I have heard versions of that," she said, when Draco glared at her. "From writers of mysteries, of romances, of comedies, of tracts to free house-elves. It seems as if a new kind of story might be stirring in your head. Rejoice in your good fortune and listen to it." She paused thoughtfully. "Besides, have you thought about what you'll do when you run out of heroes to write about? Somehow, I can't see you deciding that the minor, ordinary stories of the war are worth your time."
Draco stared sightlessly at his wineglass, turning it around until a drop of Summerlands escaped down the rim. He had independent confirmation that what Cassidy said was right. Before all of this mess, in the first flush of his enthusiasm for writing a novel about Harry, he had decided that there was no other way for his Heroic Lives series to end. He'd been thinking of capping it even then.
But why should he? He was young for a wizard, thirty-four in a life that would probably last more than a hundred years, and he didn't want to spend the rest of it doing nothing, even in the graceful fashion that his parents did nothing.
"I want to be a writer," he muttered. "I have to tell stories."
"And I want you to be a writer, so that I can continue to welcome you here," Cassidy said placidly. "It seems to me that you're ignoring the obvious—a way that would let you write about the war and use experiences that you know well and yet would change the direction of your writing in a way that would give it new force."
She turned aside to deal with a moping young poet called Anna Grayson whom Draco considered much too influenced by Boot. Grayson wanted water and sympathy, and got the former. Draco tapped his fingers on his knee, out of Cassidy's line of sight; she only became more obstinate when she sensed that someone was impatient.
"What do you mean?" he burst out when she turned back. "Of course I want to know how I can go on writing about the war. It was the central event of my life. It defined a generation. Its ripples are still present all around me. Tell me."
Cassidy leaned forwards. "By using the experiences of the person you know best," she said. "Yourself."
Draco stared at her. His mouth was open, he knew, and he probably looked like Neville Longbottom had when Draco first said that he wanted to interview him. But he couldn't manage to close it yet. It was necessary to let out all the hot air that was suddenly driven out of his head by solid, glittering comprehension.
The story that bucked to be told and would give him no coherence. The memories that, once stirred up, proved that he could not encompass them in the neat little story he'd told Harry after all. The sentences that insisted on coming out as fragments, because he didn't yet dare to realize who the subject was.
Now he knew.
"My next novel is going to be the story of my experiences during the war," he muttered. "Or my next two novels. I was involved in the war before it officially broke out." He stared over Cassidy's head. "Maybe the next three. I'll have to tell some of my family history—or the history of the family based on mine—for it to make sense."
Cassidy smiled, and refilled his glass.
"I'm going to write my next book about myself."
Luna ducked her head so that she could look under the table for Wrackspurts, but she didn't do it fast enough to prevent Draco from noticing her quick smile. "That's a wise decision," she said. "I always felt that you needed more words to tame your own life, though it ran wild around you while you sought for the words to tame others'." She turned and looked at him earnestly. "And wild things can be very beautiful."
Draco laughed and sipped at his tea, which had a different taste than usual this time. A taste of lemon? Perhaps it was. And he liked it It was another trait that he would add to the character rapidly developing in his imagination. "I don't even pretend to understand you most of the time, you realize that?"
"Almost no one does," said Neville, sticking his head into the room from around an inner door. A new ridged scar marked his forehead that looked like a hoofprint, and he bore a similar shallow scar on his right cheek. Draco surmised that the black unicorn had been real enough to leave those marks, at least. "Dearling, do you remember where I put the notes on alternate ways to tame a unicorn foal? I really think I might have better luck with one of them than with the full-grown adults." He ducked back into the other room before Draco could ask any questions or Luna could reply. She shook her head with mock mournfulness at Draco as she rose to her feet.
"I would blame him for not being able to keep things organized," she told Draco, "but I know that the Nargles steal his notes. He can't help it." She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. "Have you told Harry about your story yet?"
"Not yet," Draco said, with a wince as he realized that Luna had said "yet" and he'd repeated the word immediately. It sounded bad in his head. "I'm saving it for an opportune moment."
"I've found that we make our own opportune moments," Luna said, "the way you did when you chose to give up the notion of putting Harry in a story." She nodded several times, though Draco had the feeling that she was greeting denizens of the house invisible to him, and then hurried off to help Longbottom with his notes.
Draco finished the odd-tasting tea and smiled.
"It's very daring," said Angela, stirring the ice in her glass with one finger. "A departure from what you've done so far. Striking." She spent a moment more playing with the ice, acting oblivious of the tension that Draco knew she could feel. Then she looked straight at him and smiled. "Original."
Draco relaxed. If she said that, he knew he had her approval to go ahead and write his book.
"How many books are you thinking of writing?" Angela asked, brisk suddenly. "How much time will you cover? And do you have a title for the first one yet?"
"Two or three," Draco responded, sipping at his own drink. He bit delicately at the ice; he was trying to break himself of the habit of swilling ice around in his mouth, since Harry seemed to dislike the sound of teeth impacting on it. "I'll cover my life up to the time when I became a writer, since that was the first attempt I made to deal with my memories. And I don't want to write a book about my memories that also deals with my attempts to deal with those memories. There is such a thing as being too recursive."
"Indeed." Angela gave a delicate shudder and leaned forwards. "Did I tell you about the latest book of poems that Boot tried to sell us, Draco? Absolutely awful. Every poem only used synonyms of three words, and when one of those words was 'eye,' his creativity was stretched to its limits."
"Which are never very far away in the first place," Draco murmured, and listened to her story, and laughed.
She either didn't notice that he had carefully avoided answering her question about the title of the first book, or, more likely, knew that now was not the time to pursue it.
Of course, when the moment came that he sat down facing a piece of blank parchment and had to produce, Draco knew what that title would be.
Harry stepped up behind him and cleared his throat. Draco leaned back to look up at him. Harry's eyes were soft still with sleep, his hair tangled, his chest bare. Draco felt a pulse of intense satisfaction that would have taken them back to the bed if they both didn't have work. He captured Harry's hand and squeezed.
"So you're starting your new story," Harry said, his voice as gentle and deep and warm as his eyes. "About you." His hand came down strongly on Draco's shoulder in a grip of approval that made Draco hum, though he didn't look away from the parchment again.
"Yes." Draco dipped his quill in the ink and paused for a long, delicious moment. The words would fill his head when he needed them, but this hesitation before he began the writing made him think he must know what it was like to be a young dragon, walking towards a cliff for the first time, ready to spring and see if his wings would carry him.
"What are you calling it?" Harry whispered the word into his ear, intimate and thrilling and mingling memories of last night with Draco's sense of anticipation.
For answer, Draco brought his quill out and wrote the title at the top of the page with a glittering flourish.