A/N = This story was written for the HP rarepair_shorts 2009 Summer Wishlist on LJ. It's my first attempt at slash and also my first HP story that doesn't mention Minerva. I can't swear that neither will ever happen again, but they probably aren't likely. I'm not terribly interested in slash as a rule, despite some of the excellent m/m stories I've read in HP fandom; it's women (particularly Min) who set my fanfic blood racing. But still, one never knows.

Disclaimer: Lately, JKR has been wearing gold stilettos and jetting around to HBP premieres; she obviously has better things to do than write fanfic. I, however, do not. I'm content to stay home and play with her toys while she lives a real life. I make no claims on her empire, of course.

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"Liminality"

by Kelly

The centaur stood in the shadow of the great castle and let the cold air sweep the scent of humans from his nose and coat and mind. Their odor was not unpleasant to him, not any longer, but it had no place where he was going.

The outline of the Hogwarts walls made a sharp black slash against the luminous moonlit grounds. Firenze crossed the boundary between light and shade quickly, moving all at once from darkness into silver-bright. The contrast disconcerted him. He didn't like the harshness of lines so starkly drawn; he preferred indirection, subtlety, the gradual transition from a thing that was. . .to a thing that was another. The earth and the heavens were less a reality than an interpretation; the same was true of beings.

These facts the centaurs understood and drew comfort from. Only humans demanded answers and finality; his kind knew otherwise, knew that the certainty that came from the uncertain was the only certainty worth seeking.

Just now Firenze was challenging the certainty of the forbidden: he was seeking that which had banished him, the centaurs who had foolishly tried to sever him from themselves -- as if their kind were not always and forever bound, as if refusing him their physical presence could ever really remove him from them or them from him. They should have known better. They had disappointed him.

All but one.

He moved swiftly over the frosted grass, preparing himself to cross another too-sharp line. In seeking out one of his herd, he had to move from what-had-been to what-now-must-be. It would not be a transition easily made, for Firenze saw little distinction between the then and the now and the to-be. Separating them would be painful. Still, there was no denying that the unchanging had, in fact, changed. What once had been, no longer was.

He soon stood at the border of the forest, ready to leave the clear emptiness of the lawn for that tangle of branch and bramble and thicket that was now "forbidden" not only to the alien humans, but to him as well.

Yet it could never truly be so, not while there was another willing to cross the lines with him. He sensed rather than saw the other centaur waiting for him just beyond the trees, his black body merging into the darkness of his surroundings until no trace of him could be seen. But he was there.

"Bane," Firenze said.

The darkness rustled. "It is forbidden," growled the other.

"Yes." Firenze stepped from the moonlight into the trees, the glow of his white body extinguished. "But you are here."

A part of the forest detached itself and came forward. Bane. Muscles rippled under thick, dark shoulders; the black tail tossed.

"I am here."

Firenze reached out to rest his hand on the other's waist, at the sensitive place where man and horse merged, where the thing that was became the thing that was another, yet was always fully both. He stroked slowly, feeling both fragile skin and thick, warm hide; soon, he felt Bane's strong fingers begin to smooth themselves down his own pale sides.

For long moments they stood thus, silent in the male-scented air; then Bane pawed the ground and brushed his lips against Firenze's forehead before lowering his forelegs and lifting his tail.

It was the centaur's ultimate gesture, and they had made it often, but each to the other only. Each had offered himself to the other's mounting, blurring the lines of self, dark wildness joining with pale calm.

Firenze rose slowly onto his back legs and let his forelegs encircle those broad, waiting flanks. He could feel his lover quivering beneath him; Bane had already prepared his body, and Firenze soon found himself sheathed tightly and smoothly inside the being who was as much himself as he was.

The moonlight made silver dapples on Bane's black back, and the shadows of the branches drew dark patterns on Firenze's creamy coat, and they moved together and were light and dark as one.

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The edge of the forest made a sharp black slash against the luminous moonlit grounds as Firenze prepared to leave the shelter of the trees and cross the line into his exile once again. He knew that if he looked behind him, Bane would already have disappeared into the dark wood. Only his voice remained.

"You are forbidden," he said.

Firenze nodded. "And you are my Bane."