And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
Harry drifted. The wings of his cloak wavered around him. Was he dreaming?
There was a pinch at the edge of his fingers, again in his thigh. In vague dissonance, Harry wondered where he was, what was happening, but it was so incorporeal. He realized a moment later that he had no clothes, that the fluttering curtains about him were his own skin, being sewn.
He started to struggle, knowing, for some reason, that that was wrong and painful and he should be scared of pain. Something, almost a hand, leaned against his chest to calm him. The pinching continued, outlining his body, and Harry laid back. It was surreal - more... and less than reality. The whiteness around him that was warm. The thin needle invading his silhouette. As more of him was sewn, he felt himself growing heavy. The drugged euphoria ebbed until he could almost feel... something, with senses outside the light.
The strange dreamland - how long had he waned in the twilight - dissipated, leaving Harry with the sensation of being swallowed. He was gulped down, and something snapped, coming together in terrifying completion.
He blinked. Incomprehensible color bled in colosseums of tides. For a minute, he was lost in the mob-like science of thoughts and sensations. Slowly, the cacophony of sensations reformed one by one like toy militia.
The drumming eased, and he sighed, wetting his lips and placing a hand over his splitting headache. Only his hand didn't move. He tried to sit up and found every muscle in his body liquid as if he'd been dueling relentlessly. His body felt like gruel. With a dry groan, he tried to sit up.
Welcome hands spread along his back, helping him up. They moved the pillows. Through the buzz, Harry slowly made out sounds. Words. As he focused, slowly, they came to him, like a trickle from a boarded stream.
"...easy. You haven't moved in a while. You're going to be weak for a while."
Harry stared at the woman. He knew he should know her. Color and shape were beginning to come to him, the light dragged out of her hair as he began to distinguish yellows from golds. Her face came, paler than her hair. Pink mouth. Blue eyes. Finally, dark lashes.
He studied her.
"Do you remember me?" she asked, looking under his eyelids.
Yes, he thought, as the image fell into place in his mind. Narcissa Malfoy. Instantly, his memory of her returned, so complete and unblemished he felt stupid for forgetting.
"Mrs. Malfoy?" he said, his voice sounded worse than the indigestible muck Buckbeak hacked up.
She pressed a glass of water against his lips. He was so grateful he gulped it down without fuss. She pulled it away before he was ready. He didn't recognize the room he was in, surrounded by white curtains that shifted in a soft breeze, and he didn't have his glasses. His wand was missing, and he wasn't wearing clothes he recognized.
"Where am I?" he said.
"Hogwarts," she said. "In a private room in the infirmary."
He watched her, bewilderment. He couldn't move. He could hardly speak. She checked his pulse, and when her wand waved over him, he flinched. She stopped. He watched her through a narrow gaze.
The silence stretched as Harry continued to wait.
"What do you want?" he asked at last.
The last he'd seen of her was during the Malfoy trials. She'd had such a tight grip on her son, as if she alone was responsible for prying him out of a shark tank. She'd looked weary but determined and had given him a very strained nod of gratitude for speaking for them.
"Do you not remember?" she asked.
Every nerve he owned would have reared on end had they been capable. He fought through exhaustion, trying to clear his head. He looked down at the sheets covering him. The last thing he was remembered was eating with Ron and Hermione. They'd been under a lot of stress, and he recalled the Hallows.
He wet his lips. "Was... was there an attack?" Their flat was ridiculously warded, but all he could think of was the way the Hogwarts wards had fallen, the fire and rubble and screaming. He stared at the woman, wondering why she was here to nurse him, wondering if she'd know anything about Ron and Hermione.
She frowned, watching his face as carefully as a potion experiment.
"But you remember me?" she said.
Beyond disturbed, Harry tried to assess her for evidence of concussion or potion. Her hair was tied in a tail, the ends furled. Even at the peak of her family's ruin, he'd not seen her so informal. There was no disgust in her eyes even for her proximity to a halfblood. The tick of strain that seemed engrained in her face from that first glimpse at the Quidditch World Cup was replaced by a type of intensity he'd seen Hermione give goblin treaties.
"You are... Narcissa Malfoy, aren't you?" he said warily.
"I am," she said tightly. "Do you know who you are?"
Fear moved through his bones, sitting in his stomach like a gnome. He felt faint. Something was horribly wrong. He needed to leave, go somewhere safe. Why was he in Hogwarts anyway?
His fingers scrambled incoherently on the sheets. "If this is Hogwarts," he said slowly, watching her beneath his lashes, "then may I speak to Pomfrey, or Minerva?"
Her face only tightened more, looking more confused. "How do you know Minerva?"
Harry's jaw dropped. "You're not Narcissa Malfoy," he said, trying to scramble away. He nearly tipped over the bed.
Someone grabbed his arm, bracing him against robes. He turned to claw away only to come face to face with the last person he expected. The retort died on his tongue, the last meager ounce of his strength fleeing. He stared up at him, feeling sick and light, like he was floating a dangerous distance away from his mind.
Dumbledore's hand was a solid presence on his arm, keeping him from falling off the bed. It was like a disaster. He couldn't look away, even as his horror multiplied.
"Am I upsetting you?" the apparition asked gently, easing him back onto the bed.
When he started to move away, Harry made a fumbling grab for his robes, an awful keening coming unbidden from his lips. Dumbledore's eyes flickered. Cautiously, the old man sat on the bed.
"Sir?" he gasped, grabbing clumsily. "Sir, is it really you?"
"I'm not sure," the apparition said. "Who am I?"
Harry laughed. Wetness trailed his face. It burned his eyes, made the back of his throat clog. "You died, sir," he said shakily. "I saw you. You f-fell." He pressed his forehead against his shoulder. It even smelled real.
So it wasn't the Stone. The niggling fear dissolved.
Hesitantly, a hand touched his back. "Forgive me, son. This may confuse you, but may I ask you a question?"
Harry breathed raggedly through his mouth and nodded. Dumbledore pulled him back gently, looking into his glossy, red-stained face.
"Would you please tell us your name? We need to hear you say it."
Harry stared at that familiar face. He knew. He knew in some distant, unwelcomed part of himself that this couldn't be Dumbledore. He had died. He'd met him at the terminal and the meeting place of life and death. But his face was so familiar. He had the same age, the same sunspots splattered across his cheeks and half-moon spectacles. You can't polyjuice the dead, and where would anyone get that serene magic, caressing all the throbbing wounds of your life with hope.
Harry stopped. He gripped Dumbledore's arms. His magic reached instinctually. It knew the contours of Dumbledore's magic as well as it knew Hogwarts itself. It was like a well-worn piece of jewelry. Harry searched and found nothing, nothing in the place where soft and ancient power had once cradled him on its knee. There was a gaping place instead, a howling, hollowed tunnel.
He looked at Dumbledore in confusion.
"Your name, please."
"You're not Dumbledore," he whispered.
The doppelgänger continued to smile faintly, looking at him expectantly. Against all reason, Harry could not hate him, could not mistrust him.
Dumbledore nodded, as if unsurprised. "How did you get here?"
Harry frowned, trying to recall. His head was a mess. He searched, the images sliding over each other.
"I... walked through..." The memory was jumbled, as if it had been folded and cut like a paper snowflake. "I left," he said. "I had to leave or they were going to follow me forever." He stared in Dumbledore's soft, blue eyes. "The old witches. They brought me here, didn't they?"
Dumbledore didn't not answer, looking grim. He rubbed Harry's back. "Do you understand where here is?"
Harry laughed. He felt lightheaded and more than a little loony, feeling a cold tear pass over his cheek again. He touched Dumbledore's cheek. Not his Dumbledore, but some Dumbledore.
That knowledge spread a warmth through him. The possibility that a world existed that had not been ruined was dearer knowledge than if the murders had been erased. He'd never wanted to demean the sacrifices that his friends, and his family, had made for him. Yes, he was selfish enough to want what was stolen returned, but it was enough that there was this place, where possibility and hope still existed not tainted by the Hallows.
What haunted this world he didn't know. He didn't know how Dumbledore had lost his magic. What awful things had happened or who was supposed to wake up on this bed instead of him.
He continued to stare at Dumbledore like a halfwit, so unimaginably grateful that Dumbledore allowed him.
"You should rest," Narcissa's voice finally interrupted. Her thoughts were carefully hidden.
Harry nodded obediently, feeling like the entire thing was another of his dreams. "Are you sure it's alright for me to stay here?" he said tiredly.
She stared at him a long moment.
"Yes," she said simply.
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at the elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Harry reached for her, but he wasn't sure if it was allowed. His muscles were still terribly weak, the taste of potions on his breath foul, but the smell of the May shower out on the veranda instilled such a powerful sense of reality.
He'd been awake on and off for a little under two weeks, hardly able to stay awake for more than an hour or two. He'd only seen Madame Pomfrey, who handed him vials and reapplied the spell for his physical therapy. She was not so different than the witch in his world, though strangely quiet since they were strangers.
Now, the woman in front of him was disturbingly real and even more foreign. He'd only seen her in photos, happily twirling her husband and gushing over her infant son. The woman here was old. He knew she could only be early forties (and Merlin Harry had almost outgrown his parent's age when they died in his world, hadn't he), but she seemed closer to sixty. The age closed in around her face and hair. She had a horrifying collection of scars, furrows down her face like her tears were made of acid. He didn't know any spell that could do that.
He could only stare at her, wide-eyed, because beneath the scars was half a buried memory, a woman with red hair and green eyes. The scars and the way she hovered like a ghost was terrifying, but... Merlin, he could see the same thing burning in her that killed his mother.
He wanted her. So badly. But how could he even ask? He could see the torture she'd suffered for the boy that should have been laying here. She had every right to despise him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He hung on the gallows of her judgement, barely able to keep contact with her eyes.
She floated to him, her robes ending a few centimeters above the ground. Her balance was impeccable, as she sat on the mattress as neatly as if she had feet.
"Can I call you Harry?"
Her voice. He shut his eyes, managing to nod around the stone in his throat. He felt her move and braced himself. Fingers touched lightly on his hand. He sobbed and remained still.
"You have her eyes, your mother," she clarified.
When Lily's fingers met his, shaking, he curled them around hers.
"Were you born on the 31st of July?" she asked. "Do you like vegetable soup, and is your favorite color blue?"
She was so calm. He squeezed her fingers. "The..." He swallowed. "The birthday's the same, but... I like meat pies. And I don't have a favorite color," he whispered.
The witch seemed to give a long, drawn-out sigh. "Well, I guess you'll do anyway."
When Harry rose his head to gape at her, she was smiling. On a face so transformed by ruin, it was astounding, as bizarre and affable as a grin on a bloody-toothed toddler. She forced Harry, despite himself, into a watery smile, ducking his head at the sheer, marvelous cadence of this woman. Harry opened his mouth, but she silenced him with another look and a gentle touch on his cheek.
"It's not your fault, Harry. You didn't kill him." She took a small breath. "I love him, and I love you. No matter what memories you hold, you will always be my son."
Harry stared at her. Was this woman the one who bore him, who carried him preciously through labor and died for him? No. And maybe there were worlds out there where Lily wished she'd never had him.
Harry said, his voice wavering, "But I'm not him."
Lily sat back. "He wasn't the child I bore either." She looked down at the bedding. "I don't know your world. And you don't know ours. What happened is long and complicated. It has parts I still don't understand. And probably never will." She looked at him with eyes bursting like spring. "I don't know why you're here, but I watched my baby die once when he was hardly even... hardly even new to the world," she said painfully. "And I watched him die again. I had months with him, and he was just as different from the child I held in my arms as you are from him now, and I still loved both of them. Very much."
She leaned forward, took his hand, and cradled his cheek again, so Harry had no choice but to listen. "You're him. I had your soul in me, and I don't need anything else." With a deep, calm breath, she backed away from him. "I know it might not be the same for you."
Harry wondered vaguely if she was trying to manipulate him. He'd had enough of his emotions being tied into knots, but Lily was as serene as an emperor, and Harry didn't think that whatever choice he made, she would ever surrender or retreat. The words about what had happened that Halloween night, what his Lily had sacrificed, was on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't get the breath to say it. He was not so self-absorbed as to think that what she'd told him had been easy.
He licked his lips. "You... she... my mum died when Voldemort came through the wards. My dad told her to run to the nursery, so he died first. When Voldemort came, he... tried to get you to move, but you wouldn't. So he killed you. I remember because the dementors..." He trailed off, unable.
"How did you survive?" she asked.
Harry fished up a small smile. "Dumbledore, my Dumbledore, says that you made a sacrifice, that it somehow protected me. He tried to kill me, but the curse rebounded."
"The Killing Curse?" she said, astounded.
He nodded, wondering how that night had happened here. His fingers started to move for his forehead, but he remembered that this body didn't have the scar. That more than anything had proven how different this world was.
"I only knew you from pictures," he whispered. He shook his head minutely. "The only... the only memory I have..." Eighteen years later, why was this so hard to say now? "...is when she died." He looked at her, feeling slightly more balanced. "I am not a child. I don't want... I don't need, your protection. But..." There was no way to say it, no way to phrase the need in him that didn't call for protection but attention, care, love.
"Good," she said decisively, as if understanding everything he couldn't say. "I'll just murder anyone that threatens you then and no more of this sacrifice business."
Harry gaped at her before throwing his head back and laughing. It thundered around them, melding with her silent, graceful smile. He stopped only when his belly started to ache.
"I love you," he declared, needing nothing more. Not more than ten minutes and he could already tell. It burned through him like nothing he'd felt before, taking up all of his diminished body.
He already admired the woman's strength and courage. In the space of ten minutes, this Lily Potter had managed to quicken his heart, filling a starvation in him that had been so intrinsic he'd not even known it was there. He smiled at her, eyes glistening. Her own smile and stare seemed to echo his pain as she brushed her hand over his cheek again. This time it felt natural as his old holly wand.
"I love you too."
Sunning in her warmth, he could ignore how isolated he was, how he knew nothing about this world, how he had no prospects, no money or shelter, nothing but these people's mercy. He'd had much sparser coffers for a far longer time.
Though lovers be lost, love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
- Dylan Thomas
Draco lingered outside the infirmary. It was a position he'd not taken in three years, before his father had dragged him out and beaten and yelled some sense back into him. It was a different kind of self-pity that had him sitting on the cold tile of the Hogwarts' infirmary. He'd been so helpless then, willing to do anything to numb the pain. His love had never felt less like a fairy tale. It had felt brutal and cruel - deprived. He'd truly believed then that Dyre would keep his promise. It had had him clinging to him like a desperate addict.
All Draco felt now was a great apathy. Dyre was awake, but he didn't remember him. He was a different boy. Draco had no responsibility to this lessened copy. He didn't feel disappointed or angry. Part of him might have been sad, but it was an old sorrow, the same way he felt about the Dyre he'd lost three years ago. He had no connections to this Harry Potter.
Lily Potter stopped in front of him. Her dress swished over her stumps, an inch above the floor. She had a parcel of flowers with her, sunflowers. He wondered if they were the changeling's favorite.
"How long are you planning on sitting here?" she asked.
He looked away. "I'm not waiting for him."
Even to himself, his voice felt hollow. He heard the rustle as she rearranged the flowers on her hip.
"That's not what I said," she said, in a voice he'd often often as a child, when he'd tried too hard to modify his words to avoid confessing to some ill he'd done. "You're doing something. You haven't moved from this spot for two weeks."
"This is no concern of yours," he snapped, looking away. The words tumbled out before he could stop them. "You have your son. You're perfectly happy now. So I don't want to hear anything from you."
Lily was silent. Draco was ashamed of himself but he couldn't take the words back. They burned inside him like hot pokers. Lily knelt in front of him, folding her skirts under his knees. Draco flushed, recalling vividly exactly what she'd done to retrieve her son while he'd done nothing at all. When she'd settled, folding her awkward, damaged limbs over themselves, she propped her chin in her palm and watched him.
Lily had always had a different way of dealing with him than anyone else. His petulance and whinging never worked on her. She only waited him out, untouched by his snarls and bitterness.
He buried his head in his arms. "Go away."
"Oh, my little one," she said softly. She hadn't called him that in over a decade. She ran her fingers through his hair. The gentle ministrations made a catch in his chest. He gasped and made a bungled attempt to throw her off. But she'd already done it. The tears were flowing and he was angry at her.
"Stop it! It's been three years! I'm done!"
"You can't decided that, Draco," she said sadly. "It's what you feel."
"I don't want to feel any of this! I didn't ask for this!" He wiped his face, refusing to look at her. She grabbed his chin and forced him to turn.
"You choose Dyre." Her eyes softened. "It's not explainable, Draco. It's not fair or rational. It's love."
He knew that. He already bloody well knew that. He grabbed her arm.
"Why can't I let him go?"
"We all have limits," she said, with her own dark pain. "And... some things are unavoidable and it's impossible to survive. We just have to endure the best we can."
"That's your advice," he scoffed.
She kissed his head. "Do what you want, Draco. If you want to walk through that door." She pointed to the door that hid the the replica. "Or that one," she said, pointing towards the one that led to the hall. "You have to chose. Neither of them are easy."
She rose. When she tittered, he raised his arm, letting her balance on it. She gave him a smile and summoned her flowers. She entered the room. Draco moved into the wall. He stayed there for a long, long while.