Title: Labyrinth You There
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco (Harry/Ginny mentioned)
Warnings: Sex, surrealism, weird POV.
Summary: In which there is a labyrinth, a hero, and a way through. And a creature waiting at the center of it. Based (sort of) on the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur.
Author's Notes: This fic is for silenceberry, who made an incredibly generous donation for help_japan. The title comes from a line from Keats's poem "Lamia": "How to entangle, trammel up and snare/ Your soul in mine, and labyrinth you there/ Like the hid scent in an unbudded rose?"
Labyrinth You There
When they came for Lucius Malfoy, it was an autumn day, loose and drifting, the sky golden and falling with the leaves, the ground soft beneath the marching boots of the Aurors. They formed a line around the Manor, square as its corners, stony as its heart.
Stonier. For in that moment, there was little that was hard about the desperate heart of Lucius Malfoy.
They called for him to drop his wand and surrender. Three times they called, their voices sonorous like trumpets, making the birds shriek and scatter. Three times they called, their voices harbingers of despair.
Three times they called, and then they attacked, for Lucius Malfoy had shut himself up in his Manor and refused to come out for transport to Azkaban, his assigned punishment.
The air throbbed with their spells. The stone sang and cracked. The foundations bled. The leaves tumbled and dashed, falling as if they would cover up the shattered and splintered gates and hide them from sight.
The Aurors plunged forwards. They went deeper. The corridors of the Manor, the grand halls and the dining rooms and the libraries where many had read and the balconies where a young boy had played in drifting sunlight, split and scattered around them. Unraveled. Bent. Crushed like velvet, and spread out uncrushed.
None of those Aurors came back to the world of living words again, but if they had, they might have said this:
The Manor slid around them, marble stone turning honey-colored, and reforming. Strange walls appeared, carved with pictures of dancing bulls. There were monsters in those images, coy and sweet, with eyes like maidens and heads like cows. There were heroes whose swords broke in their hands as they were tossed on horns. There were rings that ran with blood and broken wands tossed to the ends of the earth.
There was a labyrinth, and no matter how much they traced their way forwards or back, walked with their hands on left walls or right, turned in place or shouted to each other, they were inevitably surrounded. Separated. Herded
When the horns grew out of the walls and through their bodies, gored.
The Manor dripped with blood and reflected the golden sun and the golden leaves back from shining walls, untouched. But changed. Lucius Malfoy's last desperate spell, meant to protect him, had tasted Auror magic and the native worry that lay at the bottom of his heart, where he was more concerned about others than himself.
And so the labyrinth was born.
With someone at its heart, as someone had been at Lucius's.
"There's no way that you can do it."
She said it so casually, with her head turned away from him in the sunlight, and her fingers flickering across the chessboard in front of her. Harry knew that she had to concentrate when she played Ron. He was a skilled and clever player, with a grasp of strategy that Harry envied. Ron would have made a better general in the war, he thought sometimes.
But the way she said it…
He looked at his Ginny, her hair shining in the sunlight, and Harry thought that even Malfoy deserved better than to be dismissed like that.
"I want to return his wand to him," Harry said. "He wasn't a criminal like his father. And no one's seen him since that failed Auror raid. What if he's trapped in the Manor and needs my help?"
"Why would you assume that it's your help he needs, mate?" Ron concealed a yawn behind his palm and studied the board in front of him. Then he began to smile. Ginny fidgeted in her seat, anxious eyes on his face. Harry wondered what she saw that he didn't see. He could never make out the point of chess, a system of checks and minuses and mates and plays. He had enough of all those in his daily life. "Someone else can enter the maze and free him, if he's really trapped there. He might be dead."
Harry shook his head. "I would know." He could still feel a sweet, subtle strength humming through the hawthorn wand when he held it, which was every night before he went to sleep. He knew Malfoy was alive.
"You've done enough," Ginny said, and cursed as Ron moved his pawn in a skip that let him take some pieces from the board, though Harry didn't know why. "No one expects you to be the hero anymore."
"Except me," Harry said quietly.
"What?" But she wasn't really listening. She was leaning forwards in the sunlight, her red hair shining, and studying the board.
Harry turned and looked out the window of the Burrow instead of answering. The evening was filled with the slant of the sun, summer evening, rich and long and lazy and slow, thick with dripping golden fingers on the lawn. Harry watched it, and although it was beautiful, at the moment he was thinking more about the season it wasn't. Autumn.
Nine months since Lucius had changed the Manor, and no one who had approached it had come out again. Fourteen, seven men and seven women, Aurors and curious pure-bloods and reporters and members of the DA, had stepped into the maze and vanished.
Hermione had discussed it seriously with him the other day, apparently because she had seen Harry holding the hawthorn wand and guessed his thoughts. Did he want to become another victim? This wasn't his battle, Hermione had said. It was funny, because since the war, she had cautioned him to take a less active part in the world. Harry smiled. He had thought one of his best friends, pushing herself forwards in politics, would love to have him join her.
But then, perhaps she knew him better than he knew himself. Knew that it wasn't politics that he wanted to take part in, but helping.
And he still had Malfoy's wand. He still had the life-debt that he owed Malfoy for not turning him in to the Snatchers. He still had the dreams, filled with the amber light of the Fiendfyre and the snarling animals.
He reached down into his left sleeve for the hawthorn wand, which was always close beside him now, and stroked it. It rang and tingled in his ears, alive with that running current of energy. Hermione had said that perhaps the energy came from him, since Harry was the master of the wand now. If it had surrendered to him, then surely it would take its impulses and imperatives from him as it took its orders.
But Harry didn't think so, and he was going to take it home.
"I don't know why you still care about Malfoy."
Ginny, half-distracted from the chess, speaking to him without looking over her shoulder. All her attention was on the game in front of her. But she had cared enough to speak those words for him. Harry briefly reached across the space that separated them and held her hand.
She patted his and then pulled free so that she could continue the game.
But she had given him the clue, as Harry realized much later. And he realized when he had gone home and put his head on the pillow that she had given him another kind of clue, as well.
The curious and the greedy would continue to seek out Malfoy Manor. Those who thought it could make their careers, who wanted to study the spell Lucius had used, who wanted the reward that the Ministry had offered for managing to penetrate the labyrinth. But there was a noticeable lack in all those visitors.
A lack of people who cared about Malfoy, who gave a damn about his fate and wanted him to at least live, even if it turned out that he was guilty of crimes himself and should be put in prison. Harry had never wanted him to die that he could remember. Only suffer.
And surely he had suffered enough, shut up in the labyrinth by himself for months and months. If he was dead, then Harry would find his body and bring it out, because he also deserved a decent burial.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face, more content than he had been since the golden day when he picked up the Daily Prophet and read about the labyrinth on its front page.
He sat at the center and heart of the maze, dreaming.
The spell called on half-remembered and half-imagined things, stories of bulls and princess, goddesses and dancers. It changed him so that he could survive and exist in comfort, and so he sat on a wooden chair, arms carved so that his elbows rested inside gentle grooves, legs curled around his ankles.
Those legs bore hooves, and his head bore horns.
He was the creature at the heart of the maze, listening to all the voices that blossomed in it, and dreaming of a time when things had been different. His mind reached out and caressed the stone walls around him, and the stone caressed him back. It sang to him, deep and low, a lulling noise, telling him of the bravery of his father, who had sacrificed his life to bring this into being, the beautiful maze that would guard him forever, and keep him from suffering harm.
It told him of the ghost of his mother, faint and thin, caught in the spell but not wholly imprisoned by it, passing back and forth between the maze and the outside world. She would be released when he was, which was never. But for now, present neither in one place nor another, impervious to wounds, she was safe.
She was not happy, but Lucius Malfoy had never thought in terms of happiness.
Neither was he. But he was neither happy nor sad, as one is in dreams, but full of images. He drifted, and he dreamed of eating grass with human teeth, and dancing with someone as a bull, a man whose green eyes showed but no other part of him, because he melted into flickering shadow and was gone, as another dream began.
Malfoy Manor slept under the sun.
Harry stood outside the front doors of Malfoy Manor, looking at it.
He had known something was different from what it used to be the moment he stepped across the borders of the grounds. The country around him slept in the summer, but here, it was autumn. Long, slow falls of green leaves unwound from the trees, as though they were undraping themselves from folds of cloth, always with more folds behind those. The air was heavy and silent, sticky, but cut with high blue and with thin white clouds, the way that Harry had seen some magnificent autumn skies be. The peacocks lay here and there, asleep, their feathers dropped on the ground like traces of early snow.
The magic beat in Harry's mouth like a gong, sang in his eyes like a buzzing insect.
But of course he would go ahead, he thought. He owed it to Malfoy to return his wand to him. It was something that should have happened long since, really. It would have if Harry hadn't hesitated and been lazy, and perhaps he could have prevented Lucius from casting this spell if he had acted soon enough.
You don't have to be a hero anymore, both Hermione and Ginny had told him, although Ginny's eyes sometimes shone in a way that said she hoped he would stay a hero long enough to court her and have children. That story is over.
But what if it wasn't? What if the story was ongoing, and Harry still had a part to play?
He had never questioned that that part, if it existed, would be that of hero for him. It was the way things were. It was the role he had been chosen to play, if not by Destiny, then at least by Voldemort.
And he couldn't object to it, not when those motives that drove heroes into battle—compassion, courage, love—might mean that he was Malfoy's only chance. No one else was going to go into the labyrinth that Malfoy Manor had become for the sake of love.
So he stepped forwards, and the leaves snapped and broke softly beneath his feet.
The doors swung open at a touch. Harry looked down a corridor decorated with sunlight, colored with it. He smiled. Here, it looked like summer.
And all over the walls were illustrations, of so many stories that he stared entranced.
There was the queen, crown and hair heavy on her head, walking to the sea with a jar of fruits balanced in her arms, and staring in wonder at the bull that emerged, and falling in love with it. There were the dancers leaping over the horns, twisting themselves in midair, the shadows of wings burning around them as they vaulted the bull. There was a pair of chains stricken from a slave, and a woman with winding hair and arms and legs drawing down a man into the water—or was he drawing her? Impossible to tell, unless he stepped closer to look at the carvings. Which he did.
The doors shut behind him, with a wash of magic so thick that Harry nearly choked. But he was not afraid. There was still light in the corridors, enough that he could make out the pictures that he had come closer to study, fine and ant-thin though their proportions were.
When he turned away from the carved wall, it was to look down through a series of walls and corners that blurred as he studied them. But Harry smiled, because they were less fearsome than the Forbidden Forest he had walked into thinking he would die.
Less fearsome than the Resurrection Stone. Less fearsome than the Elder Wand. Less fearsome than all the gathered Deathly Hallows that, he felt, had changed him somehow, had made him not just Master of Death but drawn him further into the stories, the tales that chased each other in runes across the pages of Hermione's book.
"Come, then," he said, and he couldn't have said who he was saying it to. Perhaps the monster the hero always danced with in such stories. Perhaps to the man he had come to rescue. Malfoy would have liked that, the challenge and the bite of his words. They had never backed down from each other, even when they should have.
He crossed the first intersection of corridors. The stone melted and flowed around him as if it would drown him.
Harry smiled, and walked on.
The house watched him, and it carried the image of the warrior—small and slender for his role, with dark shaggy hair, and clothes that spoke of the dangers of long adventures, and green eyes that promised the summer—to the one who sat, deep in dreams, in the center of the labyrinth.
The dreamer whirled around the floor with another imaginary partner, and then broke abruptly apart from him. The images that came to him now had the flavor of reality, sharp and hot like a dagger left too near the fire.
And it was fire that informed those images, that made them dance and spark. Flames that he soared above on a broom, burying his face against the back of the warrior. A hand that he clung to, nearly slipping free from, but the desperation, the panic, the desire to live was in itself sweet.
His feet stirred with the memory, and for a moment, bare human toes instead of bullish hooves scraped the floor, woke echoes. But it was not yet time for what might come from that, and they melted and flowed into hooves again a moment later.
The dreamer conveyed no rejection.
And so the labyrinth watched as the warrior walked further and further into it, his head up, his eyes unafraid. He had the most remarkable eyes, but no more remarkable than the fearless way he moved, and the faded scar on his forehead, and the wand that he carried, small and singing grey hawthorn, in place of a sword.
The labyrinth could sense the story hanging around him, the greater tale that he was still part of, and which had not ceased with the death of his enemy because he had not willed it to cease. He could have chosen a happy ending and a turning away from danger, but he had not.
The labyrinth knew the wellsprings of wonder, having come from them. It had a respect for stories.
It stilled its walls, and let him pass.
One moment there was nothing in the corridor in front of Harry, and then there was a drifting white shape. Harry stopped sharply so that he didn't run into it. He didn't think anything terrible would happen to him if he did. This place was a maze, yes, but he walked through it by instinct, his compassion guiding him, pointing him in one direction.
But he could feel the sadness that hung around him, along with the dreams, and he didn't want to disturb anyone feeling the emotion.
"Hello, Mrs. Malfoy," he said softly, when he realized that she didn't seem to see him.
She turned to face him, and he realized with a slight shock that he could see all the way through her, but only in drifting patches. She didn't look like an ordinary ghost. Instead, color squeezed and trickled its way through her, like blood making the rounds of sluggish veins. One moment she had no face except a faint, misty mask, and the next it was there again, filling in, proud cheekbones and high nose and devastating, sorrowful eyes.
Harry shivered. It was autumn outside the house, summer within, but here he saw winter.
"What happened to you?" he asked, during a moment when he thought her mouth was growing full and real enough to answer.
Narcissa Malfoy's voice came sighing into his ears, as faint as the cries of a young bee trapped in the hive. "My husband cast the spell when I was not quite inside the house, but standing in a doorway, trying to fight off the Aurors. Thus I am trapped between the outside and the heart of the house, where my son dwells."
Harry smiled. "Then he's here?" It was nice to hear that Malfoy wasn't dead, but he didn't ask his location. He knew already that he had to find that for himself. There was only limited help a hero could have.
Narcissa nodded, and waited until her mouth grew again before she said, "He is asleep. And he is transformed."
"I would be surprised if he wasn't, when the whole house is different," Harry said.
"He is changed," Narcissa said, and her voice was sharper now, and her hands reached out for him. Harry stood there and let them reach. He was not afraid. They curled around him like bars of ice, while Narcissa hissed in his ear, "He is safe at last, but different, and I will not tolerate you hurting him."
Harry looked up into her face. It was the face he had seen once before, framed in green light, the beginnings of leaves, when she had knelt next to him in the Forbidden Forest, and felt his heart, and lied.
"I won't hurt him," Harry said. "I came to give him his strength back." He held up the hawthorn wand.
Narcissa boiled and shifted in front of him, guardian ghost and morning mist, her mouth pouring through different expressions, her cheeks flushed and fading. Then she said, "You should have given that back long since."
"I know," Harry said simply. "But I'm here now."
"You should have done things differently."
"I know. But I'm doing them now."
"I won't let you hurt him." Narcissa spread her arms wide as if for a killing embrace.
Harry met her eyes, and this time, he didn't smile, because it would have been mockery. "I know. But I'm for him now."
The moment hovered between them, broken glass, broken ice, steamed and silvered with shining images.
And then Narcissa's eyes widened, and she bowed her head, and she passed through a wall, leaving the corridor in front of Harry clean and clear, running away into glinting darkness.
The labyrinth made ready.
Winds traveled above the room in its heart, shedding a soft cluster of leaves stolen from the trees outside, the trees in the midst of their summer-autumn who always had plenty to spare. Scattering and arranging, the winds chose patterns that would mimic the patterns of the stories on the walls, and remind the warrior from the corner of his eye about the bulls and dancers he had seen as he made his way inwards.
Puffs of dust exiled themselves from the floor, and patches of brown stone appeared that echoed the gentle curves of the chair's feet and arms, and horns. That would remind the dreamer of what and who he had been.
The stones shifted, not melting but rearranging themselves. They had been largely blank except for the stories carved into them, because the dreamer would not open his eyes to regard them. But now he would, so they softened and became gentler, not the blank walls of a cell but the comfortable ones of a cottage. Stolen seeds cracked and writhed across them, blossoming green tendrils in an instant. Roses and ivy grew there, and, on the floor where small patches of dirt had appeared, bluebells. The dreamer had once expressed a taste for bluebells when he had his freedom of the grounds.
The leaves piled more thickly in the center of the room, and then several smaller piles appeared to the sides. They arranged themselves in a star-like pattern that might have been meant to cradle four limbs and a head.
The dreamer began to ascend nearer to the surface of his sleep.
No longer did he dance with a mysterious green-eyed figure whose name he could not remember. He interwove with him instead, now embracing, now fighting. Now his arms were wound tight around his waist as they escaped from a flickering amber danger. Now he punched him and dared him to lift his arms in challenge. Now he bowed to him and then conjured a snake that he knew he wouldn't be able to defeat.
Except that the green-eyed warrior did defeat it. Every time.
The dreamer swam up, and up, and new ideas waltzed gently through his head, bringing thoughts of a victory that both of them could win.
Harry stepped into the center of the labyrinth, still half-braced for something or someone to attack him. The truce with Narcissa Malfoy wouldn't necessarily extend to anyone or anything else.
To his astonishment, rather than the silent courtyard of blank stone walls that he had pictured, he found himself in a garden. He turned in a slow circle, hands reaching out as if he could grasp the walls and draw them inwards around him, his breath coming in shallow pants.
The roses grew in thick, nodding clusters, red and yellow and white as if a sunrise had fallen and broken here. The floor beneath his feet was ankle-deep in leaves and loose earth; he had to move slowly across it if he didn't want to fall. There might have been a ceiling high overhead; there might have been sky. It was too high to see, and the soft songs around him, the stroke and strum of breezes over the amber stone, were an acceptable substitute for birdsong.
Harry turned to face forwards at last, and saw the curves across the floor of the garden leading him in the direction of a great wooden chair. Malfoy sat on that chair, his arms folded in front of him, his head bowed. For a moment, Harry thought he saw the shadow of horns on his brow, the gathering of hooves around his feet.
He didn't hesitate, but came forwards until he stood by the foot of the chair. Like a throne, he thought absently. Malfoy must like that, or would have if he was awake.
And as he thought that, the shadows of horns intensified. Malfoy's face projected into a muzzle, and thick, earth-colored fur grew over his face. Harry knew that if he had opened his eyes in that moment, they would have been no longer grey, but the thick, fathomless brown of a cow's.
Harry reached out, unhurried, and stroked one hand down his hide.
Which, beneath his fingers, was skin again. Harry smiled as he understood. The labyrinth had been creating illusions—or perhaps they would have become real if Harry had felt fear or otherwise not behaved as a hero should—that were meant to frighten him away. To make him think that Malfoy was a beast and back off in disgust.
But who could believe them? Who could believe that Malfoy was anything other than what he was?
Malfoy's eyes opened. Grey, piercing grey, brilliant and storm-subdued grey. He caught Harry's hand and squeezed, hard, tight, because that was the way they were. Harry smiled and held up the hawthorn wand in his free hand.
"I brought this back for you," he said. "It's yours."
Malfoy nodded as if he found nothing remarkable in this. And there wasn't, Harry thought. He had only been doing what he should have done long since. "And so are you," he said.
Harry nodded back. This was the story. The labyrinth and the monster and the hero who survived brushes from death were all part of the story. Granted, the previous one he was in hadn't included wedding the beautiful princess as well as conquering the monster, and he didn't think this one would, either, but that was all right. Perhaps he simply wasn't meant for princesses. "So are you."
When Malfoy kissed him, it was flat-mouthed, hot and hungry and sweet. Harry kissed back, letting his tongue play with the shape of Malfoy's lips, letting his hands curve over his arse and back and learn where the bones were close to the surface, where there was roundness and flesh, and where he could feel only smooth, burning skin.
They moved to the leaves, and Harry undressed, still caught by the scraps of dream that he could feel drifting in the air, still moving with the grace of the dancers he had seen pictured. Malfoy took off his clothes in a series of bends, glancing over his shoulder, his golden hair tossing, his grey eyes shining. Harry's hands hurt. He moved them back to Malfoy's shoulders, holding him still for another kiss, and then they didn't.
Malfoy was an odd mixture of pale and darkness under his clothes: the pallor of being away from the sun, the darkness borrowed from the labyrinth. He was the one who sprawled back on his leaves and languidly spread his legs, but Harry had seen demands to surrender that were less haughty.
He reached to the side, and there was a small pool of thick water waiting, smearing on his fingers with a whitish glisten. Harry knew it was a gift of the labyrinth, and smiled, because that was a part that had been left out of the story.
Malfoy snapped at him when he put in one finger, when he put in two, when he put in three. Only when Harry stroked back and forth, in and out, did Malfoy close his eyes and fight back a moan as soft as roses. "Yes, that will do," he whispered.
"I'm glad it will," Harry said, and his voice was fond and indignant both at once, and Malfoy reached up and clasped his free hand for a moment.
Harry put down the hawthorn wand so he could entwine his fingers with Malfoy's.
When he pushed inside Malfoy, it was slick as the oil, as hot as the roses, as tight as the squeeze of the labyrinth's walls. Harry had to close his eyes and bend forwards to rest his forehead on Malfoy's for a moment. Malfoy's triumphant laughter made him blink his eyes open and look down.
"I dreamed of this," he said. "A victory we could both win. A battle where you wouldn't defeat me." He squeezed his legs around Harry's hips and drew him forwards.
Harry fucked him in dream-motion, his knees pressing into the leaves, Malfoy moving beneath him in the golden autumn light that filled the labyrinth. Malfoy's legs opened and shut sometimes, and his mouth did the same thing. But more often, his mouth was full of Harry's tongue, and Harry's mouth was full of his, and all their whimpers and whispers were swallowed and drunk and consumed.
The roses rustled in a breeze that Harry couldn't feel. The stones of the walls around them began, ponderously, to dance. But he saw them only from the corner of his eye, since most of his focus was on Malfoy, so he couldn't be sure how much of that was real and how much came from his twisted perceptions because of the heat holding him.
Malfoy at last arched his back and yowled like a cat. The yowl spun up into regions of music and drove back down into Harry's head, into his back, into the muscles of his arse. He clenched and thrust.
Pleasure ate him, sweet as roses.
Draco opened his eyes.
The walls around them, which he remembered as honey-colored and sweet and comforting, were gone. They lay on leaves in the middle of the Manor gardens, which were sere brown where the walls had stood, golden and green otherwise, with the white peacocks fluffing and stalking around them.
Draco stirred. Potter lay heavy on his chest, eyes shut. Draco touched his cheek in wonder and watched his fingers dent the soft skin.
He wanted to be indignant. In his dreams, it hadn't been like this. He had either danced with a figure that he hadn't recognized as Potter, or he had fought with him, reliving the memories of their school career.
But they had passed into something that was neither dream nor memory. Draco didn't know what to call it. He only knew that they had always been going there.
He turned his head when he saw another movement from the corner of his eye, and saw his mother coming towards him across the gardens, clad in the long white dress and cloak he had last seen her in, her hands fluttering around her shoulders as though she didn't remember the last time she had had them. A peacock stalked up to greet her, the pale blue eyes in its tail like shadows on snow.
There would be seasons again, Draco thought. More than autumn. There would be colors other than gold, feelings other than pleasure, sensations other than the pressure of horns on his forehead.
He looked back down at Potter, who opened his eyes and regarded him. Those eyes were as green as the summer around them, as warm as spring, as dear as winter.
Draco smiled and bent his head to kiss Potter on the nose, because he could, because he wanted to, because he knew where they were.
Reality, at the end of the tale.