+Mens mea cupit cantare formas versas in nova corpora.+
(Ovid )

CHAPTER ONE

The cold, relentless wind that circled the top of the sky whipped through the spread feathers of Harry's wings. He felt a sharp updraft catch him and nearly roll him over, but an automatic correction kept him from an accident and soon he was flying steadily again, navigating the air currents much as if he had been born to them.

Not, he thought wryly, that he *had* - he was simply (or, not-so-simply) an Animagus, a human who had been lucky enough to stumble on the skill to transform into an animal. /No... not just transform,/ he told himself, recalling his early lessons with Minerva McGonagall, his Transfigurations teacher. It was one thing to take the form of a hawk or a cat or a large black dog, another thing entirely to think like it, to use its body in ways often contradictory to human instinct. And, once that was mastered, it was learning how to keep *himself*, his very mind, from devolving into something that was half human, half something else, and different from either. None of it had been easy, and he was still in awe of what his godfather, Sirius Black, and his friends had managed to do: become Animagi without the benefit of being taught.

"Trying to keep Peter's tail from being discovered was incentive enough to get it right," Sirius had told him once. Apparently, Pettigrew had finally mastered transforming into his rat state, but then the problem had arisen of getting *out* -- and one night, when they'd thought they'd conquered it, Pettigrew had ended up with his tail still attached. They couldn't burn it off, Sirius had said irritably, obviously impatient and uncomfortable with the memory, which meant communal showers had been awkward to say the least.

Harry would have smiled at the memory if he could. It was those that kept him human in his extended periods of hawk-ness - the good memories, times with Sirius and Remus, his adventures with Ron and Hermione, Quidditch, Hagrid... All those things. He never thought about the war if he could help it; thinking about that, even about victory, made him want to fly away and hide, because those memories brought back the awful, gripping fear that had held him for eight long years. They brought back the faces of all those who had died, sometimes memories of their actual death and others recollection of learning - learning how Dean Thomas and Parvati Patil had been killed in Exeter, how Cho had vanished one night and had been discovered a week later at an abandoned Death Eater camp...

Cedric, at the beginning of it all, who might have been the luckiest of all of them.

Desperately, Harry shook himself out of those thoughts and flew on, trying not to dwell too much on the sudden, sharp joy of flight. It was better even than flying on his old broomstick, which he could no longer do - a compensation better, maybe, than that thing it made up for losing, but still... it, in its own way, was a reminder.

/Can't I ever just *have* something?/ Harry wondered bitterly. He banked west along the line of a wind shear and dropped downward into calmer air, skimming over the high treetops of an ancient forest. Malfoy Manor had long since ceased to be a dot on the horizon, and he really didn't know where he was - he should just find a place to land, Apparate to Hogsmeade, fly directly to Hogwarts, and be done with it. Something in him resisted the inevitable call of common sense, and so Harry continued to skim on westward.

The day wore on and the shadows lengthened to transform the daylight into half-light, the sun going into hiding behind the clouds. Harry had no idea how long he'd been flying - one of the disadvantages to his hawk form was that he had no real concept of time anymore, only the vague animal time of hunger and the anticipation of coming night. He *was* hungry, he realized, and his hawk-form longed for something he could snatch easily out of the infinite forest beneath him, while his human-self was contemplating what would be on the banquet table...

... and what Ron's reaction would be when Harry would show up.

/Oh, shit./

Harry had sworn on his soul - and those of his parents and other important people in his life - that he'd be back before sunset. More, he had promised to be back before dinner (feeling ridiculously like a kid again), as Ron had told him he was *not* going to jitter his way through dinner wondering where Harry had gone, or if he had been killed... or held hostage by Draco Malfoy.

"Not," Ron had added with a leer, "that I would mind that at this point."

Sighing to himself at Ron's wretched perceptiveness, Harry dropped through the canopy of trees, angling sharply through the thicket of branches. The sharp ends of twigs scratched at him, trying to catch at his feathers, and some managed to drag painfully against his body, but at length, Harry made it to the black, eerie emptiness of the forest floor. No... not black, he thought, grateful for the keen eyesight his hawk form gave him. The world was cast in tones of grays, nothing truly black, and through it as if through a fog moved a bewildering variety of creatures - a fox, birds, squirrels his hawk-self wanted to snatch up, rabbits, the rustle of heather that betrayed an unseen wolf.

It took an effort, more than usual, to change back to his human form. Harry felt it, the shedding of his feathers, the inevitable loss of sight, and the return of pain with greater acuity than he typically did. He winced, hand dropping automatically to grip the cringing muscles of his thigh, and he thought that maybe, just maybe, if he squeezed hard enough the pain would stop - but this was a thought he had had a hundred times before, and no matter what he did, the constant aching tension never went away, but only spiked and dulled.

It was another exercise in near-futility to blank his mind enough to pull out his wand from wind-disheveled robes and concentrate on Apparition: an envisioning of a quiet street in Hogsmeade, a willing of his body to be there, the quick, endless skip in time of his discorporation, and then the split-second materialization of the long-familiar and welcoming front step of Honeydukes right next to him. The smell of chocolate and sugar made his stomach rumble rebelliously - he hadn't eaten all day, except for a hot-cross bun snatched just before leaving in the morning - but he made himself concentrate on transforming again into his hawk form.

More difficulty there; he knew from long experience that the more tired he was, or the more his leg hurt, his transformation would be all the harder. Still, he managed it and flew as fast as he could back up the slope to where the bulk of Hogwarts castle loomed before him. He circled past the Owlery, ignoring the indignant cries of the post owls at such an invasion of their domain, flew over the dark lake and the Whomping Willow (being careful, of course, to keep clear of it), and finally through his open window. The walls around him remained alien, the dwelling of a human, before he forced his mind to the task of transforming yet again.

/Thank God./ Harry collapsed on his bed in relief, burying his face in the pillows. He cracked one eye open enough to see that his clock on the wall read "Just about to be late for dinner," instead of the "Where the hell *are* you?" he had half-expected it to say. /Ron can't complain, then,/ he told himself by way of congratulation. /Not that he'd be complaining necessarily.../

A sharp rap on his door startled him from the haven of rumpled comforters and pillows, but Harry refused to move, instead bellowing for whoever it was to come in.

"You *are* getting to be a curmudgeon," Ron Weasley observed as he stepped in, ghosting soundlessly over the stone floor, an Auror habit he'd learned and something Harry had never quite gotten used to - to be truthful, it unnerved him a bit, even after all these years. Harry could hear the smirk in his friend's words, though, and it dispelled the sudden sense of unease at Ron's entrance. "I bet you'll be turning into Snape any day now."

"Can't. I don't want the Dark Arts job," Harry said into his blankets.

The mattress gave violently under Ron's weight as he dropped onto it, and the springs creaked in momentary protest. Harry sighed, realizing that his best friend was in indefatigably high spirits and what was even more rare, the kind of good mood that refused to be spoiled by someone else's bad day. Or, in this case, someone's bizarre day. Harry couldn't say the past few hours had been bad, by any stretch of the imagination... just strange.

"It's liver and onions today," Ron told him, "but you missed the tongue at lunch, at least."

"Blech." Harry *hated* liver and onions, mostly because it had been Dudley's favorite meal - consequently, Aunt Petunia had served it whenever Dudley decided he wanted to have it, which had been quite often. Even the smell of it was enough to completely ruin his appetite and even make him nauseous, which was what Ron said happened to him every time he came within smelling distance of corned beef. The thought of a freshly killed field mouse was starting to sound attractive. "Maybe I can get Dobby to make something separate, and I can eat in here," he said hopefully.

"If you do, I won't tell Hermione," Ron said, grinning a bit. Harry shared his friend's mirth, remembering Hermione's relentless campaign against the great injustice of the wizarding world. "On the condition," Ron added belatedly, "that you tell me what happened today."

"We talked," Harry said, mentally wincing a bit at the strange sort of stress that fell on the last word. Was he trying to emphasize the "just talked" aspect of it, to avoid Ron's teasing? Very probably. But there was also... /We talked,/ he thought wonderingly. "We didn't fight," he said aloud, pausing over the words. "We talked."

"So you said," Ron agreed. Harry looked for the joking in Ron's voice, but failed to find it. Risking it, he glanced up from his hiding place in his pillows to get a read on Ron's face if his voice was going to be so uncooperative - and he found hazel eyes gazing down at him soberly. His best friend's calm scrutiny was beginning to unsettle Harry when Ron finally said, "Good. I'm glad to hear it."

"I expected to be teased for this," Harry half-complained. "You're disappointing me here, Ron."

/When did I start trying to be the comedic relief?/ he asked himself, seeing that the only reaction he was getting from Ron was a brief smile that didn't even touch his eyes. The smile faded as quickly as it came and Ron studied his hands with great interest. Harry's gaze followed Ron's, caught and lingered on the unexpected gold flash of Ron's wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand. Ever since he and Hermione had been married, Ron hadn't been without that ring. At least, Harry had never seen him without it, and he knew that when Ron started fussing with it, there was something on his mind.

"Alright, Auror, confess," Harry commanded in his best Severus Snape impression. He had the silky, menacing drawl nowhere near right, of course - no one could manage it, not even Draco. /And when did we stop talking about Draco?/

"Hm?" Ron blinked sleepily and swiveled his head to look at Harry as if for the first time. "Did you... did you resolve everything?"

/Okay, so we *are* still talking about Draco./ Harry rolled over onto his back and stared up at the canopy of his bed. The scrollwork was fascinating, almost as much as the looming midnight-black precipice that was Ron Weasley in his Auror robes. /His *Auror* robes?/ Sure enough, the insignia of the Aurors - and the badge marking a member of the Order of Merlin, First Class - shone brilliantly against the black. /Not good./ Swallowing his trepidation, Harry made himself say, "Yes. At least, I think so. We managed to clear up everything in the past, anyway. The future, though, and now... I'm not so sure."

Ron relaxed a bit, although he ran an agitated hand through his hair. Hair, Harry saw (it struck him suddenly, as if seeing it for the first time), that was still impossibly red and bright, thick and starting to get longish. It had been short throughout the war, cropped very close to Ron's skull so at times it had been little more than orangey-red fuzz, but it had been done for good reason: Weasley hair was a painful, and for an Auror, lethal, identity marker. He didn't say anything, but the hand relaxed and fell back into Ron's lap, and after a moment, he told Harry he was glad of it in a voice that didn't sound convincing.

"There's something wrong, Ron," Harry said, squinting up at Ron's face, hurting a bit to see the stonewalled expression that was so very, very wrong on a face more accustomed to openness and honesty. "What is it?"

"It's Fudge." Ron's face might have been perfectly blank, but his voice was stretched wire-taut with strain.

"What about him? I thought you had him all... all squared away, y'know."

A derisive snort answered him. Ron tensed as if about stand up, but then he relaxed, leaning back into the intricately carved bedpost. "I thought so, too," he answered, his voice bitter. Whether the bitterness was for Fudge or himself, Harry couldn't tell - it was probably a little of both, knowing Ron. "Fudge wanted one of his little 'fireside chats', as he calls them just after you left, wanting to know why I had sent the rest of my team off looking for bewitched guinea pigs in Sussex - well, not that specifically, but just wanting to know why it was just myself and Draco going to Hogsmeade this morning. Apparently Lavender got in contact with him - even *after* I specifically ordered her to keep her mouth shut."

Something knotted inside Harry's stomach. /Oh, God./ "Ron," he said past the tension in his throat that threatened to make his voice either a scream or whimper, "is this going to be something that'll get you fired? Or face an inquiry? I don't want that for you."

"You know, Harry," Ron said, looking down at him with a face so old and serious it was for a moment the face of another man, "I sort of hope it does. Dealing with Fudge's paranoia, all the paperwork and the suspicion that anyone in the Ministry might turn out to be some Dark agent lurking... Honestly, I can't take it much longer. Maybe helping out you and Draco'll only put a faster end to this. I'm going the right way for an inquiry, anyway."

"Don't talk like that." The thought of Ron not being an Auror was vaguely frightening. "You're good at what you do. You *like* it, I think, even though Hermione doesn't sometimes."

"I did like it," Ron admitted. "It was... it was the first thing I was ever really good at, you know? But now it's all infighting and office politics and stuff, and you know." Ron stopped so suddenly and absolutely that for a moment Harry thought he was expected to know, or else guess. After a moment, though, Ron continued in a much lower voice that was, if possible, even more subdued. "Hermione and I were, well, thinking of starting a family - y'know, kids and all that - we've wanted to for a long time, but we never will so long as I'm an Auror.

"It's not fair!" Ron burst out in frustration, slamming a hand down on the bed. "It's not fair to bring up a kid with one parent who's never around, or who could die every time they go out to work. Listening to Mum tell old war stories sort of decided that for is, if anything..." His voice trailed off into nothingness, replaced by an acutely uncomfortable moment for Harry, who silently writhed in consternation.

"Ron, you're one of the best Aurors the Ministry has," he said at last. "I can't let you just throw that away because of me - quit, or something. Anything! I don't want to see Fudge try to drag your name through the mud. He's done it with anyone he can pull up for an inquiry - and you know it! You *know* it, Ron. He'll accuse you of all sorts of things, Order of Merlin or not, and you know people will believe him. I'm not worth it."

"If I quit," Ron said slowly, measuring out his words, "you won't be able to see Draco. Period. Fudge will make sure of that. At least I'm in a position where I can try to help you, even if it won't be much - and I can keep Draco alive, which is a lot more than ninety-nine percent of the other Aurors are willing to do. It was your request and only your request that got him sent into exile, Harry. It's the only thing really keeping him alive now - if it wasn't for that, I couldn't do anything."

"Just..." Harry sighed and shut his eyes tightly. "Just don't wreck your career or anything until we can figure something out. I'll take care of it - don't jeopardize yourself."

"Don't you see why *I'm* doing this?" Ron countered swiftly. He had straightened a bit and his somber hazel eyes stared down at Harry from their impressive height. "If you're allowed to be generous, then I am, too - I'm doing this because you deserve to try to find your happiness, for once."

"I..."

"Look, Harry, they'll have Draco under strict watch from now on," Ron told him softly. "I can't promise you anything, but I swear I'll try to get you through to him. I... you've come so far, and I guess Draco has, too - at least, farther than I've given him credit for - and you don't deserve to be shut down like this, especially because Fudge is playing one of his little power games. I'll make it, don't worry."

Tears threatened at the corner of Harry's eyes and his throat tightened to the point where breath was difficult. The canopy above him swam blurrily for a moment before Harry closed his eyes, but not before he could feel twin streams of warm saltwater trickle down the side of his face. /I don't deserve this,/ he thought desperately, trying to get a hold of himself before Ron would tell him he *hated* crying scenes and to cut it out already. /Ron... don't put off your own happiness for mine, because mine will probably never come./

"Bloody hell!" Ron snapped, pushing at Harry's shoulder forcefully. Harry's eyes popped open and he stared at his best friend, who was towering over him in indignation. "I don't need to be a bloody Auror to figure out what's going on in your head - I've only known you for sixteen years." The indignation faded a bit, but Ron's words were no less strong. "You *do* deserve it, Harry, and I should know; we've had years to hash this out, haven't we? And I know you haven't had an easy time of it even when you should have... And I know what's going to happen won't be easy, either, but you deserve all the help you can get. You bloody well *need* it."

"Thank you, Ron," Harry croaked.

"You're welcome," Ron said, plainly relieved by Harry's acceptance and unwilling to pursue serious discussion any further. "I swear, wizards today need manners knocked into them - you have no idea how many tries it took me to get Draco to say 'thank you' for the simplest things. I suppose he's rubbing off on you."

"Oh, and this coming from the man who used the word 'bloody' three times in three sentences?"

"You're going the right way for a smack upside the head, Potter."

* * *

Ron had been right - Dobby was overjoyed to make a special meal for "Harry Potter, sir" and not forty-five minutes later had presented him with a feast-in-miniature finished off by a banana rum bread pudding. Ron had left Harry to enjoy it in solitude, telling him that Hermione had something she needed to speak to him about, although the odd expression on his face had put 'talking' into question. Smiling a bit at Ron's complete transparency and squashing the jealous little voice at the back of his skull, Harry had packed away the last of his bread pudding, considered and rejected writing the promised Ravenclaw test, and fell into bed and into dreams without even bothering to take off his clothes.

Just barely, he had time to think that maybe he should stay awake - he was a habitual insomniac, too distrusting of his dreams to fall asleep easily and not willing to run the risk of taking sleeping medication. That thought had just a moment to form, though, before dreams chased it out of his head.

/I'm home,/ he thought, staring up at the serene old stone wall of his parents' cottage in Godric's Hollow. Everything was just as he remembered it, from the tidy front hedges to the white curtains in the windows, windows opened to let in the breeze and make the curtains dance like ghosts. He opened the gate and walked through it, paced up the stone walk between the gardens and placed his hand tentatively on the handle of the door. /Should I go in?/ he asked himself. /Of course, idiot... it's my house./

He stepped through the front door, turned, and closed it softly behind him. A sigh of familiarity shook his body as he took in the mirrored hallway and the infinite series of reflections of himself that stared back as he looked at them. "Mom?" he called. "Dad? I'm home!"

"Harry!" one of his reflections said happily, striding forward to place its hand on the glass separating them. "How was your day? Did you get all that work done you needed to get done?"

"Almost." Harry yawned and set down his briefcase. "I can finish the rest tomorrow, though - it's just a few more papers, that's all, and then I'll be done. Not a moment too soon, I say; I still need to figure out those essay questions to assign over Christmas break."

"You sound just like Minerva plotting out her classes in the staff room," another reflection said dryly. It reflexively brushed a hand through untidy black hair, revealing the lightning-shaped scar for a brief moment. "I remember sneaking into the staff room with Sirius once just to see what it was the teachers did when they weren't teaching us. It was... enlightening. For example... Hey, Lily, did you know about that birthmark Flitwick has on his -"

"Too much information," Harry moaned, covering his ears. "Hearing about it as a student is bad enough - I don't need to hear about it as a colleague. I'll never be able to look him in the face again."

"Speaking of looking people in the face, Harry," a third reflection said from behind him. Harry turned to face the door, puzzled as to who this person was and where they had come from (/Sirius? Remus? Ron?), but the reflection smiled at him impassively and continued: "You really should stop doing it."

Harry jumped awake with a strangled gasp, his heart pounding. /Oh, Merlin. God. What... what was that?/ The strangeness of his dream hit him full force. Talking with himself, or his reflections rather, in his parents' house - worse, thinking that his reflections *were* his parents and talking to them like they were... He remembered Ron saying something about how talking to oneself was not necessarily a sign of insanity, unless you answered back. /I can't be cracking up,/ he reassured himself. /You can't go crazy if you can tell yourself you're not going crazy. Crazy people aren't supposed to know they're going crazy./ He paused. /You *are* going crazy. Nutters. Certifiably barking mad./

The sheets and comforter had somehow gotten twisted around his legs and it was a struggle for Harry to extricate himself in the dark, mostly because he had left his wand on the table across the room. It took a minute to find it, but the relief was worth the effort as a simple "Lumos" incantation filled the room with light. Familiarity settled him down a little as he took in the room that had quickly grafted itself into his mind, a large and comfortable space with a window overlooking the Quidditch pitch and a large tapestry of lions and griffins worked in gold. His desk, stacked with yet-to-be-graded papers and the beginnings of the Ravenclaw test. /Might as well work,/ he decided. /Then I can pass out and *not* dream./

Stiffly, Harry shuffled over to his desk, purposely trying not to think of the ever-present pain and stiffness in his leg. He fairly collapsed into his chair and pulled the third-year Slytherin papers on Uses of Animate-Inanimate Transfiguration over to him, but didn't really see the writing on the neat scrolls of parchment. They blurred into insignificance and faded out like white noise, and Harry simply *sat.* Hermione had a word for that, when he would zone out, he remembered distantly. She said it whenever Ron did the same - just sat there silently and stared. "Being," she called it. "Just being, for a moment."

Harry stared blindly at the wall in front of him until it too blurred and he ended up gazing off into the middle distance, his mind slipping into a trance characterized by a pleasant sort of floating sensation, as if his body was hovering a few inches above his chair. A gradual warmth stole through him although the only light in the room was from his desk lamp, making his head loll a bit.

/If I hadn't saved you, but you'd still gotten away from our little meeting alive, would you have spoken up for me against the Ministry?/

/Yes... in a heartbeat I would have./ He answered the voice before he was even aware that it had spoken - Draco's voice, from the recess of memory - new, yes, but graven in Harry's consciousness as if his words had been spoken years ago. His answer was not the one given earlier, but it was the first truly felt response from his heart. Not true, not by a mile - his real answer had been one of cold logic, one Draco could understand. But the real answer, held close to him, was that yes... he would have saved Draco. He couldn't live with himself otherwise. /I can't describe it to anyone what it's like to think this about someone I should hate - it's beautiful and terrible and everything in between. I can't think of a life without feeling this way. Honestly./

He felt himself teetering on the edge of sentimentality but told himself fiercely, /Well, I *can't*./ And he couldn't - it was either a very great thing or a horrible thing to admit that he couldn't conceive of his world being His World without Draco Malfoy. How it had come to be like that Harry couldn't say, and he probably never could, only that the path that had taken him through the years from school to confrontation to now had changed him, had transformed Draco from an irritant to a hated object to one of curiosity and reluctant regard... And obligation that night, when Draco had spared his life because as Draco had brokenly told him he *couldn't* kill Harry, in this world or any other.

/I couldn't kill you. I never could./

Was that Draco talking to him? Or was it him, Harry? He shook his head, trying not to get bogged down in his own thoughts - he'd spent enough time in that morass for the past few years. /All I've done is *think*/ he sighed to himself. Except today; he had *done* today, had actually gone out and chased down an answer for himself, and now he held it to him, still uncertain of what to make of it.

/Come back, then. Any time. You're always... that is to say, you're welcome here./

Welcome... He had a sudden picture of Draco standing at a window overlooking the Cumbrian forests. Not with his fingers pressed against the glass, like a man behind prison bars, but simply standing there, looking out. Lifting himself out of his stupor, he shifted a bit to look out his own window, seeing the Quidditch hoops outlined darkly against the starlight.

/Come back, then. Any time./

And that thought was warmth. Harry stood and made his painful way over to his bed, extinguishing his desk lamp with a wave of his wand. Quickly he undressed, pointedly not looking at the twisted fallacy of thigh muscle visible where the boxer shorts didn't cover him, and slid under the covers. He focused on that one thought, played over the nuances of Draco's voice, a voice bereft of sarcasm and deception, holding only pure and honest hope and invitation. He thought it so hard it seemed for a moment that Draco breathed the words in his very ear, warm breath stirring black-and-gray hair ticklishly against his skin.

Harry smiled as he turned over and murmured a reply into his pillow, and fell asleep.