Mens mea cupit cantare formas versas in nova corpora.

(Ovid)

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

It was, Harry thought, like waking from a dream. All his life he had dreamed in terrifying clarity, and dreamscape was a place where pain had real, physical dimension to it – it was red and pervasive, as fierce in confusion and the dark as it was upon waking. There had been times when he'd felt the touch of dream-figures branding his flesh upon waking, phantom fingers touching him with real, tangible pressure; he'd heard his mother's screams and they'd echoed in his ears when he had woken.

So when he thought back over the past few weeks, the sharpness of the images (Ron's hair red as blood, face pale as death, Fudge a squat and leering demon on his pedestal, the pale glow of Draco's face in the blackness, the judges' faces mask-like) did not fade. What had happened had been strange, distorted, and he'd followed their paths with the calm acceptance of their illogic, as the dreamer does, allowing himself to be led through the twisted lanes of his own mind.

But he had not woken from it right away; even that one morning, with the sun filtering through the grime decorating the inn's window, with Draco pressed against him, warm, solid, one hand gripping one of his, hadn't been enough. In the first flush of realizing Draco was there, not dead, not in Azkaban, not back in cold exile, he hadn't known what to think, had clung instead to the insulation of unreality... and to Draco's hand, both anchors.

/"You'll leave marks," Draco muttered sleepily, pulling his hand free and inspecting it for injury. "What do you want, Potter, me to complain you're mistreating me our first day out? Are you in that big a hurry to go back to the Ministry? God, we just got shut of the place."/

And that had been what had done it, woken him up, hearing Draco's voice, warm and teasing in his ear – and how Draco'd tried after that Malfoy coldness, and it had failed so comically they'd both ended up laughing. And somewhere, mixed up in the laughter and relief and being young, had been Draco looking at him, very still suddenly, and then leaning in and kissing him... Harry'd almost flinched, startled, but it had been so easy to match his mouth against Draco's, to learn the pattern of his lips, the shush of breath over his cheek. Draco's hair had been rough as Harry had sifted it through his fingers, but the wash of morning light had made it fair, vibrant when moonlight had made it ghostly.

He could have gone on light that all day – would have, except Draco had broken away and announced that he was hungry. And, as though summoned, there'd been a knock on the door and Ron and Hermione had appeared – Hermione wearing a disapproving expression, because Ron had talked his way out of observation for the morning. But Ron had said he needed to talk to Draco about something, before he left...

/"You know, I probably should thank you, Weasley," Draco said, flat and expressionless.

"Yeah, well, don't strain yourself," Ron answered. "Is 'thank you' even in your vocabulary?"

"Thank you. Don't suppose 'you're welcome' is in yours?"

"You're welcome."/

And both of them had grinned at each other, Draco somewhat wryly and Ron with the unabashed Weasley grin and an evil light in his hazel eyes. He'd hugged Draco, who'd squeaked – most undignified, he complained later – and fought a bit before succumbing to the embrace and returning it.

/"He needs this," Hermione confided to Harry. She had lost the fierceness of earlier, and her eyes were soft as she watched her fiery, red-haired husband talk with his former enemy in quiet tones. "He really did come to know Draco well – we talked about it a bit, when he first decided to help you, and then some more last night." She sighed. "Maybe I need it, too. There's been so much hatred for so long... I want to let go of it. Need to let go, I guess – you can't raise a family like that."

"Thanks, Hermione," Harry said, slipping an arm about her shoulders. Hermione put an answering arm about his waist, frowned, said he was far too thin. And he started as the last part of her comment registered, and she turned to him with a teasing finger pressed to her lips and a light in her eyes.

"Breakfast, then," Ron said, decisively. Trust a Weasley to pick up on the barest mention of food, of course, and they ended up bringing it up from Tom's kitchen, because the new Daily Prophet had broken and Cynewulf had made the best of a good day's headlines; already the streets were buzzing with the news, consternation at the havoc of Diagon Alley, a thousand voices floating up from the streets./

- - -

Now they were sitting in a different kind of sunlight, more generous, warmer in the flush of the afternoon. They'd finished restoring Draco's possessions to his home, and the house-elves had fixed what Fudge's team of Aurors and other officials had broken or destroyed. Harry had seen the dismay on Draco's face as he'd taken in the damage, the relief when some treasure had escaped confiscation, anger in a moment, when the grey eyes had gone flat and cold. He wondered that Draco's moods had suddenly become clear to him, when for so long they'd been a mystery... or maybe it was the old school-days contempt Draco had worn, mask-like, that had fallen away to reveal the emotions beneath.

It had been three weeks since the Court had given their decision. Draco was to return to Malfoy Manor, and with Harry vouching for his behavior, would be allowed to "redeem his character," as Dominic had put it.

"If Severus Snape believed you capable of it," he had said, "then we must believe you capable of it, too. Best of luck, Mr. Malfoy."

"Thank you, sir," Draco had said, and genuine respect and gratitude had been in his voice.

Harry found it difficult to think of that day; even with victory coloring the taste of it, the memories of the Court were still dark and forbidding, laced with a fear that even Draco's kisses, his touch – warm, pliant flesh on Harry's own – could not drug away. So he shied away from the memories, preferring to hold on to what was Now: mouths becoming more familiar with each other, hands bolder, and in the quiet of night the hush of breath over bare skin, moonlight shading and gilding the contours of muscle, a kinder darkness.

What were they, anyway? Lovers? Harry wanted to laugh at the term, it was that unlikely, that absurd. Boyfriends? The same again. Friends, maybe... Companions. Friends. Of a sort, if you could call this half-transformed, fledgling thing friendship for lack of a better word, and he decided he would stay with that. His time here was drawing to a close; there was still a term to finish out, and so many things to do, and the question would stagnate, maybe, in the press of the real world and responsibility. He would visit, of course, but visiting would have to wait... He shook himself away from the future, and allowed himself the present. Now.

And this Now had a different sort of satisfaction, sitting and pretending to be working on some papers Minerva had sent up to him, cup of tea at his elbow, Draco sprawled across the sofa with head on his lap, reading Snape's journals. He was reading in the sunlight, pale hair on fire like finest gold where it spread over Harry's jeans ("Ridiculous Muggle clothing," Draco had sniffed, before asking where he could find a pair), and it was hard for Harry to not card his fingers through it, to touch even simply and not with a request for more.

"Hey," Draco said, breaking into Harry's reverie, "listen to this:

"'I don't think I ever had quite so horrific a day as the day I discovered Harry Potter would be coming to Hogwarts. There is not room enough in the human head for the memories his name brought back, and there is certainly not enough anger and resentment sufficient enough to... to what? Sustain me? I was furious, of course: furious, at a man who was years dead, for making my life the hell that it was. I owed him nothing, for what he did to me in school; I owed him everything, for saving my life. And the form my debt took, ultimately, was his carbon-copy – a boy with all his attitude, his blithe way of trampling over anything and everything that got in his way.

"'I could never decide if the Potter line was extraordinarily resilient or extraordinarily stupid: kick them down, and the buggers get back up again. Perhaps there was no beating James (or Harry – I admit this reluctantly) because they simply refused to acknowledge defeat. It's a sickening thought, really.

"'So one day, in my bitterness, I told myself: "Let him taste it, let him know what it is like to be weak and helpless, at the mercy of a force so great not even his pride, his bravery can stand against it. Let him hear his own pleas, the echo of his own fear in his head, and let him know the futility of struggling against that which cannot be mastered. As the old song says,

'/Hac in hora, sine mora cordum pulsum tangite quod per sortem sternit fortem mecum omnes plangite./'

"'Except I will not be lamenting; I do not expect to see that day. But let it come.'

"And then he talks about some of what Dumbledore had wanted him to do, but not much..." Draco stopped talking and looked up. Harry stared down at him, worried suddenly by the seriousness in Draco's face, but unable to look away.

"Did you ever feel like that?" Draco asked quietly. "Crushed?"

Harry opened his mouth to say of course not, that he'd known exactly how things were going to turn out. But the expression in the grey eyes demanded truth, and the lie was a shield. So Harry nodded, not trusting himself enough to speak, hoped that the gesture would be enough to satisfy Draco's curiosity.

"But you kept going."

"I..." Harry coughed, trying to clear the knot out of his throat. "I didn't want to," he confessed quietly. "I was terrified, and everything had been going wrong. Fudge had you and Ron, and practically the entire Ministry in his pocket. And then when I saw you two in Azkaban, it nearly killed me. Seeing you, and the hopelessness of that place."

"But you kept going."

"It hurt," Harry whispered. "Every day it hurt, not knowing."

Draco sat up and twisted around on the couch to face Harry directly. "You saved me," he said softly, seriously, and in a tone that did not suffer Harry's negation. "You kept going – and I told you so many times that no one would have done that for me, not one of the Death Eaters, maybe not even my parents. That's not a small thing..." He trailed off, shook his head, and when he spoke again the light voice was thick, heavy with emotion: "That means... it means a lot to me, and I'm not going to let you weasel your way out of it, being all modest and crap."

Harry smiled crookedly, touched the fair face with his fingertips, felt the tracery of cheekbone and jaw. "You were worth it," he said. /Thank you, Ron./ And then, with a flash of his old spirit: "I'm not going to let you weasel your way out of that one, either, being all modest and crap."

"No one's ever accused a Malfoy of being modest," Draco said, leaning in. Harry smiled into the kiss, reveling in the familiarity of the mouth against his, the tongue delicately plying his lips open to slip inside. Draco's fingers laced through his hair, pulling him closer, and although the position was awkward, Harry leaned into Draco's body, felt the warm, vital heat of him.

After a moment they broke apart, but still stayed close, breathing each other in, and Draco's fringe dusted across Harry's cheek, tickling him. And Draco, being evil, perverse, Draco, said into the silence:

"We have Fudge to thank for this, you know."

Harry leaned back, stared at Draco. Draco grinned back at him unrepentantly. "Fudge?" Harry managed to choke out after a moment, when shock loosened its grip enough for him to speak. "What in hell do you mean, Fudge?"

"I mean," Draco said patiently, "we owe him a lot, really. The old bastard managed to do something right, even though he probably didn't mean to."

"You're going to have to explain that."

Draco sat back and crossed his legs, and the grin faded a bit as his voice shaded into seriousness. "I remember one of the judges at my trial – Sprenger, I think, maybe – saying that Fudge had gotten hold of Severus' journals because he thought maybe they would incriminate me, or other people. And you know, the second I heard that... I knew it was okay. Or, it would be okay... because I had read them, and I knew what was in them."

He drew a breath and plunged on. "Fudge... he was reading Severus' journals for condemnation and retribution, maybe justice, or what passes for justice with him. And he found it, but it really wasn't the kind he was wanting. It was... it was simple truth, I guess. Severus just wrote the things; he didn't want power, or a reward, just to get things off his mind, and to let me know how he'd ended up the way he'd ended up." Draco shrugged. "And maybe he wrote it because he hoped, if I ever saw it, I'd change.

"Azkaban was..." Shiver here, and Draco leaned back against Harry, resting along the curve of his torso. "It was so dark, so lonely – I thought so much there, trying not to know where I was. But I ended up thinking about all the people during the war, and what Severus said got all mixed in with it, and before I knew it..." He shook his head. "I was crying almost every day. I was seeing people who'd died during the war – my parents, other Death Eaters, people we'd captured. Anyone. Everyone. They came to me. Severus came to me."

"Don't go back to that place," Harry whispered, pulling Draco tight against them. "I can't go back there."

"I'm not," Draco said. "Never will. But I... I guess that's what I meant about Fudge. I changed, Harry... you changed me, guilt changed me. Everything. I had to step across that line, because it was either change or die however you die in Azkaban."

Harry could only nod. What do you say, he thought, after something like that?

"I'm not saying we should send the man a card or anything," Draco said, and Harry had to grin at the desperate lightness in his tone. "But you know, it's strange, how good things come with the bad."

"It is." Harry was muttering the words into Draco's hair. "But you know... yeah, it's true. I've learned not to question that. Just let it be."

- - -

Evening drew on, and it was with regret that Harry looked out to see the fading sun. There were responsibilities pressing on him, even though he wanted desperately to stay... /You're running again,/ a small, accusing voice said. /Running, running. Stay./ He shrank from the thought. Staying was... was permanent. Too much was ingrained in him; he was made up of loss, unused to the idea of keeping. /Become used to it./

/I... I can't,/ he thought despairingly. Saw that Draco was looking at him oddly, and the journals on his lap were closed.

"Well, I should get going," Harry said at last. His voice was very small, thin and unsure in the shadows of the evening and the great room. "I've got tests to grade, and I'm sure Minerva will give me hell for making all the other professors do my work..."

"I'm sure she will," Draco answered smoothly. He stood in a rustle of cloth, dusted himself off dramatically. "Come on," he said, gesturing for Harry to follow him, "I'll walk you out."

Silently, Harry followed Draco through the empty halls. His footsteps echoed on marble tile, the sound of his breath – which seemed loud, all of a sudden – wrapped about the statues, the drapes, all the fine things that surrounded him. Draco walked ahead, another fine thing, and the light from the great hall windows was tinged red by the westering sun and painted his hair, the skin at the back of his neck, with radiance.

They stopped at the door in the atrium and Draco opened it to the twilight. A cool evening wind brushed across Harry's skin, rich with the scent of the forest. Reluctantly, uncertain of what to do, he stepped outside, drew a breath with lungs that felt suddenly too tight, too small for such a thing as breathing. He turned around, saw Draco standing there, and he didn't know if it was the light, or his own fancy, the force of wishing, which made Draco's eyes glitter.

Didn't know, wished he could ask, ached to do it – and why couldn't he, after these weeks together? /Ask him, ask him,/ a fierce voice chanted, but his throat locked and there was no breath in him for words, and so he prayed that Draco would look and see the question he could not ask, for fear.

"You're welcome to stay," Draco said.

/Do I have to leave?/ he had wanted to ask.

/You're welcome to stay... You're always... that is to say, you're welcome here./

"I will," Harry whispered. "Stay, I mean. Thank you. Thank you for making me welcome."

His hand, he would remember, had been on the post of the door. Draco's hand had covered it, and then had drawn him back inside.

END

Curiosa:

The quotation is the opening line of Ovid's Metamorphoseon: "My mind desires to sing of forms changed into new bodies." The title is borrowed both from Ovid's poem, specifically the section describing the transformation of the youth Narcissus into the flower that now bears his name, and also from the Salvador Dali painting inspired by it (I've got a copy of it hanging in my study. It rocks!) You can see it here:

www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=2987&tabview=text&texttype=10

The lines of poetry in Severus' journal are from "O Fortuna," found in the 12th century collection of Latin/vernacular songs now popularly called the 'Carmina Burana' made famous by Carl Orff. "O Fortuna" is probably the best-known, and the lines Severus quotes are the final ones:

'In this hour, without delay, strike the throbbing string, lament with me how the great man is crushed by fate.'

Post-fic notes:

Once again, I would like to thank all of you who have ever read this and told me about it for your feedback and kind support. I began this almost two years ago, and so many of you have stayed with me through thick and thin, and it's truly incredible and humbling to look back through the reviews and see some of the same names cropping up with words of encouragement, praise, coercion, etc.--and there have been several times when kindly-meant remarks have served as a goad to get me writing again, when I was otherwise stalled out or fallen flat.

Special thanks to the LJ crew (Aja, Taradiane, and Dorrie) for recc'ing this to the world at large and being so supportive and generous, Shezan of HPFanficRecs fame, and Sarvi & co. at the Potter Slash Archive for giving this fic another home. Specialest thanks go to Ash, who has been a dear fandom friend for going on four years now and has read uncomplainingly almost everything I've ever written. hearts

I only wish there was a better way to express my gratitude to all of you guys.

Agimus, carissimae, grates.

--HF., aesc.livejournal.com

[05.18.2004]