Here in the coldest place on Earth there is warmth. Happiness, of a kind.
Home is close.
The wizard and the creature of ice close their eyes and sleep.
Sometimes his dreams were like Bludgers striking him during Quidditch -- sometimes a glancing blow, sometimes a full-on smack to the head -- and he would almost wake. Almost, but never quite completely. He would twitch a little as part of his mind remembered where he was, but as soon as his mind turned itself to his companion he would drift away again, lulled by the music of the storm raging outside their burrow and knowing that while it sang he was safe.
The dreams that hit him hardest were the ones when he was screaming into the darkness. Sometimes he was shouting with anger, sometimes with fright, and colours would shatter from him in great, luminous sheets. Usually, though, he was yelling into the black void because Ron or Hermione had fallen into it and he couldn't see them any more.
He'd be shouting their names and then realise that they couldn't hear him. Then he'd try to dive into the great darkness only to trip on his shoelaces. Aurors and Death Eaters kept hexing his shoes so that he couldn't go and help his friends.
Harry would start screaming then, and wake up.
Then he would half-listen to the wind and know that the one who was still with him slept, too. So Harry knew that his screams were just in his head or he'd have woken <sunonice>, and Ron and Hermione were safe at Hogwarts.
I miss them so much... he thought.
And then he would drift away again.
In between those dreams he would find himself looking down on his body. It should have been freaky, but instead he found it fascinating: there were small, threadlike worms weaving silk lattices through him. With their faint rainbow sheen the worms were coloured like oil spots on the road after rain, and the silk they spun in him had no colour he'd ever seen before. He only knew it was more beautiful than any other colour there was.
The trouble was that after those interludes of quiet joy, Harry would find himself in worse and worse dreams, until the final one.
It was Voldemort. He was standing over a cradle with a baby in it.
Harry knew how this story went: he'd lived through it.
His mother hadn't.
But this time the lady who ran to protect her child wasn't a green-eyed red-head. The new woman was just as protective of her baby as Lily Potter had been, but she had dark eyes and brown hair. She was very familiar, but Harry couldn't quite place her in his memory.
Okay, it wasn't his mum. Just some person. So maybe he didn't need to get involved.
Harry drifted over to the cradle. No, the baby wasn't him -- it had fine black hair, yes, but the hair curled against her skull. When she yawned and opened her eyes, they gleamed like a night with no moon. There was no fear in them -- Harry wondered if he had known fear before Voldemort AK'd his mum and dad.
Voldemort raised his wand to kill the baby.
It was Harry's nightmare, true.. But all Harry had to do was let it happen to someone else and he would be free.
The woman (who is she?) braced herself to take the curse.
And Harry realised he couldn't let this happen, and stepped up to the figure that had haunted his nightmares and said: "I don't need you anymore."
Voldemort glared. "Sssilly boy," he hissed, sounding like his snake Nagini than he had in real life. "I am not yours to banish -- you are mine to usssse."
Harry looked deep into those mad red eyes.
"No," he said quietly, feeling an almost unbearable rightness in every fibre of his body. "No. I never was yours to use. I just accepted it. And now that I'm not going to accept it anymore, you are no use to me. Oh, and just for the record, your glares have nothing on Snape's."
Voldemort didn't like that, and hissed his displeasure. As the Dark Lord pointed his wand at Harry, Harry realised he didn't have his wand.
"OWWWW!!!" Voldemort dropped his wand as he fell backwards. He sat up and cupped his face with his hands. "'Oo 'oke ai 'ose!" he whimpered.
Harry shook his hand, but punching out Voldemort hadn't hurt as much as the last time he'd hit Goyle. Then again, Goyle's thickness was probably matched by his bone density.
Harry sighed as Voldemort stood up again. Now his glare just made him look like Gilderoy Lockheart finding out he'd come runner-up in the Witch Weekly Best Smile Award.
"You know, this would be easier if you just disappeared in a puff of smoke or something," Harry told him.
"'on't ee im-er-in-ent! I am the 'Ark 'Ord. Ow own e-ore ee!"
"Um, I think it was something about how you're impertinent and he's the Dark Lord, and you're meant to bow down before him," said Helen Snape, and now Harry remembered her.
Harry narrowed his eyes as he looked down at the erstwhile Dark Lord. He felt the bile rising up inside him thick like concrete, integral as bone, and as wanted as vomit. He wanted to rip and tear and kick and bite and rend until... and none of that would bring back his parents or his childhood or Voldemort's victims.
Something shifted in his chest. If he concentrated on it he could feel it like the melting rainbow patterns he remembered from earlier dreams. One bubble floated apart from the others and tickled his heart.
It shifted something.
That little something moved in his chest.
He grabbed his throat as he started choking, and staggered, dropping to his knees.
His vision blurred and for a moment he thought he was going to die, but the sight of Voldemort's red eyes boring into him with such glee gave him strength he didn't know he had...
With one final rib-cracking cough, something shot out of his throat and pattered across the floor.
It was small and round in a pale capsule that reflected back all the colours in nature. The capsule popped like a soap bubble when Harry prodded it, leaving behind a little grey pebble.
Harry glared at it.
"How would you like to deal with him, Harry-chick?"
"Huh? Sorry?" He looked up. Helen seemed unaware of his latest brush with death and was looking down at him curiously, with her head cocked to the side in the way that meant she wasn't sure what the crazy human was up to but hoped to find out soon because it appeared fascinating.
"Well, this is your dream, but I've got a flame-thrower because you never know when these things come in handy, and Wiri left his chainsaw downstairs because after Rona finished clearing out her Negative Ego there were intestines all through Maman's house and she told Wiri to ‘hide the bloody thing or else', and Sev's always got a bit of poison tucked away for a rainy day, and --"
"I'd better check..." He picked up the pebble and stood up to examine Voldemort, who had a sulky look on his face now that the Boy Who Lived seemed to be going on living after all. "Here," he said, holding out the pebble that sat cold and malignant in his hand; it felt like turning up after surgery and being told to hang on to the tumour that had just been removed. "I don't need you, and I don't need this. If you take it and leave, it's over. You can go peacefully. I won't stop you, because I know that you're not needed any more. But you aren't staying."
Voldemort glared up at him, but didn't move.
Harry sighed and squeezed his fist until the pebble was dust. "Okay, be like that, then. Helen?"
"I'll have the flame-thrower, thanks. It's handy."
Helen reached into the cot. "Sorry, darling," she cooed to the baby as she pulled out a long nozzle from under the mattress. "But Uncle Harry needs to borrow the Burny Thing. He'll give it right back, I promise." She levelled a stern stare at Harry. "Uncle Harry will, won't he?"
"Of course Uncle Harry will."
"There's a dear." She handed the nozzle, which was attached by a long tube to a tank in which something sloshed and sent out petrol fumes, to Harry, and buckled the tank around his waist. Then she picked up her daughter and left, adding over her shoulder, "Don't worry, I fireproofed the curtains, and the walls are Gib with Pinkbatts behind them for insulation. Just be careful of the crib -- it's been in Rona's family for generations!"
Voldemort made a noise that sounded like, "!!!" as she closed the door. "'et's 'alk a-out it, 'Aa-ee!" he squeaked, sounding more like Wormtail, now.
"No. We've done all the talking we need to do."
Harry smiled a small, grim smile, hefted the flame-thrower, and barbecued Voldemort.
He didn't stop until the Dark Lord was well done.
The next time Harry found himself on the edge of the black pit, no enemy was stopping him.
He dived in.
Strange: from the outside it seemed to be endless darkness. But now he was here he was swimming through a bottle-green sea. It wasn't clear, and in the distance visibility was lost in floating sediment, but it wasn't as frightening as the few times Harry had lost his glasses and been forced to cope until he found them again (or, more usually, Dudley laughed, called him a four-eyed git, and chucked them back at him. It was nice not to need Dudley anymore, either, Harry realised).
It was like swimming, but apart from the slight drag on his limbs the water didn't feel like water. It wasn't hot and it wasn't cold, and for some reason he could breathe. Or maybe not: Harry just didn't feel like he needed to bother at the moment.
Above him was the surface, but it looked sullen as if a storm was going on. Underneath were small fish (so I am underwater!), each guarding a small patch of seafloor. Harry didn't know fish could be territorial, but as he watched, one fish went too far into another's turf and was chased off.
As soon as the pursued swam a certain distance, it turned around and started to chase its pursuer.
Harry started to laugh.
How did those fish know who owned what? It was all so much sand to Harry, but the two fish seemed to know down to the last fraction of an inch where the boundary of their territories were!
The fish were engaged in a Mexican stand-off now, glaring at each other in piscine righteousness.
They were so involved with each other, and Harry so involved in watching them, that none of them noticed the shadow until it was too late.
The water swirled and great arcs of sand churned up and Harry tumbled over and over and over.
Luckily he was used to being tossed around from Quidditch, and he quickly regained his bearings and looked back to see if the fish were okay.
One looked quite shocked, and was hiding under a bit of rock.
The other was gone.
Harry felt a bit sad about that, and he also felt sorry for the one that was hiding. But it seemed to have a memory of only ten seconds if it was lucky, and very soon it was back to patrolling its patch of sea floor like the little Napoleon it was.
Harry looked around to see what had attacked them.
When he looked up he could see silhouetted against the surface something white swimming towards the light. He squinted: it was easy to lose track of the creature as it seemed to blend in with the waves overhead.
For ten, twenty seconds it hung there outlined with thin strands of filtered light from the prisms of the waves breaking around it, and it seemed to Harry as if the world had turned upside down to let something so bulky hang up in the air like a zeppelin.
Then he remembered that he was having a dream about being underwater -- that meant nothing needed to be strange.
The streamlined bulk curved with a lazy stroke of the tail. As it rolled away from the surface to begin its dive, Harry saw that it wasn't white like he'd thought. Yes, its belly and under-tail was white, but otherwise it seemed to be black. It looked a lot like the whale that had eaten Warder Dibbles.
It's a murderer.
No, Harry corrected himself, animals don't commit murder. People do that.
Whales were meant to be gentle giant fish, anyway. Weren't they? It was a good theory, but putting the theory to the test made Harry hesitate. Besides, Hagrid was often described as a gentle giant, and he was gentle except in the way he underestimated other people's strength. Maybe whales were gentle like Hagrid, but could still kill someone accidentally. The first time Harry had talked to <sunonice> he'd been put in mind of a big kitten. Dangerous, but not malicious. Simply a predator working to its practical view of the world. Had the whale been taste-testing Dibbles?
Harry snorted a stream of bubbles.
Nope. The whale had been hunting. <sunonice> was most definite about that, and as a predator, he should know. Thinking of <sunonice> reminded Harry of what he had said about the whale stinking of a taniwha's power.
Okay, so it was just a possessed whale.
Oddly that didn't make him feel any happier.
Maybe it's a different whale.
Hmm. That was a likely possibility.
Besides, Harry reminded himself, he was dreaming. And, unlike the earlier dreams, this one didn't feel murky with suppressed tension. It felt good. Like waking up on an early Autumn morning to go out with the Gryffindor team for an early Quidditch practice when there was a light mist threading through Hogwarts carrying the smells of cinnamon from the kitchens, burning leaves from Hagrid's bonfire, and fallen apples from the orchard behind the greenhouses, it was the feeling of his home being completely right.
It was very much like Quidditch: Harry kicked off against the bottom of the sea and darted up through the water until he was cruising just behind the whale, angling his body to change direction the same way he'd fly a broom.
Wow. The whale was a lot bigger than he'd thought.
It was one of those weird mental leaps; Harry knew whales were big, they were metaphors for it. But being this close suddenly put an actual value on "big."
Going by the lazy way the tail undulated up and down, the whale wasn't in a hurry, and hopefully it wouldn't hurt Harry if he got too close.
Greatly daring, Harry swam up behind it.
Too late, he realised his mistake.
"H- hey -- whoa!"
The current those flukes made was powerful and spun him out of control. Harry spiralled away into the green depths.
After a lot of arm and leg waving, Harry straightened himself out in the water. Another second later and he realised that the surface of the water looked a lot like the bottom of the sea. He was upside-down.
He cursed, and somersaulted around to look for the whale.
There it was -- heading over to one of the big, blue chunks of ice that made inverse hills with their peaks occasionally brushing the seafloor. The whale seemed quite interested in the icebergs. As Harry watched, it raised itself so that it seemed to be standing up in the water, and poked its head out into the air.
Maybe it was looking for another wizard to eat, Harry thought, grinning. Lucky it couldn't see him.
He had never been a strong swimmer, but when he kicked his legs he found he was swimming as easily as one of the merfolk. He grinned wider. The whale was unaware of him even after Harry's shout, which meant Harry could swim alongside it.
He decided to swim next to the whale, just a little way back behind the front leg (fin? Flipper...? Whatever the heck it was called). Maybe there he wouldn't get knocked around by the backwash.
The spot he settled in was below and a little to the side, just right for cruising. The whale set up a submarine slipstream that carried Harry along with little effort of his own. Harry just had to stay alert for sudden changes.
But the whale seemed quite content simply to nose about the edges of the ice shelves, occasionally bumping one with its blunt nose. It surfaced often for air, although it seemed to prefer to breathe around the edges of the ice rather than just off the beach, which was made up of a steep pebbly slope that made grinding noises as the waves broke against it. The noise made Harry's fingernails itch. Maybe the whale found the noise of the pebbles as annoying as Harry did. The first time Harry followed it as it went up for air in the centre of the bay, Harry could see why it didn't like it there: the storm had blown the water into choppy waves that would have made it difficult for the whale to breathe.
That was something that had been niggling at Harry for a while now -- the whale breathed air.
When Dudley was nine he'd been given a goldfish. "Jaws" had lasted all of two weeks before being flushed down the loo. Harry had been blamed, of course. He hadn't bothered to protest that Dudley was the one who wanted to see if the goldfish could swim back up the U-bend. By nine he'd learned that no-one would have believed him because "Darling Duddykins" could do no wrong.
One thing Harry had learned from Jaws' brief stay at number four, Privet Drive, was that fish don't have lungs. Almost as soon as it had arrived Dudley had taken the fish out of the bowl to see if it could learn to breathe air.
It hadn't, of course, and Harry, furious at the cruelty, had popped Jaws back in its bowl and given Dudley a black eye.
Aunt Petunia's revenge had been to lock Harry in his cupboard for as long as Dudley's eye remained bruised.
When the darkness got too close around him and he began to wonder if he'd ever get out, Harry remembered the way the gills had opened and closed helplessly as the fish drowned in air.
When Harry had finally been let out Dudley had sent Jaws on his final swim. And then he laughed at Harry, who had been too slow to save the fish, and went downstairs to tell his parents what Potter had done to his fish.
The day after the goldfish got flushed, Dudley came down with severe bronchitis that quickly developed into pneumonia. His parents were so pale and grim with they didn't even bother to scold Harry when he washed the dishes too loudly. Uncle Vernon took time off from Grunnings. Aunt Petunia spent every minute of every hour she was allowed at the hospital sitting silently at her son's bed. The one time Harry had been taken to visit him in the hospital Dudley had been gasping like that goldfish out of water.
He'd never connected the two incidents before, and now he wondered if it was just another manifestation of his magic.
Maybe the Dursleys had been right to be frightened of him.
Harry shook off the uncomfortable thought by looking up at the whale again. He swam out to the side a little to check.
Nope, no gills.
Maybe this was a fish that didn't breathe water. Maybe this was the descendant of a fish who'd been taken out of the oceanic equivalent of a fishbowl and learned to breathe air instead.
Maybe it wasn't a fish.
Apart from the lack of gills it certainly looked like a fish. Fins, tail, general ability to swim... But did that mean it had to be a fi...?
Harry paused in his line of reasoning. There were noises nearby. Strange high noises he could feel as an itch in the bone rather than a twitch in the ear.
They seemed to be coming from the whale.
Harry swam closer to the whale's head. He was careful not to get too close to that front flipper, because although it was stubby it looked like it could give him a fair smack over the head if he got in its way.
He could almost hear it. Like the funny percolations he sometimes heard running up his spinal cord in his neck in the middle of the night when everything was still, it tickled his marrow and, while not exactly comfortable, was pleasing in its uniqueness.
After some time spent listening to the whale in this way as it swam around, Harry began to recognise different sounds. When the whale was close to something interesting it would use higher frequency, but when it turned its head to eye the darker distances the sounds would lower into distinct clicks. The sounds seemed more and more important the longer he listened until he began to wonder if the whale was talking. Maybe it was trying to talk to Harry. The dark eyes were sited in front of white patches, and it was easy to miss them if you weren't looking. Harry waved his hand in front of one but the whale didn't react.
Oh well. Maybe it wasn't trying to communicate with Harry.
They swam out from behind the shade of an iceberg and Harry admired the way the light that came spinning down in fractured arcs from the waves splayed over the dark hide. Just behind that tall fin that jutted up from its back was a lighter V of grey skin that rippled down its side. It would look like a patch of light if it was seen from above, and maybe that was to help hide the animal.
It hadn't hidden it that well in the past. Harry could make out marks in the whale's skin that looked like old scars. Unless all whales went around getting beaten up by sharks on a regular basis, it looked like he'd found Dibbles' killer.
Harry took a closer look.
Funny. One long set of parallel scars running from the back down the flank didn't look like tooth-marks; it looked like at some point in its life the whale had been attacked by something with claws.
Harry hadn't seen any, but it didn't mean there weren't any around.
Those scars were old but they'd been deep and it was amazing the whale had survived out here in the ocean with no Madam Pomfrey to heal it.
Feeling the phoenix part of him stir in sympathy, Harry reached out and brushed his hand over the whale's flank.
When the world stopped spinning, Harry was back in the ice burrow, very much awake and very much astonished.
The way the whale had startled defied physics. Surely nothing that big could move so nimbly? Or so fast. The tail hadn't actually touched him, but the force of it churning the water had flattened Harry's chest and made his eyes pop before he tumbled away over and over and over until he woke.
When Harry tried to touch his fingertips together it was a moment before he remembered he was still wearing gloves. In the last split second of the dream he'd actually brushed his fingers against the skin of the whale. It had felt so solid. The skin had been slippery, even slimy with sloughed skin, if a little rough, and then the world had exploded.
Despite the gloves Harry rubbed his fingers together and tried to hold on to the memory.
But in the way of dreams it was fading and losing details, leaving behind the memory of green water sleeping beneath a storm and the great peace he'd found there.
His nose itched. When he rubbed it on the back of his hand the glove came away bloodied.
Omigod, he thought. But it was a dream... But after visions of Voldemort hurting people when he'd woken with his scar threatening to split his head open Harry knew that it was possible to be hurt in a dream. Oh well. He was alive, that was the main thing. His nose stung and he felt tears well; one dripped, and then the pain in his nose was completely gone.
Well! thought Harry, pleased. It looks like phoenix Animagi can heal themselves! He looked to see if <sunonice> was awake. Hopefully he hadn't been roused by the smell of Harry's blood.
The Ice Dragon was still asleep. Outside the storm winds blew and he was still stranded on the last continent in the world and he didn't doubt that the Ministry of Magic was still hunting him.
But right now his stomach was growling for food and for some reason he was in a better humour with the world than he could remember being in... in... since when? Had he ever felt this confident and at peace?
Had he ever felt this whole?
Harry shrugged to himself, pulled out a sandwich, and bit into it ravenously. He'd deal with tomorrow when it arrived. Right now, today felt very good indeed.
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