<<YOU HAVE NO PLACE HERE, TANIWHA, AND YOU SHALL NOT TAKE WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY OURS.>>
After placing her hand on Snape's head and whispering a single word that started him breathing again, Grandmother Taniwha had pulled out of the air a cloth of darkness speckled with stars and wrapped it around her descendant. Now Snape's eyes were still closed but his colour was better, if still pale. Harry would have sworn Snape had been dead, but apparently Grandmother Taniwha was prepared to bend the rules for her family. That was encouraging. Smoothing the wrinkles in the blanket to make sure no chilly draught would tip Snape back into the taniwha's realm, Harry crouched beneath the moving shadows that composed the taniwha as she turned to face the King.
She folded her arms in her cloak and Harry was struck by the controlled violence in that simple movement. He had seen Snape do it hundreds of times and never noticed how deliberate an act of self-control it was. When the taniwha lifted her face up to the King her stillness became that of the eye of the hurricane.
Why claim you my child? And from what dishonour do you say I have no place here?
When the taniwha spoke her voice brushed soft through Harry's ears like the gentle gurgle of the stream that fed into her pool. In the same way she was made from the shadows of living things, her words were shadows of sound.
Feel the stone beneath the ice. Feel the memory of ferns. Feel the cold bones of your ancestors embedded in the rock. Feel the birthplace of spirits and know that this is where I was born.
My mother is Night and Death, but she cherishes light and life. And she saw that in the dying of one land would come the birth of a nation. But she also saw it would not come easily and so she left me, her Guardian, to be yours for a time.
When the ancient land of Gondwana was broken and the island continent of India drifted north spewing poison and ash, I was here. I sheltered you from the burning rain.
When the fire that fell from the sky turned the day to night, I was here. In the winter I whispered to you of your legends and gave you dreams and hope. In the summer months when the dark still clung to the world and food could not be seen, I was your eyes.
And when the last of your flesh-bound ancestors took their final breath my Karakia formed the path to their next place and it was I who gave Waiata for their passing.
When they left you behind without the nectar of their first steps into magic, I was there and I gave you nectar from the Land of Birds.
When your first steps into the aether were being taken, I was there and I showed you the paths of winds and spirit.
And at last when the ice came and I shepherded my birds and my ferns to the last of the living places you said you were of age and would stay, and I left this land to you to have and to hold. I left it to you as a foster-mother proud of her foster-children would give them her blessing.
AND YOU DARE TELL ME I HAVE NO PLACE HERE?
The voice that was no voice rang in the spaces between sound. Its echoes shattered the last of the frozen mirrors, exploding them into a thin haze that floated down into the arena.
The Queen stepped forward through the drifting rainbows and dipped her head respectfully. The pictures she spoke were too complicated for Harry to understand, but the taniwha nodded.
You are no longer children. And I am no longer a part of your world. Your choice will stand and I will not interfere.
And she stepped back, tall and haughty as light and shadow fought for dominance of her form.
The brief, agitated flutter of thought-words amongst the Ice Dragons was followed by a flash of white light. Harry thought Sunonice had managed to change shape again, but the human figure that stepped forward between King and Queen was that of a woman. Her skin was a warm dark brown and her hair hung over one shoulder in a single plait of jet. Her sari of gold picked out with little purple flowers blazed like a midnight sun. And as she picked her way across the arena the little silver bells around her ankle tinkled.
She clasped her hands and bowed deeply to the taniwha. "You were never forgotten, Foster-mother," she said, and her voice was as light and silvery as the music of the bells. "The words were spoken in anger. But please understand there are crimes which must have justice visited upon them." She gestured to where <sunonice> was being held. "Although I am grateful to have my nephew returned to me, I cannot forget how his parents are dead because of the workings of witches and wizards of your child's world. My nephew was stolen by this wizard, and although the wizard is your child we cannot give him forgiveness merely on consideration of his ancestry."
"May I say something?" asked Harry after waiting a dozen heartbeats for the taniwha to reply. He looked down Snape who, although he might have known the right words, was still unconscious. Someone had to speak on his behalf. The taniwha, who should have done this duty, seemed reticent to interfere in the affairs of mortals. Harry couldn't blame her on that but he wished she would give clearer signals of her protectiveness for Snape. Surely she was powerful enough to spirit them out of Antarctica?
The sari-lady's ghostly silver eyes rested on him for a moment, then she nodded. "Friend to my nephew, speak."
"I... want you to know how much this man was ready to give to set you free. He made a mistake when he was young and he's spent the rest of his life paying for it. He can be unjust and harsh and he doesn't really care for people, but he does the right thing. I don't always agree with his methods and I don't always agree with his definition of right, but I respect that he chooses to fight what he's done and never repeat those mistakes. And if you give him a chance I know you'll see how much he wants your nephew to be protected. If you harm him you'll lose someone who could be an important ally to you. Yes, there are wizards and witches out there who will try to hurt you -- that's how people are, I'm afraid. But if you just let yourself see, you'll find more who would rather be friends." Ugh. He cringed. That had come out so twee. But then he wasn't a honey-tongued politician and the whole speech was confused and lacked the core of what Harry knew to be truth; he just hoped his words would be enough to sway the Ice Dragons. "You were at war with the wizarding world for centuries. But the world has changed... not always for the better, but it has changed. If you just give us a chance..."
The mood had changed, too. Harry could sense it. Now the anger against him, which had been personal and almost palpable, had lost its heat. He almost started to relax when --
<sunonice>'s aunt looked at him sadly. "You love your people. And that is a good thing in its place. But you are young and love can blind. You speak of 'allies' and 'friends'? We know your people and we know what atrocities friends and allies are capable of. I have seen war and famine and all the varieties of hate. I was there when the sorcerer Alexander the Great came to my home and made pacts with rulers in the sunset and toppled their empires when the sun rose again. Blood ran in rivers and rivers of blood is all that your people understand and respect." She lifted her face and sniffed the air. "And now all the spells that held us back are gone," she mused, licking her lips. "We have returned. There will be blood. And there will be so much of it that none will dare raise a wand against us."
Harry opened his mouth in horror, but the taniwha held up the evening shadows of fingers and stopped his words before they were born.
If blood is the price for your return then blood is what I give.
She curled her fingers like claws, beckoning...
Severus, child. It is time.
Snape's eyes snapped open. He stared around the arena wildly, a small gasp escaping him as he saw the Ice Dragons. His gaze sought out and found <sunonice>, who nearly went berserk trying to break away from his captors when he saw that Snape was alive. Snape smiled gently and <sunonice> settled, chuffing and growling at those who held him, then whistling encouragement to Snape and Harry. Then Snape looked up at Harry. He nodded. "Well done, Potter," he managed, his voice as dry and cracked as his lips.
Harry bit his lip and ducked his head, knowing that while he'd succeeded for <sunonice> he'd just doomed his world. He was simply too much of a coward to tell Snape that. But at least the taniwha would protect Snape and his family... Harry might be able to buffer Hogwarts somehow... there had been spells once... there must be something that could be done... Dumbledore would know some trick...
With a muffled grunt Snape stood, using Harry's shoulder as a prop, and stepped forward. When Harry tried to follow Snape shook his head. He was shivering again but Harry didn't think it was from the cold. The Potions master walked before the King Ice Dragon and went down on his knees. Harry had that queasy feeling back in his stomach: Snape didn't usually move so clumsily.
From behind his captors, <sunonice> made a small querying sound high in his throat. Harry thought back: <???handsonclay = don'tknow>
<<YOU WOULD GIVE THE LAST OF YOUR BLOOD?>>
The taniwha folded her hands in the darkness of her cloak of hair.
His wife is with child.
Harry gasped. "You wouldn't..." She couldn't possibly mean to... The King snarled and the taniwha cut a glance at him that sealed Harry's voice and locked his feet into the ice.
When he realised he wasn't going to get free, Harry waved his arms, trying to get Snape's attention. Get out of here! You can still Disapparate! Go!
Snape had his eyes half-closed and if he could see Harry, he showed no sign. His face was pale as it tilted back to catch the filtered light, but the first beads of sweat glittered along his hairline.
<?> asked <sunonice>, his mental voice sounding more worried. Harry tried to tell him in hopes that the young Ice Dragon would think of something to stop this from happening, but the King snarled and flicked out a thought that sent Harry's mind reeling.
Harry stumbled and, when he knew who he was again, found himself grovelling with broken ice biting into his hands and knees as the King's voice thundered across his mind.
<<YOUR BLOOD HAS POWER. YOU GIVE IT FREELY?>> the King asked the taniwha.
She bent her head towards Snape. Shadows were her eyes. It is not mine to give. Child?
Snape nodded tightly and Harry tried to scream.
This isn't happening! We come to set you free and all you can think about is revenge!!! This isn't justice -- it's murder! You... you're just like everyone else! You say you're superior to wizards but all you want is revenge!
The words turned to cotton and lodged in his throat before he could form them.
Then the King stepped forward and raised one razor-sharp talon to Snape's throat.
Out of a flare of light Sunonice ran forward with his Hogwarts robes flapping behind him and his bare feet skidding on the ice while his two erstwhile captors clawed at thin air. Sunonice dodged between the Queen's legs, making her scramble back like an Oliphaunt sighting a mouse, and then he threw himself across Snape, shoving the Potions master backwards.
"Oof!" gasped Snape, as the air was knocked out of him.
"Don't you touch him!" snarled Sunonice, shaking his fist at the King. "If you hurt him I'll kill you!"
The King reared back, appalled.
Bells tinkled as Sunonice's aunt hurried forward, her sari flickering like sunflower petals. "Stay out of this," she said. "It does not concern you."
Sunonice's jaw dropped as he hit the heights of outrage. He lunged up and grabbed his aunt's throat. "No? Well, learn that it does," he hissed, and threw a blizzard of images at her. "If you hurt him," he said slowly, his words filtered through images and memories he hurled around the Ice Dragons like Bludgers, "you hurt the only one who ever looked out for my interests. Do you see what I'm showing you? Good. Then know this: by harming him you harm me. Maybe I don't remember much about being a human but I remember this: I swore to his dying mother I'd protect him, and he's spent most of my life protecting me. My father by blood is dead -- I heard you say that just now. My human father, the one who stole me, is dead. I killed him. This man is the closest I have to a father and he lives and he will remain alive. By harming him you make me your enemy. And if you kill him then, as God is my witness, make damned sure you've killed me too, because I won't rest until all of you -- All of you! -- are back in this prison."
His aunt reached up and gently removed his hand from her throat. "Oh, child," she said sadly, "are you so removed from us?"
Sunonice was still shaking, but it stemmed from his own outrage and her words left him unmoved. His eyes were colder than Harry had ever seen them in either Sunonice or Draco. "Are you so removed from me? I am Ice Dragon and I will always be so, but I will not be party to murder. There are other ways to feed than by killing people. Self-defence is one thing, but to actively seek out and destroy a person to satisfy an old grudge is not justice. We are not animals. Wizards are not animals. And if you are a person then killing for revenge is murder, and murder is never justice. If you kill my friends I won't kill you. But I will lock you away where you can't hurt anyone ever again."
There was a moment of silence punctuated by Sunonice's harsh breathing.
"And if wizards come to hunt us down?" said his aunt in a soft voice.
Sunonice shrugged and rubbed at his nose. "Then I say, 'dinner is served'." A glimmer of humour returned. "Wizards are very tasty, you know."
His aunt chuckled. "I do know," she whispered, and winked at him. She stepped back. "As you will, then. This will be discussed. A consensus is needed."
With a flash of light she erupted into her native form. Still shaking, Sunonice, after checking Snape and Harry were still alive and unharmed, followed her example with such brightness the two wizards were left blinking. He suddenly noticed Grandmother Taniwha, snorted in alarm, and sidled away behind his aunt, all his bravery lost in the whiff of a taniwha.
There was silence as the Ice Dragons argued among themselves. Harry only dimly sensed the storm, but he sensed when the decision was reached.
The King padded over to Snape, taloned feet splintering the ice. When he raised a forefoot over Snape's throat Harry tensed. Snape, who had closed his eyes, opened them for one last glare. "I accept their decision, Potter, as will you," he whispered, but his voice was cracking. He squeezed his eyes shut as the King's claws swept down.
The tip of the claw pressed into Snape's neck until a few ruby drops were raised. They were picked up on the claw and lifted away.
<<WE SPARE YOU YOUR LIFE>> said the King to Snape. <<BUT... THERE IS SOMETHING I NEED TO KNOW.>>
He sniffed at Snape's blood. After a moment, he blinked. Harry had only seen <sunonice> blink like that when he smiled. The King was amused.
<<YOU TRICKSY, CUNNING OLD BITCH>> he said, and bowed to the taniwha.
She smiled, or the shadows shifted to give that effect. My children, you have outgrown me and I will not tell you where all the traps of adult life lie. So go forth in peace. For I have not laid traps for those who cherish life.
Warned by the whip-cracks of wings snapping out for flight, Harry dived to protect Snape. The Potions master was still down on his knees and looked absolutely stunned by his close escape; Harry worried he would get hit by a wing or a tail. Then there was the thunder of giants taking to the sky.
When the roar of the departing avalanche died, Harry looked up.
A fine haze drifted sparkling in the filtered light. The only people he could see left in the shattered arena were himself and Snape. He helped Snape into a sitting position, but wasn't sure the man would be steady enough to stand. Snape barely seemed capable of recognising Harry, so drained was he. He was looking through the clearing haze over Harry's shoulder. Harry turned and looked, too.
At the taniwha.
Harry, one hand resting protectively on Snape's shoulder, stood up to confront her.
"How could you let them --"
"She knows what she is doing, Mr Potter. Remember your manners when you speak to her."
Harry huffed in fury. He'd never suspected Snape of being a closet martyr. "She was ready to let you die!"
Snape's eyes slid to give Harry a sideways, almost drunken glare. "When I took the ortho-elemental spells I never destroyed them. I hid them."
"What?" Harry's mind raced. "You... you hid the spells in your blood?" It was astonishing and improbable, but by the way the King's eyes had narrowed in revulsion at the smell of Snape's blood, Harry thought he could make a rough guess. "That was the trap the King accused the taniwha of setting?"
Snape's smile was pure malice. "Oh yes. Only it was the trap I set. And had they ripped my throat out all the spells would have been released," he added with the ghost of a smirk. "If they had chosen to start with blood, then blood they would have had. Much of it their own. The wizarding world isn't as toothless as they think, even without the ortho-elemental binding spells. With the spells, well. There would have been a series of nasty shocks for the Ice Dragons."
"Your last revenge, I suppose," said Harry, mind reeling at anyone being so cold as to utilise their death like this.
"No. Not revenge," said Snape, sounding exhausted. "Justice. We seem to be harking back to that a great deal today, no?"
"I really don't know any more." Harry rubbed at his nose, then, reminded of Sunonice, wished the Ice Dragon was still here. But no, he had flown away in the mass exodus of his kind. "But it all seems a little... coincidental to me. Everything that's happened is too neat."
He nearly missed the quick glance Snape shot at the taniwha.
"Oh," breathed Harry. "The story of how the taniwha left her pool and went to investigate what it was to be human... That's a very tidy ... myth, isn't it?" he said to the taniwha, who had remained silent through the argument so far. "You weren't interested in humans and you told the Ice Dragons you couldn't get involved in their affairs, but you did. Or rather, after they were locked up you went out and had a child. And that child had a child and so on down the years until one of those children used the elemental magic he'd inherited from you to free an Ice Dragon. That ... that's very ... I don't know. It's very patient, certainly. But you were still ready to sacrifice one of your children for your purposes! You --!"
As she unfolded her arms her eyes silenced Harry. You could rage at death, you could delay death or you could embrace it, but you could never stop it. In the Guardian's eyes was the inevitable price of being mortal and Harry saw his concerns reflected in them as petty trifles that merely rippled the smooth surface of the taniwha's pond before fading.
I set the pieces in motion. Free will directed their actions.
Grandmother Taniwha lifted one hand to cup Harry's face with long fingers that felt smooth and polished. They brought back the memory of picking up his wand for the first time at Ollivander's. He tried to look up at her face to gauge her thoughts, but the shifting mosaic of light and shadow bewildered his vision. Only her eyes remained constant and there was something so vast about what Harry saw in them that his knees trembled and he had to look away. He was angry and determined to stay angry at how she'd manipulated what seemed like the entire world. How Snape could be so indifferent defied belief! But when the taniwha bent close and whispered words for him alone Harry quivered under the molten power of the elemental and his anger, forgotten, dissolved and flowed away in streams.
Am I cold? Does my love not meet your specifications? I am immortal and bound to laws you cannot and should not comprehend, and my actions are never frivolous.
She paused to let him breathe.
Never think I lack love for my children, and every variety of living thing with mind that passes through my Gate is cherished as such. I may -- she glanced at Snape -- I may occasionally have favourites among them, but all are valued and I can but grieve to see them in pain and know I must do nothing. There was no myth when I chose my husband. He was a good man and for a time I was mortal and loved as mortals do. You think I was wrong to birth a child who could free a trapped race? My daughter would not have thought so, had I ever told her. Her son was never told of the Ice Dragons, but had he been he would of his own free will have worked on their behalf. As would have his daughter. Perhaps. I shall never know. It took Severus to discover his cousins and then choose to set them free.
He did this of his own free will.
Harry blinked as her words rang in his ears. A sense of shame crept up his face like a slow sunrise, warming his skin. He had no call to judge the taniwha -- maybe she had been prepared to sacrifice her great-great-and-then-some-grandchild's life, but it had been to release the spells which would protect the wizarding world. The world he had been so ready to abandon.
She tucked her finger under his chin and tipped his face back up.
Harry. Thank you. Thank you for your courage and your fortitude. These tasks should be done without repayment, but humans have corrupted me. Her voice sounded amused. You shall have payment. Firstly, for your work for your friends and your world, you will have fulfilment. You readied yourself for that on your journey. You are ready to embrace that now as you were not before Sun On Ice wept for you and left you able in turn to weep for others.
Secondly, for what you have done for me and mine I will break the rules this once and give you this knowledge:
Your parents have watched you grow from child to man. They love you more and are prouder of you than you can ever imagine. They ask me to pass on one thing.
And she leaned closer to press her lips against his temple.
Memories spilled from her lips and poured into Harry's mind. Every kiss his mother and father had given him as a baby. And there had been many. And there were more: Every kiss they had wanted to give him as he was growing up through the grey drudgery of childhood. Every kiss they had yearned to give him during the turmoil of adolescence.
As the taniwha's lips broke from his skin, Harry felt one last kiss from his parents. The kiss that told him he was no longer a child and they gave him their blessings now that he was on the brink of adulthood.
He stepped back light-footed and light-headed as she turned away. Although it was as if spring had erupted fresh and green in his heart and mind, Harry dimly heard her words as she lifted her great-grandchild to his feet:
Let their memory go, Severus. Let them rest. James repented a long time before he died. Do you think if he had died with such arrogance nestled in his soul I would not have arranged his rebirth a long time before now? A life as a donkey in North Africa would have taught him humility. Let it go. And be generous to Sirius. If he dies without acknowledging the truth of how he tried to murder you then his fate will be worse than James' would have been. North and then west of my home is a land where dogs are considered to contain the souls of murderers and treated accordingly. Should he of this moment die, that is Sirius Black's fate. But do not mock him with this; for if he repents out of fear then his penitence will be false and will help no-one, not even you. Forgive him if you can, but do not bother with revenge. Justice is inevitable. I will see personally to that. Instead of cherishing your rage and your hate, take comfort in your life of now and your family.
And see Harry as Harry. Just Harry. You no longer have to guard him from the world and, more importantly, you no longer need to guard the world from him. Harry will be a good man.
At the sound of his name Harry blinked his vision clear and looked around just in time to see the taniwha press her hands to the sides of Snape's face.
Here is your path home.
And she dissolved into shadow.
Snape swayed on his feet and Harry rushed forward to catch him. They collapsed together.
To the sound of bells and summer lightning the Ice Dragons rode the katabatic down out of the heart of the last continent. Some carried eggs glued to their bellies, and these travelled only as far as the nearest good nesting sites where they could raise the next generation. Others had plans for the wider world. When they reached the edges of the ice they shimmered and flew away on the paths of the aether, moving faster than thought.
They were back.
And now they wanted to find those who remembered them.
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