Harry was looking forward to the time that he and Severus would be leaving the isolation ward as staring at the same four walls tended to get deadly dull even with all of the recent revalations and activities. At the same time however, also despite all of the recent emotional upheavals, Harry hadn't felt so protected and safe in a long time - if ever. The magical wards themselves weren't obvious in their tangibility, but he felt them in the same way that Ron had once described how he felt returning to his own bedroom after his first year of Hogwarts. Almost as though it was a sanctuary. The description was especially apt for Ron who had to weather the attentions of the twins and their occasional attempts at prank experimentation.
Harry decided to enjoy the peace while he could and got as much sleep as possible that day. On the bunk next to him, Severus was a quiet and solid presence with his nose most often in one of the Prophecy books that the Headmaster had brought or a copy of the Daily Prophet. He couldn't help but wonder if Severus found the aura colors as fascinating and difficult to ignore as he had done. With a smile of contentment, Harry snuggled back down into the blankets to sleep more.
During the night Harry woke up once to hear a sigh from the bunk next to his and the sound of the blankets rustling as Severus turned onto his side facing Harry, curling up in his sleep. In the very faint light available from moon and stars the older wizard appeared younger and less forboding, yet Harry retained the memories of the power and strength emanating from him. Somehow reassurred, Harry didn't find it difficult to fall back asleep as well. Back to the warmth and comfort ... so comfortable ... so safe ... didn't want to leave it ...
//Harry looked around, taking a deep breath of the fresh air and enjoying the feel and sound of the cool breeze rustling through the trees nearby. Stepping from the forest, he walked the outskirts of a small village that consisted more of huts than any sort of modern house or building.
The distant noise of a gathering of people could be heard; talking, laughter, cheering, and more difficult to hear- singing. Deciding to follow the sounds, Harry spotted what looked to be a festival. Tents of many sizes and colors were pitched and people wove between them, browsing their wares, making purchases or just admiring the skill of the people who created them. Another area had only a couple of very large tents and a larger open area contained in a clearing of grass and the sweetness of spring flowers. A few people lounged in the area and a number of children ran around there as they played games of tag that got tangled up in each other. The whole of the scene brought a wistful smile to Harry's lips and he made his way towards the celebration.
As he got closer he detected the mouth watering smells of cooking that came from the furthest tents, behind which he spied a scattering of tables and more people and their children. Altogether Harry estimated that there were around a hundred people at the festival, all wearing homespun clothing and enjoying the weather. Harry moved to join them, thankfully noticing that while he did get a few curious glances he wasn't the only stranger to the area. It seemed that most of those who set up tents were actually wandering merchants, and there were a number of others carrying musical instruments who were all heading for the clearing with the large tents. From the conversation around him, Harry learned that there was going to be a competition soon. Interested, Harry followed the crowd.
It was then that he became aware of what he was wearing. At first glance it was his school robes, but as he ran one hand along the sleeve he felt that the material was a bit rougher than the ones he'd gotten from Diagon Alley in the past. Reaching the tents, Harry passed into the shade of one of them where a small stage made of wood had been set up.
Out of curiosity Harry felt for his wand, letting his hand reach into his robes subtly while he continued to look around the tent. At the precise moment that his hand touched an unfamiliar wooden shape, Harry's eyes suddenly met the brown ones of Severus who was standing behind the group of silent people by the stage, each of which were holding some sort of musical instrument. Long brown hair was pulled behind him and tied off with a piece of dyed cloth, and Severus' robes were made of a similair style as Harry's. As he expressionlessly met Harry's stare, Severus' slender fingers distractedly caressed a long wooden cylinder that had been the same color as his wand- but had the appearance of a flute. Tearing his eyes away, Harry looked at his own expected wand only to find that its unfamiliar feel was due to its being some sort of wooden pennywhistle.
Shaking his head in confusion, Harry looked back to Severus to share his incomprehension and was surprised to see that Severus' expression had thawed somewhat to reflect acknowledgement of Harry's presence and his own unfamiliarity with the situation. Harry approached Severus, his small pipe in hand to ward off any questions as he weaved his way through the crowd. Upon reaching him, Harry was about to whisper a question when the person apparently in charge stepped onto the stage and waved for silence.
"As most of you know, this isn't just a test of how well everyone can memorize and play a song. This competition is a measure of skill - and not just your skill with your fingers." A soft wave of laughter came from the audience before he continued. "All newcomers to our competition are required to be the last to perform, and from the looks of it we have only two this year. Everyone will pair off and be measured on their performances. First each member of a pair will perform a short piece on their own, and then each pair will perform an improvised song together, alternating who takes the lead and the melody."
The crowd seemed familiar and approving of the rules, anticipating the music and getting comfortable whether they were under the tent or lounging on the grass outside of it. Looking around, Harry and Severus grew uneasy as they didn't notice anyone else who seemed to be new to the festival. Severus made a subtle gesture off to one side, but although they tried to move away from the stage they just couldn't seem to.
"Is this a dream I'm having?" Harry murmured.
"I might ask the same thing of myself, but I can see your aura" was Severus' dry reply as his fingers absently moved over his flute with the delicacy of someone handling the most fragile of china. "Do you know how to play that thing?" he inquired with a nod at Harry's pipe.
Harry peered at the thin pipe he held, positioning his fingers over the holes. "I toyed with a plastic recorder that Dudley had broken once."
"How reassuring." Again Severus attempted to move away, but his step was somehow aborted and he stood still again with a sigh.
"What about you?" Harry asked. "Do you know how to play that flute?"
"I'm somewhat familiar with the instrument, but not to the extent that I would prefer for a performance such as this. However, if this is indeed a dream I expect that we will either prove to have the skill we don't possess in the waking life, or that something else will occur."
Having settled the crowd again, the speaker on the stage continued. "We've decided to up the stakes this year." With a conspirital grin filled with the light of mischief, "Instead of letting the winning pair witness the dreams of someone from the waking world, we decided that the pair can instead become a part of the waking world!" Gasps came from the crowd, and the other musicians stirred with excited interest. "Yes, this is a chance of a lifetime- literally! Those who have become lost here can return to their bodies once again instead of waiting to fade away and become mere dreams upon the death of the body they have become separated from!"
Harry and Severus shot alarmed looks at each other. "Could we be lost as well?" Harry asked with concern.
"Try to wake up," Severus frowned, concentrating as he struggled to do the same.
"It's no use," came a soft voice from a nearby table. They turned almost as one to frown at the man and the woman who sat across from him, but Severus' frown swiftly became an expression of shock and dismay, his face growing pale.
"Frank Longbottom!" Severus exclaimed, and the man nodded. Distantly, music was heard as the first competitors took the stage.
"My wife and I have been stuck here for a number of years; despite all of our efforts we haven't been able to find our way back." Sharing a mournful look with the woman he added, "We appeared in this place as newcomers as well, our memories slowly fading since then. We can barely recall what our boy Neville looked like ... and he is our strongest memory of the waking world." Applause burst out around them as a performance concluded and another began.
Harry finally broke himself from the horrified stare he'd bestowed on the unfortunate couple long enough to blurt, "I know Neville; he's a friend of mine. We're in Gryffindor together."
A soft exclaimation came from Neville's mother as his father gripped the edges of the table tightly. "Please," she whispered. "Please watch over my baby... tell him we love him so."
Biting his lip, Harry couldn't help but fight off tears; Severus looked highly uncomfortable and remained silent as Harry nodded, but Mr. Longbottom shook his head and reached for his wife's hand to console her.
"They're stuck here, too," he gently pointed out. "Unless they win the competition." With trepidation, the small group turned to regard the stage where one of the pairs had just finished their first improvisation and rested a moment before beginning the next one in reversed positions. The pair seemed quite practiced in skill and enjoyed what they did, but the two lines of notes that each played didn't always support each other as each hoped for the recognition of their separate talents.
With the speed of timeless dreams Harry and Severus were called to the stage for their turn, and they slowly headed for the stage with much misgiving, their 'wands' in hand.
Severus went first with a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder as he stepped forward. Lifting his flute to his lips, he blew gently into the holes and ran his fingers across the other ones to test out the instrument. A solemn and mournful sound emerged from the instrument, suprising him at first before he settled into a song to match the quality of sadness in the flute's sound. As Severus let the song drift into silence he received polite but loud applause to which he nodded acknowledgement before returning to Harry. "Trust in your instincts," Severus muttered quietly. "Think of a song you know and like the tune to and it will come."
Harry nodded with great relief, clutching his pipe as he hesitantly ventured out onto the stage. Positioning his fingers over the holes, Harry found that in contrast with Severus' flute, his pipe had the sounds of cheerful curiosity along the higher notes and a wistful sadness at the lower range. Deciding to follow in Severus' footsteps, he kept mostly towards the lower range of notes, picking out an older song he'd heard one of the years he'd stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas; it had matched his mood at the time and the melody was poignant even if it sounded better with accompaniment. His performance was also greeted with a polite but warm reward of applause.
Severus stepped forward then to join Harry for their first improvisation. Still feeling a little nervous, Harry indicated wordlessly that Severus should lead the melody first to which Severus nodded in reply. Standing at slight angles to each other so that they could easily watch the other and be visible to the audience, they began.
At first the melody Severus chose was a simple one but one with potential to be build upon which Harry learned quickly. With the flexibility of someone who found ways to use spells and resources under pressure, Harry built a base line that ran a cheerful parallel to the melody and occasionally broke off to pipe out synchopated notes to keep up the pace and garner enthusiasm from the crowd. Severus caused the melody to evolve into something more complicated, building variations and then venturing off the newly worn path for the passing of several bars before bringing the original melody line back for brief visits.
When the time came for their positions to be switched, Severus and Harry briefly slowed the song, nodding the time as one bar ended- and as the next began, Harry took up Severus' melody line but altered it into something of its own. Quietly under him, Severus ran Harry's parallel base line before breaking off into a counter melody that supported and matched Harry's tune and mood, pushing forth an enthusiastic and sweet sound rather than a cheerful one.
Harry felt himself almost lifted as he piped his melody, the darker presence of Severus reassuringly at his side and providing impetus to his thoughts, his inspiration. He tackled a short series of notes Severus had played and melodically danced with it. Repeating the notes in theme and variation, Harry gleefully displayed the snippet that he 'stole' from the older wizard as though it were a trophy while Severus' gaze laughed from behind his flute, his mouth hidden as he continued to play. Chuckles were heard from the audience at Harry's antics.
As though to beat the young upstart at his own game, Severus stole one of Harry's original additions to the melody and pointedly analyzed it by repeating it and then altering it with subtle emphasis on certain of the altered notes as though to say 'this is what you should have done, idiot'. Harry stubbornly returned to his original line, unaltered by the advice of the 'older and wiser' player.
Finally themes and variations met, clashed briefly and with purpose before they came into harmony with each other, winding down as though from a long and spiraling broom flight until they gently floated over the ground for a deliberate landing in their closing cadence.
The audience burst out into roaring applause.//
Harry and Severus suddenly woke up, startled into wordlessness as they looked around the hospital wing.