The storm blocked out the sun.
If <sunonice> hadn't extended the aegis of his magic into a fuzzy cocoon around Harry, the boy would have frozen within the first half-hour of their flight. His magically protected parka had its limits and those were passed quite quickly as the temperature plummeted and the snowstorm whirled around Ice Dragon and rider.
In one way the snowstorm was a blessing, because it meant no-one would be following them. But they were flying through a gloomy twilight where even the white snow churning around them had no light. Harry had no idea which way they were going, and only the bleak confidence channelling through the mind-link from his friend reassured him that at least someone knew where they were going. <sunonice> seemed to have a destination in view. Or, at least, if not in view then certainly in mind. It seemed as though they were taking the hardest route and flying straight into the wind. The way it kept shifting, though, made it hard to determine.
While <sunonice> seemed sure of the direction and never once suggested that they stop, Harry worried at the way the winds buffeted them around. One moment they would be flying in a bubble of low pressure that made Harry's ears ache, surrounded by winds that howled like a flock of banshees, and the next they would be hammered so hard by downdrafts that <sunonice> groaned at the strain on his wings.
Harry's heart leaped into his mouth as the tip of one wing grazed a cliff and <sunonice> had to struggle mightily not to crash into the sheer black rock that was rearing up in front of them.
Harry clung to the Ice Dragon's neck and prayed they would make it over the ridge alive.
But Harry hadn't expected to and -- when he checked <sunonice>'s opinion -- the Ice Dragon didn't seem to particularly care if they did or not. <sunonice> may not have had a conscious perception of death but something within him knew that Snape wasn't coming back. That sub-conscious knowledge had been eating away at the young Ice Dragon for the last hundred miles and now it was strong enough that Harry could pick up the edges of <sunonice>'s depression and guess the cause.
"Enough!" shouted Harry, then remembered that he didn't have to shout to be heard over the gale -- he could communicate telepathically.
After a moment, <sunonice> grudgingly agreed.
The landing was rough. Just as they reached the ground a particularly vicious gust of wind knocked them sideways and slammed them into the side of a hill.
Harry lost his grip on the ortho's neck and somersaulted away into the darkness. Luckily he landed in powder snow, but some of it slipped in under his hood and slid down his throat. "Brrr..."
Luckily <sunonice> pulled him out, because Harry had just found out that his body was getting so cold that it was getting hard to move his arms and legs.
"Pfft! -- thanks," said Harry gratefully, spitting out snow and slapping the ortho-elemental on the shoulder.
<handsonclay = welcome>, said <sunonice>, his mind-voice sounding clearer and clearer to Harry.
Harry smiled and looked around. The world was a blur of white shadows -- Harry would never have believed such to be possible, but here it was. It was like being trapped in Cotton Wool Land.
Oh, blast -- no wonder everything was so blurry. He held out his hand.
They shot out of the snowdrift behind him and into his glove. He put them back on.
There wasn't much difference.
But, phew, at least his magic was still working. He shivered, wishing he knew more spells for warming. He considered using Thermos, but he was only good with that for re-heating cups of tea. The heating spells he'd used on his clothing when the warders had caught <sunonice> had given him a rash. He didn't want another rash and he certainly didn't want to make his blood boil.
<!> <sunonice> had heard his thought about boiling blood, and ordered Harry not to do something so stupid.
Harry grinned a little, and thought back: <noIwon't...I'mCOLD>
<sunonice> didn't see why that was a problem, and sent back a mental shrug.
Harry tried to explain. <me = human ... humanMUST = warm ... humanNO = warm = world+nohuman>
<Nowarm = nohumanbecause = dead>
<→comeback> replied <sunonice> matter-of-factly. <gone=nolegs?> he sneered.
Harry wrapped his arms around him and jiggled up and down. His toes were starting to hurt from the cold but at least he could still feel them... Bloody stupid place for an argument, he thought. Middle of a storm in the middle of Antarctica... <dead = gone = NEVERCOMEBACK!> he said as firmly as he could.
<...nevercomeback?...> the Ice Dragon asked in a tiny voice.
Harry should have been warned, but he was too cold to think.
<no>, he replied firmly. <I = toocold → Inevercomeback ... becauseI = dead>
Horror dawned in the Ice Dragon. Like steel storm doors slamming shut, its mind closed to Harry. There was just one thought that could be sensed.
<silkthatcuts = DEAD!DEAD!DEAD!>
If <sunonice> panicked now and flew away, not only would Harry die but the Ice Dragon would be alone again. With no-one to tell him how the world worked, the young Ice Dragon would be caught by some minion of Fudge's in no time.
Harry pushed his mind out towards <sunonice>'s, willing the Ice Dragon not to break off communication, trying to will the ortho to understand all that Harry wanted him to know; that Harry didn't want to die, that Harry wanted to stay with <sunonice>, that... that <silkthatcuts> had wanted Harry and <sunonice> to protect each other...
<sunonice> rallied, coiling his mind in tight. He snapped his wings close against his body, nearly as close as his thoughts, and stared into the storm for a moment. Then he turned his gaze back to Harry.
Harry couldn't tell what the Ice Dragon was thinking. That light and crystal mind was still there, but, like the snowstorm, there were shadows to it Harry couldn't interpret. But he could make a good guess as to what those shadows meant and they worried him.
He wondered if the Ice Dragon would fly away and leave him to his fate. After the shock the young creature had just had, Harry would have understood. Please, he begged any passing god, don't let him go. Not for my sake, but for his. He'll die without me.
Then, with a faint shudder, <sunonice> seemed to reach a decision. The Ice Dragon turned and, while half-lifting one wing to shelter Harry from the blast, began to burrow into the snowdrift that had managed to build up in the lee of a rock face.
The Ice Dragon managed to make a sizeable hole and climbed into it. Harry followed.
Once inside, the burrow seemed almost snug. With the Ice Dragon inside it was mostly filled, but there was plenty of air and although it wasn't something Harry'd had to worry about since he'd stopped sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs, the air wouldn't get too stale. With a faint sigh, <sunonice> turned around to line the sides with his body and block the entrance with his tail, and Harry crouched in the space under a wing and settled down using the ortho's front legs as a couch. He hoped <sunonice> didn't mind being used as furniture, but the Ice Dragon gave him the barest blink of acknowledgement before staring off into his own thoughts. That wing did come down a little to make Harry's portion of the snow cave a little cosier, however.
Harry couldn't have been unwelcome; warmth began to seep through from the Ice Dragon, although Harry suspected it was more likely that <sunonice> was siphoning what few degrees of thermal energy existed in this bleak environment and channelling them into Harry rather than warmth from the Ice Dragon's body. It seemed unlikely, but it was true.
Harry didn't know why he knew this as truth and he was too tired to question it. He also knew he was dangerously cold and that after all the energy he'd used up he should probably have something to eat, but it seemed too much like hard work to undo the drawstring on the hold-all Charlie had given him.
Just do it, he told himself, and the unexpected and angry command jolted his body into obedience. Merlin! Snape's haunting me! was the brief, panicked thought for the second time that day. But it worked. Before Harry realised what he was doing, he was drinking the warm (warm! Hallelujah!) butterbeer and munching on cheese and bread.
He tried offering some to <sunonice>, but the Ice Dragon ignored him.
Harry sighed. He was exhausted. He was a long way from the only home he'd ever had and there was no way he'd be allowed back to it now. The fact that he was only sixteen and without a family hit him now as it never had before. Not knowing what else to do, he reached out and pulled <sunonice>'s head around to cuddle the Ice Dragon like that teddy bear he'd wanted when he'd been little.
<...failed...> came the faint whisper of thought. It hadn't been directed at Harry, but Harry heard it anyway.
He clenched his jaw and blinked rapidly. There was so much he needed to say that he didn't have words for. Here he was, the only person in the world who could talk to the last of the Ice Dragons, and he had no words to tell him what was really important.
No, he thought. I'm the failure. I helped trap you and then I asked Snape for help. He kept those thoughts tucked deep in his mind where <sunonice> couldn't read them. Guilt would kill them.
But he couldn't stop wishing he didn't feel it.
Pearlescent with phoenix magic, his tears soaked into the ortho-magic field. Harry was too tired and sick with grief and fear to notice.
His mind spun round and round in the endless cage of fatigue. While the storm lasted he and <sunonice> were safe. When it finished things would be different. He had nowhere to go and now, with the Ministry shown up for the cancer it was, he could see that even if he did have a bolt-hole some Aurors would track him down because he was too much of a threat to the power structure and Fudge's promise of a stable society, and Harry would fight them when they found him simply because he couldn't think of a better option and he'd kill as many of them as he could but of course they'd keep coming and they would kill him and he remembered stories of how some of the Death Eaters had been flayed alive by curses when they'd fought Aurors...
Merlin help me. To think that he had anything in common with a pack of idiots who'd thought Voldemort was the best option...
Thinking about Death Eaters inevitably led to thoughts of Snape. Harry started shaking again as he remembered the way Snape had slid down and disappeared. I must have gone crazy somewhere along the line, because I want him back. I actually want Severus Snape back. Please, God, let it all have been a mistake. I'm in the middle of that nervous breakdown Snape thought I was having and I'm in St Mungo's and all this is a terrible, terrible hallucination.
But he knew it wasn't. And he knew that Snape was gone.
<sunonice> twitched, and Harry hugged the delicately-boned head harder, trying to think comforting thoughts to the Ice Dragon.
It was a shame he didn't have any to give.
When <sunonice> settled back into his quiet despair, Harry tried to think of ways out, tricks he could do, people who could help, but kept coming up blank. Dan had told him never to give up hope, but Dan wasn't stuck in the middle of bloody nowhere with an army after him, Harry thought angrily. He took as deep a breath as he could in this freezer, and tried to focus his mind on something positive.
But the images of what the Ministry could do to Harry and what they would do to <sunonice> when they finally caught him kept playing in a loop in his mind until...
Exhaustion finally caught up with the boy and sleep slammed into him like the Hogwarts Express. Harry sagged against <sunonice>. His eyes closed and his arms relaxed fractionally as his mind dissolved into unconsciousness.
But even in sleep he refused to let go.
Harry never saw the way liquid rainbows shimmered and fell from the Ice Dragon's eyes. It was not just one tear, which would have been enough to pit nations against each other, but the first of a succession.
The ransom of empires was not wet but it soaked into Harry's arms and chest.
It was the purest of all magics.
It flowed into the scars in his heart.
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