Three gleaming white horses stood grazing in a wide, peaceful field. The observer was startled to learn that these were no mere horses, but very intelligent beings called Companions… and that all three were worried over a certain human.
:Atayla, if you can feel him, why don't you go to him? It's a simple matter of feeling the pull and following it to your Chosen.:
The larger two were seemingly instructing the smaller in how to find her…Chosen? What Chosen? And how were they talking? The answer came to him as quickly as the knowledge of Companions… MindSpeech!
:It's not like that, Kantor! I've traveled all through ValdemarKarse- disguised, of course- Menmellith, even Rethwellan! I just can't find him! It's tearing me apart! I feel his grief, anguish, and oh! the guilt! And I can't do anything
:If you can't find him, then maybe he doesn't want to be found…: The largest Companion had finally spoken, but his voice was…different… it was familiar to the observer… It seemed young and old, like the wind sweeping through the mountains; it was almost otherworldly…
:No! I won't believe that! I can'tThe small one- Atayla- exclaimed.
:What's this about can't believe? Of course you can! It's happened before, where the Chosen is content where he or she is. It is never comfortable for the Companion, but it happens…: The one called Kantor spoke. :I had to hide in the Karsite Army until I was 'given' to my Chosen, and even then I had to hide my nature until his own land betrayed him. When I 'kidnapped' him, he was furious! I offered to break our bond, and it took him a while to accept what had happened… And now our bond is strong, stronger than most…:
:At least he accepted you! This is tearing me apart! I'll die if this continues… and not only that, he's mage-gifted! Holding off his powers are taxing at any time, but when he isn't even helping… This is killing me!: Atayla's voice was layered with anguish, and the others shared a glance that spoke volumes of their concern.
:Rolan, correct me if I'm wrong, but…: Kantor spoke again, a question in his voice.
:You want to know if young Atayla can Gate to her Chosen.: Kantor nodded… as well as a 'horse' could.
Rolan thought for a moment, then replied, :Yes, it is possible. It may well be the best thing for them both. If Atayla goes, and her Chosen denies her, then Atayla will be free to die in peace. Yes, that is best.: The majestic Companion relayed this information to the youngster.
:You mean I can go? I can Gate? Thank you Rolan! I'll not be gone long Without another word, Atayla dashed off towards the center of the field, where a Grove hid the remains of a long- dead temple.
The observer left as well, returning to his bed in a very distant house at Number Four, Privet Drive.
Neither was near enough to hear the last thought of the conversation; :She is not the only one with such symptoms; there are at least two others who suffer as she does.: Rolan shook his head.
:I am aware of that; I hopes he will find the cause on her journey. Then perhaps the solution will make itself apparent.:
Atayla arrived at the only part of the temple still standing… the massive doorway. The wood had long ago rotted, leaving the stones to stand alone. Atayla pictured the person she was targeting… a young male, short and thin, with messy black hair and bright emerald eyes. She wove his own magic into the doorway… the tendrils were remarkably well behaved as they sensed her determination. Atayla quickly completed the ritual and stepped back, gathering her breath. She stepped forward, through the Gate, nothing in her mind but pure determination to find her Chosen.
Harry Potter lay on his bed at Number Four Privet Drive, staring apathetically at the wall. He had not moved more than a once a day since he had returned to this prison.
And either must die at the hand of the other…
The Prophecy weighed heavy on his mind and heart. It was a mantra that ran through his head day and night, filling his dreams.
For neither can live while the other survives…
:I'm sorry, Sirius… I never meant to lose you… I was trying to save you! And now its all my fault you're gone. I hope you're happy now, with Mom and Dad. You deserve to be happy. I'm so sorry…:
Harry heard his door open and two… no… three people enter the room. He didn't move from his position, only offered them his back as he continued to stare at the wall.
"Harry? Harry, we're here to pick you up… It's your birthday, remember?" That would be Hermione, making the other people Ron and… Remus maybe? He didn't know, and didn't really care. To care was to feel pain, and the pain hurt. O, how it hurt…
"Harry, come on, get up." They grabbed one of his arms and pulled him up. "We're going to HQ until school starts…" That got a reaction out of him. He tried to jerk his arm away, but whoever was holding it had a very strong grip… Remus, then.
"You're not getting out of this that easily, Harry. Yes Sirius is gone…" A pause. "He's gone, but he wouldn't want to be remembered like this. Come on Harry, let's go."
Harry finally turned to look at them, unaware that his generally bright eyes were dull, almost dead. He vaguely noticed that Remus' face was gaunt, his eyes red from insomnia. He noticed that Hermione had tears slowly rolling down her cheeks as she took in his appearance. Ron gave him a look and said, "Mate, you look like Hell."
Harry made no response as he continued to examine them. He turned to face the wall again, ignoring their painful reminder of Him.
"Harry, I had hoped this wouldn't be necessary…" Remus again. Did that man never stop? He wouldn't go to his old house, old prison. Why didn't they understand that?
Remus pushed a piece of paper into Harry's hands… a picture of his father and Sirius from their Hogwarts days. They looked so happy! He had ruined this… His family would never have been targeted if it weren't for that prophecy…
He was aware of Ron and Hermione grabbing the picture, but before he realized what it was, Remus activated the portkey by saying "Phoenix Flight."
As Harry appeared in the kitchen of 12 Grimmauld Place, he spoke the only words yet this summer: "Damn you!"
In the end, they had been forced to stun him so he wouldn't hurt himself… They force-fed him a calming potion and had Remus carry him up to the room he had shared with Ron the summer before… The rest of the summer Harry spent in the same manner as the previous half… not eating, barely sleeping, staring at the wall apathetically.
Ginny came every day to talk to him, sometimes read to him. He learned that she and Dean had broken up, that she was learning how to cook, that Hermione was going spare waiting for the OWLs. This mattered little to him, but her presence was… comforting… in a way. She didn't try to change him, or make him adjust his behavior. She accepted him as he was, sharing his grief and grieving in her own way. She spoke of normal things; thing that took his mind off of the Death he had caused.
But he still stared at the wall, listening to the prophecy repeat over and over in his mind.
The second night he had been at Grimmauld Place, he got up after everyone else was asleep… he even heard Ron's snores from across the hall. He went to the window and looked into the clear summer sky… He saw the Big and Little Dippers, Canis Major and…there… Sirius, the Dog Star.
He brought out a piece of parchment and a quill and began to map the starry sky. Towards dawn, he finally finished. It was accurate in every detail except one… the brightest star of the Canis Major constellation was missing… Sirius was gone.
He placed the paper on the desk and from then on ignored it, resuming his previous behavior.
Ginny noticed it the next day when she came up to visit him, but declined to mention it. She did not pity the youth before her, for she knew he despised that. Instead, she commiserated with him, and opened herself up to him; she was completely transparent with him. After a half-summer of listening to her stories, Harry felt he knew her better even than he knew Ron and Hermione.
There was no change in his behavior until September 1st… Remus went to find him, expecting to find the apathetic Harry lying on his bed, staring at the wall. Instead he found Harry dressed and packed, nearly ready to go.
For the second time that summer, Harry spoke. "When can I leave this Hellhole?"
Remus was startled by the change in his friend's son. "We'll be leaving in about half an hour for the station. Why don't you come down and eat something, Molly's gone spare with worry over you." He tentatively suggested. Harry looked at him and simply nodded once.
As Remus led Harry into the kitchen, the small crowd present hushed. They remained silent as Harry sat down and grabbed only a piece of toast and began to eat. The silence continued until Harry sent a pointed glare at those nearest him.
Breakfast went by quickly, without Harry saying a word to anyone. As the returning students- Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny- gathered their trunks in the entrance hall, The Order members present- Remus, Molly, Arthur, Kingsley, Tonks and Moody- congregated to say goodbye. All warned the students to behave and stay out of trouble.
Kingsley, Tonks, and Moody were to accompany the students to the station, and led them out into the street. Harry hung back for a moment, hesitating for only a second… He dashed to Remus and spoke once more as he embraced the last link to his parents: "I'm sorry I got him killed…" Harry tore out the door to catch up to the other students.
Remus stood frozen for a moment, but that was a moment too long. He wanted to run after Harry and sweep him into his arms and comfort him, but a group of muggles was walking in front the hidden house. By then it was too late, and the magical group was long gone.
The group arrived at the station and the students quickly boarded the train. The ride was uneventful… Malfoy didn't even make his yearly visit. Instead, Pansy Parkinson appeared, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. She and Ron traded insults, but she left when she couldn't get any reaction out of Harry.
Harry remained apathetic to all surrounding him… except Ginny. He didn't really respond to her, but he listened.
The group trudged up to the carriages, trying to beat the coming rain. They succeeded… barely. The rain began to fall moments after the four found an empty carriage. It was soon accompanied by thunder and lightning, and the carriage shook with the force of the wind.
They made it into the Great Hall with no trouble. Harry received strange looks that showed sympathy, curiosity, and scorn.
After being led to the Gryffindor table, Harry meekly took his seat. By all outward appearances, the Golden Boy was completely pliant. But it was not so. Harry glanced around the Hall from beneath long eyelashes as the Sorting began. He even clapped quietly as a new Gryffindor was welcomed to his house.
Soon the Sorting was finished with yet another warning from the Hat to band together. Dumbledore initiated the feast with a clap of his hands, and sumptuous foods appeared on the table before him.
The food was magnificent: Venison, Ham, Roast Chicken… all were steaming hot and smelling delicious. The students tucked in with fork and knife… Harry glanced at his own knife, before grasping it and quickly hiding it under the table. He fingered the edge lightly, gasping softly as blood began to well up out of the small cut. He smiled lightly as he wrapped it in his napkin and hid it in his belt, waiting for the opportunity to present itself.
All through the rest of the feast, Harry had a nagging suspicion that something important was going to happen, but dismissed it as unimportant. After all, he had felt many such pulls through the summer. He suddenly doubled over in pain as the doors leading into the Great Hall were masked by a blinding light.
The light was not any single color… it was a rainbow with all colors, and yet it was the absence of everything. A picture soon appeared through the light… a grove of trees, some old ruins, and… a pure white horse? Yes, the horse began to trot towards them… through the picture!
Harry trembled as he recognized the horse- Companion.: He told himself- from his dream. Atayla, she was called. She walked to the Gryffindor table and Harry looked down.
:Keep her away from me…: He prayed to whatever God was listening. :I deserve to be left alone, to die alone.:
:That is where you are mistaken, my Chosen.: The voice filled his mind. He ignored it, and refused to lift his head. :Choose someone else. I don't deserve you.: He heard the melodious plodding of silver hooves as they carried the Companion directly to... him. He looked up into Sapphire eyes as deep as the sky, and fell into them. He was drowning, and made no effort to save himself. As he fell even deeper, he heard from somewhere very far away, :Hello Harry. I am Atayla, and I Choose you, Harry. I Choose you, and I will never leave you.:
:Leave me be. You don't know what I've done. I kill everything I care for, and…: A velvety nose nuzzled his cheek. :I love you Harry, and I will never forsake you. You are mine, my Chosen, and nothing could make me leave.:Harry finally reached his destination… A place deep within him where he knew he would never be lonely ever again.
Atayla kneeled before Harry, signaling him to get on, but Harry refused. Instead, he put his hand on Atayla's shoulder as they walked to the Head Table.
They walked through the center of the Hall, between Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables straight to Headmaster Dumbledore and bowed before Atayla's attention was caught by… Snape?
:You: The word echoed through Harry's mind. He flinched, noting that he was one of the few to do so. Snape came around the table to bow before the majestic Companion.
"Yes, me." He said aloud. Whispers ran abundant through the room, questioning the sanity of a man who appeared to be talking to a horse. Harry watched the exchange with deep interest.
"What's this about?" He quietly asked his Companion. :You'll see momentarily.: Atayla replied, more than a hint of mischief
:You were thought dead long ago. Why are you here? Where is your Companion? You are Mira's Chosen, no?:
Snape paled as the Companion spoke, and visibly flinched at the name... Mira. Again he answered aloud, "I was unaware that my comrades thought me dead. I was brought here only through an accident. Mira..." The man choked, tears glittering in his eyes as he drew a deep breath. "Mira was... killed soon after my arrival here. She was taken from me and... put down for the spirit in her. I was thwarted in my attempt to follow her by a wise man. I have since taught at this school."
The Companion's gaze softened as the man broke down before her. :The solution is simple.: She said, again filling the minds of those sensitive. The broken man looked up at the glorious Companion, his face filled with desperation. :You will return with myself and my Chosen, to take your rightful place as a true Herald of Valdemar. You will tell me which children are Gifted, and we will bring them with us.:
:That is not necessary, Atayla. Our Chosen are also here. Thank you for opening the Gate for us.: Three companions had just stepped out of the Gate while everyone's attention had been focused on the pair at the front of the Hall.
:Rexera, Terio, Polath. You are very welcome. In truth, I had hoped... Never mind. You know your Chosen?: Atayla's mindvoice was wrought with relief... She had honestly felt in over her head when she had recognized Severus. The Herald had long been thought dead, and to find him was both a joy and a burden. But now, she was not alone in the decision-making...
:No, we simply felt the pull, and now we are here.: Terio spoke for the new-come Companions. :We will deal with Herald Severus as you brief your Chosen on what exactly has happened. Hopefully our Chosen shall be revealed soon.:
:Yes, Peace be with you, and Good Night. Come Chosen, we will sleep, and tomorrow... What will come will come, and we will meet it together.:
Together. Such a wonderful word.