This is the last chapter of 'Freedom and Not Peace.' A great and powerful thanks to everyone who has enjoyed the story and come along to see it finished. The next story, 'Wind That Shakes The Sea and Stars,' Harry's fifth year and the AU of OoTP, will begin on either Thursday or Friday, depending on where you live. And it is even LONGER. Aren't you lucky.
The title of this chapter is a line from Swinburne's poem Tristram of Lyonesse, his version of the Tristan and Isolde story (written because he thought Tennyson was Not Doing It Right).
Bye for a few days!Chapter Seventy: The Clear Sea For Miles On Glimmering Miles
Harry woke with a gasp. He wondered, for a moment, as he lay panting on the hospital bed, whether Voldemort had returned to his full strength and possession of memory, and if he had had a nightmare.
But no, he usually remembered the visions distinctly, and now, he did not feel any blood pouring from his scar. In fact, he lay still, for a long moment unable to remember either the dream or what had awakened him.
Then the sensation came down on him again—the calling voices in his head, relentless as the surf.
Come to us.
Harry shook. It felt as though a cord had lashed to the center of his chest and were tugging him helplessly in one direction. He was half out of bed before he knew it. He did manage to pause once he thought about it, and stood shivering on the cold floor. He still wore pyjamas, and it was not yet dawn.
Draco's head poked up, hair mussed with sleep, from the hospital bed that had become his over the last few days. He blinked at Harry, and then shook his head. "Do you need to go to the loo?"
"No," Harry whispered. The call echoed in his head, stealing his next words, and a longing sweetness surged up in him in answer to it. He made his decision then. He had promised to tell Draco when he might be going into danger, after all. "Something's calling me."
"What do you mean, something?" Draco demanded, alert in a moment. "And where were you going?"
"I just got out of bed when you sat up," said Harry. "That's why I'm telling you now. I think that it's going to pull me along whether or not I really want to go." And now, now he did want to go. There was a taste in his mouth like water and sunlight mingled, and the imperceptible promise, roaring through the voices, that he would have more of it once he reached the place the voices wanted him to come. "But I want you to come with me."
"Of course you do," said Draco, decisively, and made his way over to him, putting an arm around his waist. "You shouldn't even be out of bed yet." He gave Harry a concerned glance. "Are you sure that you can stand?"
Harry smiled slightly, and used his magic to force strength into his limbs. After several days of lying there with nothing to do but renew the glamour on his hand after Narcissa had taken it off, and blow around the hospital wing when he was angry at Snape, it responded eagerly. "Now I can," he said.
Draco nodded, and, to Harry's relief, didn't raise any other silly objections, like rousing Madam Pomfrey from sleep to tell her something that she could neither prevent nor should have to worry her head about. "How are we going to get there? Apparating?" He blinked and swallowed when he said the last word.
Harry shook his head. "These people still haven't given me a clear image of a place yet. I don't think I can Apparate. It's really just a bunch of voices in my head calling to me, and—"
Come to us!
The summons fell over him, bathing him in a crash, and Harry grabbed tight hold of Draco as he felt it sweep him up. The cord in his chest tightened like a sling, and then he was flung forward, tumbling through space. All the while, Draco followed him, determinedly; Harry almost thought he might have found a way to even if he hadn't had his arms around Harry's waist when the pull came.
Sand crunched under Harry's feet, and suddenly gulls' cries were in his ears, piercingly loud if not piercingly sweet. He stumbled, but the disorientation wasn't even as bad as that from Flooing. He opened his eyes, and the moment he recognized where he was, he managed to stand.
Not far from him, the sea roared and crashed, ran in endless ascending and descending patterns, over the sand of the Northumberland beach where he had come to practice his Midsummer ritual with his father and brother.
"Where are we?" Draco whispered.
"Some place I didn't expect to come," said Harry, and reached for his wand, which he always kept in his left pocket now, to be able to draw it more quickly with his right hand. He remembered the letter that Evan Rosier had sent him, about meeting on this beach someday, and was already more than half-sorry that he had obeyed the summons—though he hadn't had much choice about that—or let Draco come—though he had promised not to leave him behind.
Now that he was here, the voices were silent. The beach faced east, of course, and Harry could just make out the first glimmer of sunrise on the waves. Harry cleared his throat when no one approached or offered any explanation.
"All right, Evan, you've had your fun," he said, making sure to keep his tone light and chiding. "I didn't bring any blueberries, and I didn't want to duel you, either, so why don't we call it even, and I'll go back to the hospital wing at Hogwarts now?" He closed his eyes and remembered the outskirts of Hogsmeade, prepared to Apparate both himself and Draco back.
Draco's voice stopped him. It was soft, a bare whisper, but not frightened. Harry would have Apparated in an instant if it were.
He opened his eyes, and followed Draco's pointing finger—not to one of the slight hills behind them that might have hidden a Death Eater, but out to sea. Harry turned, following it, not sure what he was supposed to see.
In fact, for long moments he saw nothing. The foam just barely reflected back the golden light, glimmering and casting sparks as it dashed itself to its death on the sand. The waves themselves were picking up strength and speed, seemingly as Harry watched; he thought the tide was coming in.
Then he saw two speaks of foam that formed a glittering silver mirror, not a golden one. Harry squinted, trying to make it out, but it ducked behind the crest of another wave. He took a step nearer, though he had to drag Draco along; he seemed warily fascinated, but not enough to let go of Harry's waist and let him stand on his own.
Harry heard the hum of sweet voices in his head then, not words, but wordless music that reminded him of—something, something he could not quite grasp or comprehend. He blinked. He listened, but the symphony did not rise much higher, and then he had something else to distract him.
The silver glint returned, and reformed, and this time Harry could see a long spread of light taking form and shape. A head of hair was riding in the foam, keeping shape even as it was jostled by the incoming tide.
Then shots of white in the gray water gathered together, and shone like legs, and coalesced into them. The silver hair rose, and shook. Light lashed down from the rising sun that seemed to spin a head into existence.
And a unicorn came out of the sea.
The song exploded inside Harry's head. He found himself falling to his knees as the unicorn's hooves hit the sand with the sound of small bells. A powerful stallion, he stood there a moment, shaking the foam from his horn, and then made his way towards Harry in a high, floating trot.
Harry blinked back tears. He didn't know if it came from the music in his head, a chorus of flutes backed by song such as he knew, now, that the sun and the moon sang, or the sight of the unicorn, or the warmth of Draco's arm around his waist as he sank down beside Harry, overwhelmed.
Or the sudden knowledge in his head, which took the form of a quotation he had once read in an old book on magical creatures.
The unicorn is the oldest enemy of the serpent.
The stallion had come to a halt in front of him by now, and stood watching him with eyes like stained glass.
When the serpent comes to drink from the pool and release venom from his sly mouth into the water, all the animals await the coming of the unicorn. He always appears, the next night, and with him always comes the moon, even if that night the moon has turned her face from earth. He plunges his horn into the pool, and the healing light spreads from it—for the unicorn's horn is proof against all poison—and the water is pure and clean again.
The stallion bowed his head, and the same gently irresistible force that had compelled Harry to come in the first place lifted his arm high now.
His left arm, with the glamour at the end of it, which vanished as the unicorn's horn approached it, unable to stand against the honesty of a creature of such pure Light.
Harry watched the tip of that horn brush the stump of his severed wrist. A star of radiance at once sprang up, rippling across his wrist like the flow of moonlight across a still pool. It wrapped tight, and Harry could see strands of poison-green and black floating in it, gathered by the silver coils of the unicorn's magic.
The power, pure and tainted alike, flowed back to the unicorn. The stallion gathered them on his horn and held his head high for a moment, whipping his mane behind him. Harry could see how the sun illuminated and thus diminished the spells that Bellatrix had put on his arm, making them seem small and not so much troublesome as pitiful.
He did not think the unicorn had taken them all, but he had taken a good number, and as Harry watched, he whirled, slinging the Dark incantations from his horn into the sand. Then he raised his left hind hoof and stamped on them, crushing them to death. Harry watched the axe-like hoof cleave the curses apart, and saw them try to attack the unicorn, and saw how they dissolved and ran away, melting into the sand and harming nothing and no one any more.
The song in his head soared to a fever pitch of triumph.
The sun was rising.
The stallion came near again, and bowed his head near to Harry's chest, reminding Harry of that moment in the forest in autumn when he had thought he would die of a horn in the heart. This time, though, the horn simply brushed the wound from Voldemort's bite, and it shone and closed a little more.
Then the unicorn dropped to one knee in the sand, more graceful than any horse alive, and turned his head to fix Harry with a shining eye.
Harry would have refused what he thought the stallion wanted, but one didn't refuse a look like that. Carefully, he worked his way away from Draco—who, staring in silent awe, didn't protest—and climbed, his hand fisted in the unicorn's mane, onto his back. If his pulling gave any pain, the stallion showed no sign of it.
Then he rose and began to canter along the edge of the sea.
Harry had, somehow, not thought that riding a unicorn would be very different from riding a horse. He had never realized that he would have the opportunity, but if someone had asked him, then he would have shrugged and said that it must be much like a horse, mustn't it?
But it was not. The strength of the rolling muscles under him was more like a dragon's, as though every movement could as easily be a preparation for flight, for a dance, for the rising into light that Harry had seen the unicorns do when he freed them, as another step. The skin beneath his gripping legs was incredibly soft, a softness that silk could only aspire to, and as warm as the coming sun. The sounds of his hooves, quiet though the bells rang on the sand, mingled with the music in Harry's head until he had to close his eyes against it, and against the light shining off the stallion's horn.
The unicorn changed to a gallop. Now they were truly running, and Harry could feel the speed piercing through the shadows in his mind, shoving aside the justifications and explanations that he had given himself and everyone else, striking down and severing the cobwebs he had hung up to guard the truths he wanted to hide from the truth.
He suspected, then, why the unicorns had brought him there, but it was far too late to withdraw or shout that he wanted down.
Gleams of light to the side caught his attention, and when Harry turned his head, he saw other unicorns running there: pretty young mares, another stallion with long, shining silver scars down his flank that he wore with pride, foals with horns barely sprouted and eyes still large and trusting. They all carried with them that blaze that transfigured other people, lifting them to the same glorious height as the unicorns ran on, if only for a little while.
On and on they ran. And the lies and deceptions in Harry's mind collapsed and burned and tore themselves apart.
The stallion wheeled abruptly, and then Harry heard his hooves stop ringing. They had risen in flight, he realized, and were burning out over the sea like a low, silvery comet.
Harry wrapped his arms around the unicorn's neck and bowed his head. Tears were burning on his cheeks. He'd tried to resist them for so long, but they were coming out now, and he didn't think that he could stop them until he had wept them all.
It helped that he wasn't crying simply from sorrow or self-pity, but from the exaltation of the beauty all around him.
The stallion dipped down, and then they landed on a sunlit wave and dropped gently into it. Harry could feel the seawater soaking his pyjama legs, though with the unicorn's warmth beneath him, it wasn't cold. The other unicorns accompanied them, playing in and out of the waves, piping music through their horns and singing back and forth in joy that Harry didn't think any human could ever quite understand, because no human would ever be that innocent.
I'm not, he thought, but he didn't try to stop the tears, because he understood it would do no good.
The stallion swam with him directly towards the sun, and Harry tilted his head back, feeling the warmth sear into and strike and bedazzle him. And the tears continued coming to the surface, and along with them came shame and regret, grief and guilt over the deaths of Dragonsbane and the little boy, self-loathing and self-denial, drawn out of him like the poison they were and absorbed harmlessly into the vast wash of beauty and purity and water around him.
The words he could not have faced at any other time echoed in his head now, given gentleness by their surroundings.
If sacrifice is not the way anymore, Harry, then why do you still insist on sacrifices? Why do you demand things from yourself that you would never demand from anyone else, that you would think them mad and sick to demand from others?
Harry took a deep, hiccoughing breath, and answered from the center of that knot of tightness in the middle of his chest that he always felt when he cried.
I don't know.
The uncertainty swept him up and dissolved the knot. Harry fell forward, and the unicorn's mane crept like tendrils of sweet mist around his face, filling his nostrils with more than the scent of flowers, making him faint with the glory of it.
You are part of the reason that this beauty is back in the world again, said that voice that might have been his and might have been the voice of the magical creatures swimming, utterly free, around him.
A pause, and then the voice said, gentle even as it pushed, You might act more like it, sometimes.
Harry covered his face with his hand, but it didn't really help. He knew the light was still there, and the unicorns, and the sea, vast miles of it, more beautiful and more relentless than any magic, immortal and terrible.
And the unicorns, who judged him, who could judge him if anyone could, and did not find him wanting.
The knot broke apart, the hatred at the center of it—for his failures in the graveyard, for what had been done to him, for what he had do in consequence of it—gone at last, and Harry breathed.
He lifted his head, and removed his fogged glasses. The sun still blinded him, but the softer glow from the white coats of the unicorns—not at all like the gleam of polished snow he had once thought it was—and the shine from his own soul, steady and green-gold through his skin, calmed him.
He could do this. He could go on.
And some things were not his fault.
Harry closed his eyes. He knew that the unicorns would turn around, eventually, and carry him back to Draco. He knew he would have to answer questions, and resist some more badgering to go to Malfoy Manor, and that Draco would want him to Apparate them back to Hogwarts at once. He would have to endure fussing from Madam Pomfrey, too, for breaking his promise not to leave the hospital wing.
And beyond that was the harder road, peppered with uncertainties: about where he would stay with the summer, about who would become his new guardian, about how he could fight the war against Voldemort without losing himself to hatred and rage, about how he was going to deal with things like Lucius knowing about the loss of his hand.
But he thought he could walk that road. He need not know everything, not right away. There was this abeyance, this pause of sweetness, before he fell back into the madness of it.
Around him, the sun blazed, and shone, and flared, and the sea rose in the morning, and the unicorns swam, beauty that had come dancing up to him, fearless, because it knew that he would never try to chain or hold it or prevent it from dancing away again.
For a moment, in which he rested, both freedom and peace coalesced for him.
For a moment, there was only beauty, and light, and the clear sea for miles on glimmering miles, and his heart was still with wonder.
The sun was rising.