Author's Notes:

I'm very sorry for the once-again-so-long delay, people. RL became even less kindly to me these months, and I'm in fact sneaking away from some pressing duties just to finish this chapter. And yes, the chapter had been sitting in my harddrive since a few months ago in a half-completed state, but I only did the finishing touch just now. Not to say that I'm satisfied with it though, because I'm not.

That brings me to the second point of these notes too: I am going to rewrite this fic (yes, again…), so please save up the chapters yourselves if you would. The changes may or may not be significant; but the new chapters will just replace the old ones like I did previously. I recently found a rope to tie all the plot together and also wished to address some of the complaints by concerned readers, hence the impending rewrite. The general plot will be maintained, but I cannot promise that the smaller details will be any similar to what they are.

Last but not least, thank you all so, so, so, so much for reading, reviewing, following and favouriting this story, and also for those of you who put it in your communities. (100 C2's! Squeak!) A very special thanks to Mabidiso who once again had to nudge me – so politely too – to continue the story, without whom the chapter may not have been finished and posted. (The PM s/he sent me haunted and hounded my conscience until I finally worked on this story again. :guilty cough:) And for everyone, please be patient, but I assure you I'll reply to each and every review/PM you have kindly sent me some time in the future. I cannot promise you a specific date – or even month – though, since this semester is frightfully hectic at the school where I teach.

But now, enjoy!

Rey

Chapter 14

The sea was huge.

Harry had never seen the sea in its full glory before in his lifetime – or any of his lifetimes, rather. The little sojourn to the bleak, stormy seaside hut before his first year at Hogwarts had not prepared him for this. (It was like comparing a sandbox to a desert, or… well, Erestor to Dorith.) The vast expanse of tangy, salty water ran from horizon to horizon, coloured beautiful shades of deep blue and greenish blue, roiling eternally but not threateningly. Quiet, calm, deceptive power, the kind of power that Harry suspected Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle had tried to achieve – in their own ways – without much avail.

The man-child slid down, his bum connecting with the wet sand of the tidal line with a soft flop. Curling up, he hugged his legs and rested his chin atop his knees. His eyes roamed the treat before him hungrily. The sea was… enthralling, trapping him in a strange but fascinating dream of sounds and shapes and colours that he could not explain even to himself.

It felt like an eternity, yet at the same time just a moment; but anyway, Harry was jolted out of his trance by a finger of water lapping at his bare toes lodged in the wet sand. He blinked. The Sun was still on her way up, the breeze was still cool…

He blinked again. The sea was different. It was somehow… energetic, for lack of a better word. The waves danced merrily, toppling over one another and wriggling with lively vigor – inviting, beckoning…

Harry scrambled up to his feet and tentatively approached the wavelet that had woken him up, which was retreating back to the sea. His hesitation vanished when another finger of water surged towards him, as if wanting to grab him. He jumped as high as he could, then bore down on its crest with a splash and a giggling squeal. Another wavelet, another splash, another squeal of laughter, and soon Harry was hopping around, dancing amidst the waves with abandon. Immersed in his play, he unknowingly inched ever deeper in the shallows, seeking a closer contact with the fingers of currents that curled lovingly around him and caressed him in a playful manner.

The sea rejoiced with him, cradling him when his small feet no longer found bottom,

– Sending warm feelings at him.

A form materialised in front of him, composed of raw power, a conscience as vast as the sea, and a vague, liquid, glistening body. It enveloped him in a deep, gentle embrace, and a thought resonated in his mind, sounding like the rumbling of the deeps and the shushing of surf on the shore: `Welcome to our dwelling, changeling-child.` It was made up of concepts of welcome, sanctuary and Harry's own identity cobbled up together, but it felt natural on this strange being, and the meaning was unmistakeable.

Harry stiffened, feeling cold all of a sudden. Changeling? So this… person… knew that he was not a 'real' Elf? Then what would—

`I shall not harm you, changeling-child.`

It – or the translation Harry made for himself – did not sound sufficient, but his instincts told him that it was enough. One less individual out to get him was one less individual that he had to defend against. He was too used to a quiet, safe life lately… It seemed that he had to rework his old habits from a lifetime ago.

`No. Not now.`

`—No?` Harry's mind repeated the sense-turned-statement numbly, dazed and confused. `Not now?` The sensation of disagreement and disapproval, tempered by a faint thought of the future, had been delivered quietly and calmly, but with a definite certainty – a silent confidence – that felt like a mental punch to him. What did this… being?… mean?

But this time, no answer was forthcoming. Instead, He was back to being cradled and warmed, teased by various fingers of currents.

No, he did not want to be treated like a child!

But was he?

Only then Harry realised that the individual who was holding him had mostly retreated out of his mind. It was as if the other did not want to touch the subject also, and chose some mindless comforting to distract himself… Well, in that case, Harry felt no different.

And who was this new being, anyway? He did not feel and sound like Gandalf at all. He did not speak like Gandalf too. (Gandalf used words and images mostly, but this being used many sensations, emotions and thoughts, which Harry's mind then automatically turned into some word equivalent.) It was quite unfortunate that Gandalf's memory of Valinor had been blurred, really.

And in that case, was this—?

A strong sense of power merges on water and the delight of it flooded his own being, dwarved by that of his holder. It was followed by senses of dirt-shaping, liquid flame, ocean white-top rollers and shoreline surf; and underlain along the string of senses was the notion of self. – Storms, islands, magma, waves, but…

`Me.`

The one word, the first real word his holder had ever conveyed to him, was spoken in the same definite, undeniable manner. Harry would flinch away if he could.

Nobody else had introduced his or her self to him in such a manner, not even Gandalf. What a name!

Or… was it…?

`Name.`

Second word. His holder was definitely getting chatty. Well, but the tone was still as firm as ever, and Harry began to miss the beat-around-the-bush mannerism of most Elves (and even Gandalf sometimes). Speaking of which, where was he now? Were people beginning to miss him? Were he missed at all? He could not say that he missed Erestor, though, or their bearded host. The Wandering Company were who knew where, and the hobbits and other Elves were out of reach. He could spare some time for enjoying himself – wherever here was – right?

Thus, his mind made up, Harry settled back into his earlier playful, curious mood, becoming braver and livelier by the moment. It helped that another being, this time feeling like a female, soon joined them. She introduced herself in the same way as the male, conveying to him the sense (not even image!) of water plants and animals, of curly little wavelets and vicious undertow, and a hauntingly-beautiful image of a woman with long green hair and eyes as alluring as the depths of the sea.

But she did not stop just at that. Sending a mild disapproval at him, she asked (truly asked, in a worded and verbal fashion), "Why do you close up again, changeling-child? Do we frighten you?"

Truth be told, Harry did not know why he had returned to his usual self, no longer so carefree and… fay. (Well, if that was what the woman meant about his closing up, anyway.) The only thing he knew was that he was tired of personally meeting all these new and strange people. Even in Hogwarts and the Wizarding World in general, he had rarely interacted personally with more than ten people, the professors and students included. And they had all been familiar to him in a way! Why this sudden interest, then? These people were not even Elves, therefore without the excuse of his being a long-awaited child in all the race this side of the sea.

But a moment later, all his confusion and irritation was swept away as the temperature of the water cradling him warmed and a new environment welcomed his sight. Colourful corals and fishes formed a beautiful and somewhat other-worldly garden on the varying expanse of sand and rock underneath the waves, with some occasional visitors like young turtles and a pod of adventurous dolphins.

There was definitely some perks to having these strange beings as new friends, it seemed.

Still, Harry was not to be distracted for long, and the complacency of his holders soon unnerved him. He could not help it anyhow. Here he was: at least several feet away from open air, encircled by a weird current that had no beginning and end and that might be the replacement for fleshly embrace, and breathing bubbles by the means that he did not even comprehend; and his current keepers were holding him as if a pair of abcent-minded parents keeping half an eye on their child, drifting away in thoughts to other matters although being still there metaphysically. Now their easy-going attitude, coupled with the abundance of quiet-but-untamed power, truly impressed a mark in his mind, and he shied away from it.

Thus, when he at last touched sandy shore again an indefinite time later, Harry did not spend precious time dawdling on the tidal line. He ran away, trying to put as much distance as possible between him and the sea.

Voldemort could not match the scariness of that Island-Builder and the Bubble-Singer! On an entirely different league, of course…

Harry did not care that he did not really know the surroundings, or the fact that he was not even sure that this was where he had started the 'watery', nerve-racking escapade. But thankfully, he found signs of a settlement before long; and thus, bedraggled and penitent, he went in search of Erestor – or at least his beardy host. Erestor might be taciturn and flavoured like a lemon drop dipped in one of Snape's concoctions, but he was at least a familiar sight and an Elf to boot. Harry did feel a strange, tenuous connection to the two beings from earlier, somehow, but he was more used to being a human – and now an Elf – and now desperately needed to feel that familiarity again.

Well, his opinion changed slightly when Erestor did find him, as he stumbled along by the fish market, shivering and feeling more miserable by the moment. The Elf-man lifted him by his armpits and shook him a couple of times, a thunderous expression in those blue-grey eyes, and Harry would prefer meeting and taunting Voldemort once again to sensing the fright hidden beneath the angry façade Erestor now wore. It was unexpected, unpleasantly so for Harry who had expected his reaction to mimic maybe Aunt Petunia if not Uncle Vernon. The man-child found that he had to reevaluate his conduct towards that reluctant guardian of his so far: the guardian that now had become so real and tangible because of such a base emotion shown to him – no, for him.

And finally he had to concede to himself, `Poor Erestor.`