Chapter 13: The Siren's Call
Harry awoke to the softest of breezes ruffling the hair on his head, to the feeling of clean pressed sheets enveloping his body. He knew these feelings well, the soft embrace of these sheets and the softest clinks of glass that surrounded him. He'd been in the hospital wing too many times not to know exactly where he was.
He lay perfectly still for the longest time, his eyes closed tightly against the warm light that streamed through the open window above to fall across his face. He knew, more acutely than he'd ever known anything else in his life, that the worst possible mistake he could make would be to open his eyes.
It was fear that stayed his eyelids. Fear in the knowledge that when he finally opened them, his eyes would be exposed to a world that was irreparably damaged. So he lay their, his eyes tight shut, clinging to the hope that he might never have to open them, that he could stay in this single spot for the rest of his days.
Visitors came and went in single file, he heard the impatient pacing footsteps of Ron, the hushed whispers of Neville, the terror in his father's breathing, the soft silence that Dumbledore exuded. Regardless, Harry lay with his eyes tightly shut and his back turned against them and eventually, gratefully, he slipped back into slumber.
It was dark when he awoke again and when Harry opened his eyes it was as though he hadn't. The world around him was still and silent and it took him a moment to realise that exactly had woken him. Seconds turned into minutes and Harry stared into the darkness. Slowly and almost inaudibly, a figure emerged from the shadow and came to stand beside his bed.
Wordlessly, Harry edged back on the mattress and Luna clambered onto the bed, they lay facing each other, their bodies crushed together. Slowly Harry wrapped his arms around her waist and Luna's hands clasped tightly to the front of his pyjamas. Harry leant forward so that their noses touched and their breath mingled in the space between their mouths.
For the longest time neither of them said anything, they just lay together, the warmth of their flesh huddled against the darkness. Then slowly, unbidden, Luna lifted her mouth to his and their lips met. The kiss was slow, soft and mournful. When their mouths separated Harry rested his forehead on the top of her head and held her close.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Me too," she replied, with almost imperceptible quietness. "On the tower—"
"I know," he said.
"I couldn't even look at you. I should have looked at you, I'm sorry," said Luna. "But I was so scared."
"It's alright," said Harry, lifting her hand to his mouth and gently kissing it.
She sighed and Harry let her hand fall away.
"I've got to go away for a while," he said.
"How long?" she asked.
"I don't know," replied Harry truthfully. "As long as it takes."
She was silent, so Harry continued.
"You should be safe, from him. I didn't die for you, but I meant to and that ought to be enough."
"I wish you hadn't," said Luna, sounding very strange and then fell very quiet.
It was only then, in those minutes of silence that Harry realised why she was here; this was her goodbye as much as it was his. He felt as though he ought to be angry, but instead he found he understood. She knew as well as he that his destiny was as entwined with Voldemort's as much as Neville's was. What future was there for them?
He lifted his hand and cupped her chin, raising her eyes to meet his. She stared back and despite that she was barely visible in the darkness he could see the tears in her eyes.
"Come back," she whispered, an element of childishness slipping into her voice. "Please don't die."
Then with a final brush of her lips against his, she left him in the darkness.
It was morning when he was joined by Dumbledore, pale fire silhouetting his clothed form against the open window. Harry turned to the Headmaster and for a the briefest of fleeting moments, their long, drawn faces and empty eyes mirrored each other. Then Harry smiled and came to sit on the bed.
Harry spent a moment examining his mentor with the slightest concern. There was none of the usual lustre in the Head Master's eyes, just a deep exhaustion and an overwhelming sadness. He sat in the chair opposite him and neither of them spoke for a while, merely letting the presence of the other calm them.
"Conlaodh?" asked Dumbledore eventually. It was a cryptically sparse question but Harry understood perfectly.
"He took the curse," replied Harry. "He's gone."
Dumbledore nodded as though he has suspected as much.
"He had twisted our souls together, somehow," said Harry. "Now that he's gone, I feel different."
"If you would allow me to suggest," said Dumbledore, contemplatively. "I think perhaps it was his presence that made you feel differently. You have been acting rather odd this term. I suspect you will find yourself returning to normal shortly."
"Ron? Severus? The students?" asked Harry, after a moment of silence.
"All alive, thankfully," replied Dumbledore. "Mister Weasley required some patching up, but appears none the worse for wear."
"But Proffesor Sprout?"
"Unfortunately Pomona is no longer with us," said Dumbledore, his voice reflecting his heavy heart, he turned weary eyes upon Harry. "Her funeral is this afternoon."
Harry felt a lump creep up into his throat.
"I feel I owe you an apology," said Dumbledore, in a strained voice. "I did not take your warning about Draco as seriously as I should have."
"Don't say that," replied Harry, shaking his head, feeling tears creeping back into his eyes. "Not now."
Dumbledore nodded again but remained silent.
"Do you remember the last night we spent in Ireland, before returning to England."
Dumbledore nodded and the slightest ghost of a smile reached his lips.
"When we sat among the dunes," continued Harry. "Watched the gulls dive over the spray and followed the sun fall as it set over the horizon. The sky looked just like the world was ending, burning orange and red in the distance. And the air was so thick you could taste it."
"Like warm honey," agreed Dumbledore quietly.
Harry's face darkened.
"And you know, I sat there and I saw through that beauty and lustre. I couldn't see what was right in front of my face. All I could see was what Voldemort could destroy. And I knew that, no matter what, I had to stop him. That it didn't matter what it cost, provided there were still people to sit in those dunes and watch the sun set and see the beauty I couldn't."
Dumbledore was silent and stared into the distance, his face set in grim lines.
"I can't do what you asked," continued Harry, blinking to clear his eyes. "I can't stay here to protect the students. I've got to leave."
"I feared as much," replied Dumbledore, finally looking back at him. "Where are we going?"
Harry's face fell at the question, his stomach twisting into a knot.
"You can't come," he replied. "Not this time."
Dumbledore looked at him in astonishment. Harry fancied he could see a little hurt in the old man's pale blue eyes.
"I don't think I can trust you to do what needs to be done," said Harry, staring at the outline of his feet beneath the bedsheets. "Or rather, I don't think I can trust you to let me do it."
"Ah," replied Dumbledore, his manner abruptly becoming grave. "Must it come to that?"
"It must," said Harry.
"But you shall come to the funeral?" asked Dumbledore. "Before you leave?"
"Of course," replied Harry. "Though I will use Draco's cloak. It would make it easier if you told them that I didn't make it through."
"It is not a ploy that will hold up to much scrutiny," the Headmaster replied.
"It'll give me a couple of days on him," said Harry with a shrug. "It's all I'll really need."
"I shall give you some addresses," said Dumbledore. "Places to stay, people to meet. Is there anything else you require?"
"The sword," responded Harry immediately. "Your bag, a lot of luck."
"You will have as much as I can spare," replied Dumbledore, with a chuckle. Something his eyes began to burn slightly brighter, as though he were returning somewhat to his old self.
Harry reached out and lifted the old man's hand from where it rested on the old man's faded robes. He squeezed it affectionately and smiled.
Dumbledore smiled back.
"I suppose the time has come for us to be equals," he said.
Harry laughed quietly.
"I'll never be your equal, Headmaster," he replied sincerely.
Overnight, winter had crept in, the clear blue skies of the weekend led to frost sweeping across the grounds. The temperature plummeted so rapidly that the lake was covered with a layer of ice and the hundreds of people flocking to fill the seats beside it were wrapped up heavily in furs and thick robes.
Harry joined the back row, where the rest of the stragglers were sitting, joining the service five minutes late, so that the crunch of his feet against the frozen grass and his breath, visible in the cold air, would go unnoticed.
He wore Draco's cloak over his head and was careful to sit as far away from everyone else as possible, allowing Dumbledore's booming words to disguise his arrival.
"Pomona Sprout," said Dumbledore, his eyes lingering on Harry's for the slightest of moments. "Was an incredible teacher. Truly, a pillar of this school, upon which so many of us, student and staff alike, depended—"
Harry let the Headmaster's words wash over him and turned his attention to the crowd. Sat in the front three rows were the students of Hufflepuff, each of them pale and distraught. Professor Sprout had been approachable, friendly and had cared for each of her house as if they were her own, Harry couldn't begin to imagine how vulnerable they felt.
But it was not just the Hufflepuffs who mourned her, each of the students, the staff, the villagers and the hundreds of others who'd turned up to note the passing of an extraordinary witch. A woman who'd been brilliant, brave and yet never too busy to dish out a kind word to every person she met.
Harry felt ashamed he'd never gotten to know her better.
"Never before has Hogwarts been blessed to have such a fiercely dedicated member of staff. This school was her life's work and each of us who have passed through her halls during her tenure here have been, in our own way, her family—"
Harry let the words fade away again, lost to the wind that howled across the grounds, and gathered his cloak tighter around him. Toward the front, with Ginny and Ron either side of him, sat Neville, tears streaming down his face. Harry felt a sudden pang of pity; Neville had been closer to Sprout than perhaps any other professor, including Dumbledore.
Beside him sat Ron, a thick scar running diagonally across his neck and disappearing beneath his collar. He was far paler than Harry could ever remember seeing him before and his face was set in grim, straight lines. Nearby were the students he'd protected, each determined to sit as close to him as possible.
Then, on her own near the back was Luna. She too was crying, but her tears were slightly undermined by her inappropriate choice of headgear. Resting upon her hat, was a vast badger head that loomed two feet over the rest of the congregation. Every now and then it would turn a savage look on those around it, but had, at least, remained mercifully silent.
Despite himself, Harry couldn't help but smile.
Gently he rose from his seat, walked to the end of the row and followed it down until he could squeeze in behind Neville. He immediately noticed his presence, for he stiffened and turned his head slightly, his fingers reaching for his wand.
"It's me, Neville," he murmured and Neville relaxed slightly.
Dumbledore had handed over on the raised platform to a tiny wizard with white fluffy hair. As the Headmaster left the platform he let the fingers of his left hand trail over the mahogany coffin that rested there and Harry thought he could see tears streaming down the old man's face.
"How are you?" asked Neville, in the same low voice Harry had used.
"Fine," replied Harry tersely and laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I've got to go for a little while."
"I can't tell you. Just promise me you'll keep up your occlumency, and your old magic. I have a feeling you'll need both before long."
"I promise," said Neville, in a fierce whisper. "Take care of yourself."
The elderly wizard had stopped talking and Harry turned back to watch the podium. Long, strong creepers rose from the ground, wrapping themselves around the coffin, their tendrils sticking fast. A quiet buzz went through the audience as they watched them drag the coffin from the podium and smoothly into the ground. No sooner had it disappeared than thousands of flowers burst into life across the freshly turned earth. Tulips, daffodils, cannas, hydrangea, zantedeschia, bluebells and a hundred other types that Harry couldn't even identify sprang up over the grave.
Dumbledore once again took the stage, flashing a meaningful look in Harry's direction.
It was time to go.
By the time the sun set again, snow had begun to fall, a quick response to the overwhelming sunshine of the last two days. It was across a world blanketed with fresh white snow that Harry began to trudge, heading down from the castle under the guise of night and passing through the towering gates.
The sword of Godric Gryffindor was slung across his back, the blood red rubies in the hilt catching the gleam of moonlight reflected by the snow. His hair was once more cropped close to his head and he had lifted his hood to shield his exposed flesh from the cold night air.
He slipped between the buildings of Hogsmeade, moving from alley to alley as stealthily as possible. Now and then, he would prick his ears at the sound of movement; departing villagers from the Three Broomsticks, the low morbid tones of a dirge escaping from the Hogshead as the door opened and closed, the soft sounds of snow slipping from a tree.
It was not until he reached the edge of the small village and emerged into the small copse of trees that he drew both sword and wand. Moving swiftly and silently, he pressed himself in against the trunk of a tree, concealing himself from the direction he just came.
Only a few seconds later another dark form passed by the tree, moving almost as quietly as Harry had done. In a practiced, fluid motion, Harry seized the figure and swung it around and down, pressing it to the ground and covering it's face with one hand.
He looked down into the face of his father with the slightest of grins.
"Knew you'd try to follow me," he whispered. "I heard Prongs from the other side of the village, you ought practice more."
His father, unable to reply, fixed him with a glare. But his eyes flickered away at the sound of movement nearby. Harry frowned.
"One of yours?" he asked, but James shook his head as best he could.
With a quick flurry of hand signals, the pair of them rose from the snow and crept in opposite directions into the undergrowth, using the darkness to their advantage, intending to circle back on their persuer.
Harry moved as silently as possible, his breath rippling before his eyes in a faint mist, his heart hammering inside his chest. He had thought before it was only his father following him on Dumbledore's behest and catching him out had been a bit of sport. However if the second tail was an an agent of Voldemort's, this little game had the potential to be deadly.
He tucked himself in between two bushes and waited, his ears pricked and his eyes keen, ready to pick out any shape or sound in the darkness. He kept the weapon in his hand low, against the snow, to prevent any reflection from the blade warning his prey.
A few seconds passed before he was rewarded with the sight of a dark shape inching through the copse only a foot or so from where he lay in wait. He allowed the figure to get a little closer and then flung himself from his hiding spot and crashing the hilt of the sword into the back of the figure's head, pitching them forward and jarring the wand from their hand.
He threw his entire weight on his opponent, who wheeled madly, arms and legs flying in all directions. Whoever it was, it was clear that they were completely dazed from the blow and Harry had no trouble at all pinning them to the floor beneath his knees.
"Got him!" he called out into the darkness precisely as his father called the exact same thing.
With a frown on his face, Harry picked up the dropped wand and pulled the figure below him to their feet, dragging them in the direction of his father's voice. Clearly they had both had the same idea for they met in a clearing between them. Harry pushed his captive into the centre and James followed suit, each covering the prisoners with their wands.
"Lumos," muttered Harry, having sheathed the sword and lifted the captive's wand above his head.
For a moment all four of them stared at each other in astonishment. Then Harry recalled Conlaodh's final words to him and he began to chuckle slightly.
"What's so funny?" asked his father, sounding annoyed.
"Conlaodh has a horrible sense of humour," replied Harry, staring down at the two people on the floor. "I suppose you're both coming along as well?"
High above a single fieldfare, separated from the flock, fluttered against a steadily encroaching north wind. Alone, friendless and freezing, it cried it's plight to the sky, the moon and the snow.