Harry Potter and the Forests of Valbonë
by enembee

A/N: Hi there and welcome to Harry Potter and the Forests of Valbonë, or how enembee tried to solve his writer's block with The Sun Dog and failed miserably. This was an attempt to write a thousand words every day an endeavour which I've surpassed in the three weeks I've been writing it. This is almost nothing like any of my other fics, as it's a straight forward divergence from canon after second year and is, mostly, a pretty innocent story full of adventure and humour. I hope you give it a read and I hope if you do that it entertains you to read it as much as it did for me to write it. Cheers.

Chapter One

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.
~John Milton

She won't wake.

Little Ginny's been writing in it for months and months, telling me all her pitiful worries.

Dumbledore's been driven out of the castle by the mere memory of me!

This is what Dumbledore sends his defender! A songbird and an old hat! Do you feel brave, Harry Potter? Do you feel safe now?

No! Leave the bird! Leave the bird! The boy is behind you! You can still smell him! Kill him!

Fawkes, you were brilliant Fawkes.

You're dead Harry Potter. Dead. Even Dumbledore's bird knows it.

I'm going to sit here and watch you die, Harry Potter. Take your time. I'm in no hurry.

So ends the famous Harry Potter. Alone in the Chamber of Secrets, foraken by his friends, defeated at last by the Dark Lord he so unwisely challenged. You'll be with your dear Mudblood mother soon, Harry.

Do you feel brave, Harry Potter?

Do you feel safe now?

Do you feel safe?

Do you?

The rest of the term passed in a haze of blazing sunshine. Hogwarts was back to normal, with only a few, small differences: Defence Against the Dark Arts classes were cancelled and Lucius Malfoy had been sacked as a school governor. Draco was no longer strutting around the school as though he owned the place. On the contrary, he looked resentful and sulky. On the other hand, Ginny Weasley was perfectly happy again.

And Harry Potter couldn't sleep.

The world was ablaze with the colour of the setting sun. The deep red and yellows captured and reflected by the perfect mirrored surface of the water. He stood, transfixed, as the world let the day slip away in a halo of fiery light.

Around him, his peers laughed and ran. Their cries of simple pleasure rang from the sandstone walls. Yet he barely noticed them, their exuberance nothing more than the ghostly echoes of something that had long since died within.

It was the last day of term and nothing would ever be simple again.

His day ought to have been easy, ought to have been the idyllic conclusion to a year fraught with adventure and danger, ought to have drawn his second year at Hogwarts neatly to a close. Instead, he couldn't help but feel as though it were the beginning of the end.

It wasn't the killing that so voraciously tore into his happiness— he'd killed the year before and somehow that had changed almost nothing. It was easy to rationalize. Kill, or be killed. It could have been natural if it hadn't been quite so obscene. His desperation had lent his mind a defence.

But in the chamber beneath the school, it hadn't been another's life that hung in the balance. It hadn't been another lying in a crumpled heap of robe and bone, their blood gushing onto the unforgiving stone floor. It hadn't been another that had almost slipped from this world.

He had almost died.

It had been naught but a matter of seconds but in that moment his innocence had fallen away like the petals of a picked flower. In those few seconds he'd exchanged this astounding paradise of magic for a twisted nightmare that stretched on before him, endlessly.

Even here, surrounded by his friends as they laughed merrily and teased each other, he felt isolated and alone. He watched with half-hearted interest as the twins screwed up a piece of parchment and enchanted it to fly around Ron's head, bouncing off it at random.

Nearby, stretched out in the sun, Ginny and Hermione whispered conspiratorially. While Neville, Dean and Seamus played with exploding cards in an attempt to set the dry grass on fire and Lee Jordan let his tarantula run over his hands.

Each of them had taken it upon themselves to keep Harry's company as much as possible for the last few weeks. It was almost as though they could sense his uneasy mind and unpleasant thoughts.

Ron, finally tiring of the enchanted parchment, raised his wand and used a spell they'd learned in the last couple of days.

"Aresto Momentum!" he snapped, aiming his wand dead at the ball.

To his astonishment the paper cloned itself twice more and each of them resumed striking him in the face. Flummoxed, he staggered away, flapping his hands around his face.

"Incendio!" he said quickly, waving his wand around at the parchment.

To Ron's dismay and the twins' delight, he found that instead of having three aggressive pieces of parchment hitting him in the face, he had three burning pieces of parchment battering his face.

While Fred rolled around laughing, George leaned over to Harry and explained how it was done.

"We stuck a bounding charm on it, you see," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "Completely pointless on its own, but it makes for some strange spell interactions. If you try and stop or vanish it, it multiplies and if you try and remove any of the enchantments other than the bounding charm, it'll double in speed."

"Cool," said Harry, trying to seem enthused and failing magnificently. "I'll have to remember that one."

"Trade secrets y'know," said George, winking, then went back to egging on the parchment.

Not able to stand any more, Harry excused himself and left his friends beside the lake.

"Harry," called Hermione after him, but he ignored it.

Almost inevitably, his feet walked the same tired old paths, drawing him through the winding castle. Each of the corridors he passed through was bathed in a seductive orange glow that was entirely lost on Harry. He realised with neither a great deal of astonishment or interest that he'd arrived before Dumbledore's gargoyle.

The huge stone creature gave Harry a lingering look and then stood aside.

"You can go up if you like," he said kindly.

"Thank you," whispered Harry.

Ensconced once more in the Headmaster's office, Harry couldn't manage much more than staring at his own hands. Dumbledore sat opposite him with neither a smile on his lips or twinkle in his eye. Indeed, their expressions were almost mirror reflections; long, drawn, sad faces. One conflicted and the other withdrawn.

"Is there anything I can do, Harry?" asked Dumbledore kindly.

Harry shook his head, opened his mouth and then shut it again. Not because he had nothing to say, but because there was so much he wanted to say he felt that if he started he'd almost certainly never stop.

But Dumbledore seemed to understand this and nodded quietly. Content to sit in silence with his young student and merely console him with his presence. The atmosphere was as stifling as the long, morbid tones of a funeral, but Harry knew it wasn't a corpse they were burying, but his innocence.

He felt a sudden impulse to scream, to shout, to bang things together, anything to break the silence. Anything to feel something other than the strange phantom emotions that ghosted across the surface of his mood.

But he decided against it.

He was too tired after all.

The minutes of silence dragged on and before Harry knew it, he noticed that the sky had grown dark and overcast. The sun had swept below the horizon and night had stolen in while he was distracted.

Eventually Dumbledore looked away from his close scrutiny of Harry and rose behind his desk. His absurdly colourful robes hanging around his neck like a noose. He gave Harry a small smile and gestured to the door.

"I have an appointment at the Ministry, Harry," he said softly. "You're welcome to stay here, of course."

"Thank you Headmaster," said Harry softly. "I think I'll stay a little while longer."

Dumbledore's sad smile didn't fade away, but he nodded slightly.

"As you wish."

The Headmaster crossed his office, stepped around Harry's chair and opened the door. Yet Harry heard him falter and pause.

"I fear I'm repeating myself, Harry," said Dumbledore quietly. "But remember, help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."

For a minute Harry hovered on the edge of tears and anger. A second later, the damn inside his head burst and everything began to tumble out of his mouth, in one completely incoherent stream.

"I can't sleep Professor," he blurted. "It's like I don't know where I am. I'm so lost. I'm just drifting around. Tom Riddle killed me, or as good as and I can't— I don't feel the same. I feel like someone's scooped me out and left this shell in its place.

"And I can't sleep properly. I don't have dreams anymore, I only have nightmares. When I dream now it's dark. There's no way out of it. There's nothing to take me from the darkness. There's nowhere to go. It's hot and dark and quiet. No matter how far I go, I can run forever, and it never ends."

The silence that accompanied his outburst seemed to stretch on forever and when he looked around, the doorway was empty. Again Harry felt a little burst of rage.

"Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it," he muttered sarcastically but his eyes fell on a familiar lump in the corner of the room.

Harry stood and crossed the office and lifted the crumpled sorting hat from its perch on the shelf beside the door. He closed his eyes and reached inside. His fingers closed around the handle of Gryffindor's sword and he withdrew it easily. It shimmered lazily as it lay in his hand, strange blue patterns running lethargically up and down its surface as it caught the light.

"Potter?" came a voice from behind him and Harry turned to meet the dark, intimidating stare of Severus Snape.

"Professor," replied Harry curtly.

"What are you doing here Potter?" asked Snape in an icy voice. "The Headmaster's office is out of bounds."

"He said I could stay," snapped Harry, heat rising to his cheeks.

"And play with a priceless magical artefact?" asked Snape and held out his hand for the sword. "Get out Potter, before I give you detention every night for the rest of your time here."

Harry hesitated, his cheeks flushing with the unfairness of it all, Dumbledore had invited him to stay. The Potions Master took a step forward, his dark eyes flashing, his hand still outstretched and Harry brought the sword up, as quick as a flash.

"Stay back," he ordered, but his entire arm shook as he held the heavy blade. "Dumbledore said."

Snape's eyes narrowed to slits.

"Don't be ridiculous, Potter," snapped the professor, his hand falling away and the normal loathing expression masking his face. "Put the sword down."

Harry thought he probably ought to comply, but part of him was beyond caring, beyond logic, beyond anything. Snape drew his wand and Harry moved instantly, slashing out with the sword and neatly cutting it in two.

The professor stepped backward as Harry approached again, the blade poised at the man's throat, his arm perfectly still now. Something new flashed in Snape's expression, but it wasn't fear.

"Don't follow me," said Harry, his tone like thunder.

Snape took another step backward and raised his palms.

Harry threw the Sorting Hat on his head and fled. Though he had no idea where he was going his feet carried him effortlessly through the darkly twisting passages of the school. He ran and ran and ran, until he abruptly collided with someone travelling in the other direction.

The small blonde first year almost went crashing to the ground but Harry swept in and caught her in the arm that wasn't carrying the sword. He turned with her body weight and righted her with the same single movement, momentarily lifting her feet from the ground as he spun with her.

She came back to the stone floor laughing and spun gracefully on her tiptoes, then turned to face Harry. She looked up and down him with interest and Harry couldn't help but be caught by her incredible blue eyes that sparkled in the light from the torches.

"My, my," she said, a serene smile on her lips. "Mister Gryffindor, you dance divinely."

Harry looked from his red crest to the sword in his hand and smiled, then regarded the blonde girl a little closer. She was effervescent, happy and burned his eyes like the sun.

"Has anyone ever told you, you look like an angel?" asked Harry, with the acute awareness that reality was falling apart around him.

"You, every time you see me," she said. "All your life."

All his life.

Harry didn't know what she meant by that.

Harry wasn't sure he could remember anything but these elongated seconds. He couldn't remember where he'd been, who he'd been with, what he'd been doing. The world spun around him, the castle walls cracking beneath his gaze. He shut his eyes fast.

When he opened them again, his fingers were entwined with those of the small blonde first year. She gazed at him with something that was almost pity, but that was closer to empathy. She lifted their hands and pressed her lips against his fingers. He was overcome with an unfamiliar emotion but it faded as quickly as it came, only to be replaced by a deep emptiness.

"I was the same, once," she whispered and Harry felt as though he might lose himself in her slow, melodic voice. "Purposelessly slipping from place to place. Twisted up inside like a ball of paper. I know how it feels, I think."

The wind rattled the panes of glass in the window.

"Can you hear the breeze whisper to us?" asked Harry and turned his head slightly.

"Yes," she said, the words escaping her lips like an ancient secret of apocalyptic significance. "And if you want, you can let it take a hold of you and carry you away. Let the breeze take you, Harry Potter, if it helps you be free."

He nodded, released her hand and was running again. Out of the castle he ran, down the tiny paths that criss-crossed the ground like a child's doodle and past Hagrid's house. Hedwig joined him on that final leg down to the Forbidden Forest, knowing somehow that he needed her.

He stared into the depths of the forest and the forest whispered all its little secrets to him. The secret glades where the unicorns cavorted, the pitch black places where the acromantulas clicked, the shady spots where the bowtruckles sung their hypnotic ballads to the stars. The trunks, packed so tightly together, bled into each other. The rough bark spiralling and collapsing as though they were being smudged by a painter's brush.

In the distance he could hear his name being called; the brusque, impatient calls of Snape. The terrified, worried sounds of McGonagall, the timid, high pitched squeal of Flitwick and thirty other voices he didn't recognise.

Behind him, the motor purred. He turned to face the bright blue Anglia, its paintwork scratched and scuffed by the year in the forest. He let his fingers trace the curves of its bonnet and it purred slightly louder, drowning the approaching voices.

"She told me to let the breeze take me," said Harry.

In this moment he realised how leaden he felt, first noticed the exhaustion that wracked his body, felt the tears that were pouring from his eyes and running over his cheeks. Yet he didn't know why he cried, he didn't feel sad. He didn't feel much of anything.

The voices were closer now and Harry looked to the sky and the stars that shone brilliantly in the night sky. A handful of sand thrown across black velvet. There was no wind.

"She told me to let the breeze take me," he repeated. "But I don't think the breeze is coming."

Then he looked the car in the headlight and smiled.

"Are you the breeze?"

'Yes,' said the Anglia, in its own little way. 'I can take you away if you let me.'

So Harry opened the door, admiring the way the sword in his hand shimmered in the moonlight. Unthinkingly, he stroked the soft, white snowy owl on his shoulder and adjusted the hat on his head that whispered comforting thoughts in his ear.

Saying farewell to everything he'd known, he clambered into the car.

"Take me away," he whispered and he knew no more.