Author's notes here because I don't want to break the continuity of the title sequence:
I'd just like to take the opportunity to say that Birgit is the best beta in the world, and I'm lucky to have found someone who is so suited to the way I write. In this particular instance, she helped make sure that Harry was "Harry. Just Harry." and for that I'm very grateful.
I'd also like to say that this story is a bit of an oddball when you consider the huge ocean of HP fanfiction that has flooded the fandom since the release of GoF. In fact, I've never seen anything quite like it. It's also strange in that it can be interpreted in several ways. Feel free to read it in your own way as the meaning comes to you. It's very personal.
The grass - I have no idea where it came from. It was a spontaneous inclusion. I think it suits him, though.
Hope you like it, despite its strangeness. ^_^
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev. 21:4)
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me..." (23rd psalm)
Locating the first of the missing Horcruxes had been a stroke of blind luck for Harry Potter, but then again, Albus Dumbledore had said that Voldemort had always held Hogwarts, and all associated with it, in high regard. Rowena Ravenclaw, one of the school's four Founders, it transpired, was laid to rest near the place that had always been dearest to her: in a magically protected glade deep in the heart of the Forbidden Forest. Naturally, when he learned of this, Harry assumed there was a pretty good chance that what he and his two best friends were looking for had been laid to rest along with its owner. His instincts had not led him astray, and so it was that he found himself sitting upon the banks of a small lake, a little away from (but still in sight of) the tent he shared with Ron and Hermione, with Ravenclaw's wand in hand.
It was an odd thing, Harry thought, turning it over and examining it while his feet skimmed the still surface of the water. Very plain. Just a varnished stick of rosewood with no ornamentation whatsoever. No one would ever believe that it contained a fragment of Voldemort's soul. Yet he held it still in his hands. Very odd.
This place was odd too.
The first moment he had stepped into the glade with Ron and Hermione, he knew they had come to the right place at last. Ron did too. "This place gives me the creeps," he had said. Hermione had nodded in agreement, adding, "It's just too quiet. Something about this place feels wrong."
Harry had agreed, but only in part.
There was something wrong about the place that wasn't solely to do with the presence of the Horcrux. And Hermione was right. The place was quiet. Almost suffocatingly so. It was like being in a sacred place, where talking too loudly constituted a grave and irredeemable spiritual offence. It made you feel like even your thoughts would be overheard; like your hopes, your fears, your deepest desires and ambitions would be taken forever and absorbed into the infinite silence.
There was no sound. Therefore it followed there was no life here - at least, no life that passed in the way life should. It was weird, he knew, but Harry felt as though time here had stopped at some indeterminate point in a long-forgotten past and had never moved on since. The trees here were ancient, great trails of moss hanging from their silvery branches, their gnarled roots twisting both deep underground and up toward what little light entered this strange, twilit part of the world. The water in the lake (which was small but so deep it appeared black on the surface) looked as though it hadn't been disturbed for a very, very long time. It felt odd but thrilling to dip his feet in it, like he was breaking a nameless and unspoken tradition.
Yes, there was something peculiar about the place, but unlike Ron and Hermione, he wasn't unnerved by it. On the contrary, over the course of their short stay, he had grown to like it, and he had said so. He found the silence, the absence of life strangely peaceful and had asked Ron and Hermione if they would stay another night until they found out how to destroy the Horcrux safely - if that could ever be done.
When he first emerged from the tent at quarter to six that morning, he had been sorely tempted to go exploring before breakfast. He had been nursing an unlooked-for desire to get to know every nook and cranny of the place, as it felt so familiar, yet at the same time so utterly alien to him. But he soon realised that this place was not meant to be explored, and that it would never relinquish its secrets under any force. However, Harry was struck by the realisation that, in time, he would know them.
Having pondered alone and undisturbed upon the otherworldly nature of the glade, it came as no surprise that he yelled and jumped backwards - brandishing Ravenclaw's wand in his hand - when he noticed a figure across the other side of the lake watching him. It looked like a young man. Blinking, puzzled, Harry tilted his head to one side and peered cautiously at the interloper.
Sitting under the shade of a tree, the man - or was it a boy? - sat picking blades of grass, weaving them together to make a chain. He wore a pure white, loose-fitting shirt and trousers - nothing else. His feet were bare but spotlessly clean. His skin was also white - chalk white, as though he had never seen the sun - and his hair fell about his face like tendrils of mist or frost. It could have been said that the young man had a theme going, but his eyes spoiled the whole effect entirely. They were utterly black, and in all ways like the lake: their cold, still depths seeming to stretch out beyond the vast, bleak reaches of eternity itself.
Those eyes were fixed upon him, regarding him with an expression unfathomable.
A creeping, terrifying, primal urge gripped him - an urge to run, to run away from this man as fast as his legs could carry him. He almost did run, but something held him back. A little, niggling voice from somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind told him that this man was not to be feared. So he stayed and didn't move from his spot even when the young man rose with an unsettling grace and began to walk towards him across the water, his unsullied feet making not a ripple upon its black surface.
The stranger stopped just before him on the bank and observed him in silence. Then, without a word, the young man sat, cross-legged, on the grass and began to make another chain, his delicate fingers working with astonishing speed and dexterity.
Still standing, though Ravenclaw's wand now hung at his side, Harry calmly watched the stranger. He wished that Ron and Hermione would appear, but a part of him - that same niggling little voice - knew they wouldn't. Not until this man left, and by then, it would be too late. This, he had to deal with on his own. He wasn't scared, though. He wasn't scared at all - and that in itself was very strange, because by all accounts he knew he should be terrified. And so he steeled himself and sat down beside the young man, picking a blade of grass for him and holding it out - waiting to see whether it would be accepted.
Without so much as casting a glance in Harry's direction, the young man's hand shot out and deftly plucked the grass from his fingertips. Though their fingers did not touch, Harry could feel the chill that radiated from them almost in waves. In spite of himself, he shuddered, and it was only then that the young man turned to look at him, his black eyes falling over him like a shadow.
"I come here when I feel the need for solitude," the young man said, his voice soft and almost childlike, but devoid of tone and warmth. "This is my private place. What brings you here, Harry Potter?"
Harry did not question how the young man knew his name. Most knew it well enough by now. But then again, this man didn't seem like most people. "I was looking for something," he answered finally, with a shrug.
"And have you found what you sought?" the young man asked.
"Yeah," said Harry, with a short laugh. "Found it last night. No idea what to do with it."
The young man fell silent for a long while, his strange eyes staring out over the lake's surface. Then he said, "This is not for you." He gestured to his grass chain.
Harry blinked, a little bemused, seriously considering that the young man might turn out to be a total nut job - and if he was, then he'd have to call it a day pretty sharpish.
"I didn't really expect it to be for me," he replied honestly. "Who is it for? Anyone special?"
"No one is special," the young man replied, as though he were correcting a two year old, before again commencing his weaving.
Harry was beginning to regret ever having listened to the niggling voice. He was pretty sure this guy was two knuts short of a sickle, and trying to talk to him was like trying to get blood out a stone. But he kept going. Why, he wasn't quite sure.
"Well, everyone thinks I'm special," he said with a derisive laugh. "The Chosen One people are calling me because I'm the only one who can kill Voldemort. Do you know who he is? Voldemort? You-Know-Who? The man who murdered my parents?"
Saying it out loud brought back a wave of unwelcome memories, and Harry turned away angrily to stare at the lake because he didn't want to look at the strange young man sitting next to him. It was his fault that everything had bubbled to the surface again. A few minutes passed before he was afforded a reply.
"You are not special," the young man said. "Neither is Tom Riddle. Neither were your parents, nor your godfather, nor Albus Dumbledore. But yes," he added, almost as an afterthought, as Harry glared at him, now trembling with anger, "I do know Voldemort."
"My parents weren't special?" Harry began hotly. "Sirius and Dumbledore weren't special? You don't haveó You can'tó Don't you dare say anything like that about them! Who the hell are you, anyway? You don't know them! You don't know how much they... they..."
Embarrassed and infuriated, Harry trailed off, folding his arms aggressively around his knees while blinking back hot, angry tears.
"On the contrary," the young man replied, after a while, in his same cold monotone, "I knew them all. I have met them and they were not special. They came to me like all the rest. Just as Tom Riddle will," and here, the young man paused for a moment and fixed his eerie black eyes upon Harry, who instantly felt as though all the warmth had been sucked from his very soul, before adding, "ó just as you will."
As Harry looked into those eyes, the cold feeling flooded him when he realised what he saw in their depths. He started to tremble, but even though he now knew the nature of his strange, pale companion, he remained resolutely unafraid.
"H-How are they? S-Sirius, Dumbledore, my parents? Are they alright? Are they happy?" he asked, his voice oddly strained, as though he was reluctant to voice the question (or, indeed, reluctant to hear the answer).
At this, the young man turned away again, his attention focused on the swift completion of his delicate task as he answered. "Even if I knew, Harry Potter, I could not tell you," he said. "I place them upon the path. I am permitted neither to guide, nor to force them along it."
Harry nodded, hugging his knees tighter into his chest. "That's okay," he said, with a small smile. "I understand."
"That is what your godfather said too," the young man replied, as he swiftly passed another blade of grass through a expertly neatly made loop, placing the finishing touches upon his endeavour.
Harry said nothing. He couldn't bring himself to speak. He laughed once, but the sensation of pain, of deep, abiding loss felt so sharp it almost hurt. So he bit down on his lip and smiled a watery smile. He found solace in the silence as he watched the young man bring the two ends of his grass chain together, entwining them to make a garland. After a while, Harry felt strong enough to speak in the young man's presence, and he asked again, this time choosing his words much more carefully, "is that for anyone in particular?"
It was a long time before the young man gave him his answer, but when he did, there was a hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth - or was he imagining it? "Patience. You will see, soon enough, Harry Potter."
"But I must take my leave," he continued, "for I have tarried here long enough. You understand that I have much work to do."
Harry smiled and nodded. "I understand," he said. Then he paused and grinned, his following words coming tumbling out without warning, "Bummer of a job, though, eh?"
The young man fixed him with a prolonged, cool gaze. "You think so, Harry Potter?" he retorted, before he departed the way he had come.
Upon reaching the far bank of the small lake, he disappeared into nothingness, though Harry was sure he wasn't really gone. His presence lingered in the glade, as it had always done, Harry wagered, for a very, very long time.
For a few more minutes, Harry sat on the grass at the edge of the lake, lost in thought. Eventually, though, he wandered back to the tent. Ron and Hermione had just begun to stir. They were inside making bacon sandwiches. If either of them were puzzled at his change of heart, at his insistence that they leave the place straight after breakfast, they didn't show it.