Chapter 16: Doe of Dreams
Harry did not know how long he walked that night. His mind was in too much of a fog. Before he knew it he was running, running through the forest, caring not that the branches scratched him and roots and vines almost tripped him up. He had to get away from all that lay at his back. He ran and ran and ran, until he reached the edge of the lake where he had collected the moss Snape had been able to identify by touch alone.
When he felt he could not run anymore, he fell down on that moss and sobbed his heart out. It was not for Snape only, but for everyone, everything he had witnessed and taken part in his whole life long, all the pain and neglect and cruelty and torture and death. He felt drained of all his strength, and discovered that perhaps the thing that had kept him sane at war’s end was the playing of a game with someone else. And now the game was over, and the someone else was gone. The someone else who had been his enemy, and his friend, and who had always been there to protect him – and Harry supposed that somewhere, deep inside himself, he had always known that was the case – was gone.
And now the boy felt empty, empty and scraped out inside, shrouded by the night, and so very, very alone. Everything seemed to have run out apace for him, pushed along by a destiny not his own, by mortals assuming god-like powers to dictate the fate of others, of men gone mad for magic, and others gone mad in the fight against their claims. There were those whose evil was like fire, burning inescapably and insanely, and those who evil was like ice, assuring themselves that the ends would justify their means.
It was the true contagion, the true disease, and they dragged the whole world down with them. It was the language of the serpent, the road that runs pell-mell through the dark wood, until all the paths are overgrown and the straight way is lost. And it was magical, so very magical. And it burned as cold as snow. And he wondered…he wondered if it had burnt up all their humanity as well…
He was haunted by the thought of what might have happened if he had not been there. Would the crowd have just stood gaping while he writhed on the ground, blind and lone with nothing to cling to as his lungs failed him? Would they just have let him wear himself out with struggling for breath until the terror of death and disorientation swallowed him up? Would he never have known that someone in the world cared enough to hold him like a human being instead of shrink back from him as if he were a reptile, without warm blood or the need for human touch?
And this brought a new disturbing thought to his mind, recalling how sensitive to touch Snape had grown in his last days. The thought of him being so cruelly brutalized before the end ruptured the boy’s heart. For having felt so much antagonism toward the man for so very long, he had no idea how deeply he had come to care for him…until now. So Harry Potter, the savior of the Wizarding World, cried until he shook, and clutched himself, and rocked himself to sleep.
When he awoke, his eyes, still stinging raw from the tears he had shed so profusely, fell upon the lakeshore. There he beheld an astonishing sight. It was more light than sight, or beyond the mortal sense of seeing. It was light, bled out silver, yet living, like sorrow feels alive when it makes the blood throb within you. It felt like a dream, yet beyond the confines of any dream Harry had ever known. It felt magical, yet beyond the realm of all magic Harry had ever breached. It was a doe, silver-white in the moonlight. And her eyes, as piercing as the stars against the vast ebony expanse, glittered green.
Harry sat up fully and adjusted his glasses. She was still there, and she was looking at him. Could an animal convey such a tenderness in its eyes? He knew, suddenly, that he recognized those eyes…he recognized them, and with them the softness of a mother’s breast, as she held him in her arms, and the softness of a mother’s voice as she sang to him in the twilight.
“There were three raven sat on a tree, and they were as black as they might be, and one of them said to his mate ‘what shall we for our breakfast take?’”
And he heard it, and felt it, and saw it. And she was here.
He reached his hand out on instinct, down on one knee. Her eyes continued to penetrate his own and his lips trembled. “Mmm…mmm…mother…”
The doe seemed to study his hand, and then approached it until the tips of Harry’s fingers touched her velvety nose. It was real, so very real, and yet…realer than real. It felt like no other touch he had experienced before, like touching the sky.
“You…you came for him, didn’t you?” he queried, letting his hand run down the sleekness of her neck. Her eyes beamed in the darkness…and he knew the answer already.
“Down in yonder deep green field, there lies a knight slain ‘neath his shield…now, here there comes a fallow doe, as great with young as she might go…”
“He loves you lots, mum,” he said. “Take good care of him, even if he’s cranky, alright?” He felt his eyes starting to well up again, and he felt the deer come closer, and he rested his face against her neck. “Show him…what the open sky looks like…show him where the water runs clear…”
“She lifted up his bloody head, and kissed his wounds that were so red; she got him up upon her back and carried him to the earthen lake…”
He felt her face move against his, and then away from him, and his whole heart felt like it was melting. He wanted to stay with her forever. His whole soul felt on fire with the love she was leaving him, stronger then the coursing lightening of Voldemort’s rod she had taken for him. She was his mother, in whom he had been formed, and nurtured, and then brought forth into the world; what closer claim could he have?
“Mother, don’t…don’t leave me here,” he blurted. “I…I don’t want to go on alone anymore…I just…can’t bear it…” He pressed his arm to his face as the tears ran down. “Can’t I come…come with you? Please…please don’t leave me all alone…”
A final time, he met those eyes. And if he could read them, he might say he saw the strain of sorrow. For can a mother ever forget her child, nor cease to be left with the mark of loss that crevices the inner workings of the soul? Is not a mother’s love stronger than death, strong enough a bond to bind sleeping and waking, and carry all the world?
Yet he knew inside himself as he crossed the water that he could not follow. Her eyes told him so. Someday, but not now. He had to stay until his time had spent itself. He had to live. So many had died for him to have a life. He could not throw that away, or else all their sacrifices would not be measured worthy. He had to live for them, see the wild colors and hear the wild music of the running water of life, gurgling over in freshness of taste and the scent of untamed growth and the touch of unfettered love.
No, she had come for those who had served their sentence, come to melt the chains into liquid gold that runs, and burst the shackles with song, old songs, beautiful songs…
“She buried him before the prime; she was dead herself by evensong time…God send every gentleman fine hawks, such hounds, and such a loved one…”
“Love you, mum,” he whispered as she crossed the water lightly, and surrounding her the pure light, pure energy, gleaming like ice as it melts, vanished. And she vanished too. Harry found his voice fade from him, and he fell down on both his knees on the lakeshore. He was shaken to the core of him, and his breath seemed to crystallize in the cool spring air, to form the early morning dew upon the wild emerald grass.
Then he turned his eyes to the right, to the edge of the water where the last stars were fast evaporating in the flawless reflection. There was a rock, slit down the center, and from the heart of it there blossomed a water lily, as pale as the light of the fading moon. It grew there like the fairest beacon of deliverance, and the portal of the dawn.
And Harry understood now what the all the old songs meant, about the missing keys to unlock the dark, all the signs and symbols that men sought after. In the end, they all came down to the object of their love. For if that love lived, then hell itself would lose its hold upon the soul.
His mind flooded with old words printed on old pages in the heart of Dante’s Inferno, and spoke them quietly to the chill spring wind:
“So that the Universe felt love, by which, as some believe, the world has many times been turned to chaos. And at that moment this ancient rock, here and elsewhere, fell broken into pieces.”
Yes, broken! And broken the shields, and broken the gates of hell!
He turned again to the water, speckled with the stars that no spiders could stain, that no web could contain, and his own reflection met him, and the piercing emeralds of his eyes. And he scooped up the water with his hands, and splashed it in his face. And with it, the stars splashed on him, and the sky, and he felt the grime of the past wash away.
And waiting for the ripples to ease, and his image to coalesce once more upon the skin of the water, there was no boy, but a man gazing back at him. It was his inner self brought to completion, his sufferings brought to fruition, and for the first time in forever, he felt peace. And he knew that he could go on.
Just then, he heard the sound of footsteps behind him. “Harry! Harry, are you…alright?”
It was Hermione Granger, her hair wild and her eyes full of concern as she stepped out of the shadows into the moonlight. He struggled to his feet, and they gazed at each other for several moments, and it seemed that the visual exchange spoke volumes.
She swallowed. “Oh, Harry…I’m so sorry.”
“I…I know it must have looked…strange, what you saw, what everyone saw…but…he just needed someone to…to hold him, that was…all…” Harry brushed his sleeve across his face. “He wasn’t Voldemort’s, Hermione…he worked for Dumbledore all these years…the curse he laid on him was per his own request. But…but his heart belonged…to my mother. That’s why he did what he hated…he…he couldn’t…forget her…”
It was obvious Hermione could not grasp all of the details at once, but she nodded nevertheless. “For a long time, I suspected…there was more to him than met the eye,” she confessed. “That he might be involved in undercover work, with some…hidden sorrow that kept him at the job. I saw it break through his bitterness sometimes, and…I pitied him.”
“You seem to have been more observant than I,” he muttered. “But I think…I think I learned to read between the lines a little, these past couple of weeks. We…we sort of…connected. I don’t know how to describe it. We were both pretty lost, and helped…helped find each other. That’s why I couldn’t tell anyone about him still being alive. I…I needed to try…try to see clear to him…or else I would carry a burden of darkness for the rest of my days.”
“I knew there had to be an explanation for your daily disappearances,” she stated quietly. “But I also knew…you were keeping it to yourself with good reason. And now I know that you both needed to have this time…to sort things out between you.”
“I don’t know how much sorting out we did in any official sense,” he mumbled. “Just…started getting on accidentally, I guess. I mean, it’s not like he ever stopped his cutthroat cracks, but…I guess I realized that…he did come to care about us after all. Just had a hell of a time letting on, you know?”
“I think…there are lots of people who have a hard time telling others how much they care,” she acknowledged. “But he did in the end, Harry. He did to you. He needed you so much in the end, and you were there for him. I think…that was his way of saying thank you.”
Harry swallowed hard and nodded. “I…I came to care about him, too. He taught me how to…grow up. And without the extra time we had, I think…I think I might have stayed…lost forever, maybe.”
“I believe it was the same for him,” Hermione surmised, “Cynicism can only survive on the idea that all goodness in the world has died. He needed to know that all he had done…did not come up empty after all. That he taught something worth teaching, and passed on some worthwhile part of himself to the next generation.”
“He did…teach me something very important,” Harry agreed, turning to her. “He taught me that…you should never outgrow love for another soul. Perhaps…it is an impossibility. If you love, really and truly, and it’s not just some passing fancy, it should be planted in you, putting down roots in you, and growing in you and with you. It’s not like an old toy you stop playing with because you’re too old for it, or clothing you outgrow. It’s…always in the present, outside of time. At the same time it waits for you, like the stars at night.”
She smiled. “That’s very poetic. I’m not used to you talking that way.”
“I’m afraid he sort of pounded the poetry into me,” Harry remarked with a rather silly grin. Then his face grew serious, and his eyes vulnerable. “Would you…stay with me out here for a while, Hermione? Please? I…I don’t feel ready to be alone, and I trust you…”
“Of course,” she assured. “Do you really need to even ask?”
“Well, I…I don’t want to make…Ron jealous,” he muttered with a short laugh.
“Harry, Ron and I haven’t been romantically involved for weeks upon weeks now, just like you and Ginny haven’t,” she clarified.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Are…you sure?”
“Yes, quite sure,” she affirmed. “I still love Ron; we’re best friends, and always will be. But we both found out it’s not…that way. I suppose we always sort of knew it, but being in the midst of a war can do things like that to people.”
“Oh,” Harry exhaled. “Then…then it would be okay for you…to stay?”
She sucked on her lower lip and nodded.
“I’m just….not ready to face everyone and explain everything. In the morning, I’ll have to manage, but…not tonight.”
“I understand,” she whispered. “Truly I do. You just rest a little, and I’ll be here…alright?”
They soon found themselves lying down next to each other on the moss, hands joined, squeezing their fingers around the other’s a little tighter when the pain pierced like a shard of silver starlight on the water. It seemed as if hours, days, centuries passed in this way, between sleeping and waking and a soothing, timeless presence.
Then, somewhere, an owl screeched, and Harry jolted at the ominous flap of its wings. Hermione drew closer to him now, and her hand was on his shoulder, the one which Snape had put back into socket. She massaged it till it relaxed, then laid her head there. Her bushy chestnut hair fell in his face, and it caused him to giggle just a little, in spite of himself.
“What?” she demanded through a sneaking smile.
“Your hair…it tickles.”
“It does, does it?” It was all the inspiration she needed to commence tickling him, which erupted into a few moments worth of good-natured wrestling. They were both laughing – yes, laughing together – and then suddenly they were both crying, crying together, held tight in other’s arms.
“Oh, Hermione…I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he sobbed, realizing the depth of her own grief at the loss of her own parents, even as she had been trying to comfort him.
“I’m afraid…something’s gone out of me,” she choked. “I used to be so safe in everything I could do…everything I could learn, and achieve…but now, it feels all nasty, like swallowing with a sore throat…and I think I shall never want to learn anything again. I shall never want to learn anything again…I shall never feel safe with myself again…”
“But you are safe, you’re safe now,” he assured, pulling her tighter against him. “And your mind is safe and strong and you’ll go on to do amazing things with it, because that’s who you are. You’re…strong, Hermione…far stronger than I myself can claim to be…”
“I…I don’t know if I’m as strong as I once thought…”
“Yes, you are,” he assured, and touched her face. “Strong as the wisest trees.” He looked at the rowan and the oak grove nearby. “Strong as magic of the candle that welcomes the dawn.”
Hermione reached back across and touched his face as well. “And you’re beautiful, Harry Potter, beautiful and brave.”
He chuckled slightly. “I…I doubt that…”
“I mean that. I’ve always known it, deep inside, since the first year we met as children. But to do what I saw you do this night…it took all that was best in you, and brought all that out to fruition. Killing the dark lord was a paltry show by comparison. Your courage has grown with the years…and so has your capacity to love. And that’s what makes you beautiful.”
Seeing Snape’s blood still smudging his face and glasses made her eyes grow sorrowful. Then she dug into the pocket of her jacket and brought out a handkerchief to wipe them clean. He smiled a sad, worn out smile. “Thanks…I…I needed that, ‘Mione. You’re…my…”
He could never finish the sentence. He wondered if he even would have been able to find the right words. All he knew was that her intelligent brown eyes, flecked with the gentlest gold, like costly rings, drew him in, and he felt her move towards him, and the light of her eyes set fire to his. And their lips were on fire, and they burned upon contact, and then felt soothed, like cooling, soothing liquid running over the cracked earth.
“Oh…oh…” she moaned. “When I thought you were dead…I thought…I would die…oh, don’t you dare go now…no, no, no…”
They found themselves once again lying alongside each other on the moss, and they were kissing each other, soft and strong, and the breathing of love made its way back and forth, from out to the other. He was running his hand through her gracefully untamed hair, and he felt her move her cheek along his, and he heard her breath like the brook of life in his ear. Both their faces grew warm, and the contact had knocked crooked his glasses again. But he loved every blessedly imperfect moment of the contact.
He realized in the midst of it all, how desperately he wanted to let himself go, if she wanted to let herself go as well. He wanted to strip himself totally after so much sorrow, to actualize the sensation of flesh upon flesh, of something that felt electrically alive after so much death. It wouldn’t be cheap, he told himself, for he realized now that he did love her, and always had, truly and strongly, even if the realization only fully came now.
He wanted to feel himself drawn so tightly within that love that the last vestiges of the shield around his heart would break into pieces, and inside her, he would become joined to her in such a way that made them both safe, and together they could experience that pinnacle of intensity that gave way to the drowsy descent of peace. He wanted it, wanted it badly, and she seemed to want the same, for she too had experienced more suffering that she was able to bear alone any longer, and she wanted to feel something good, something stronger than the pain, a rush of warmth from another body into her own. It was natural enough, was it not?
But Harry felt a nudge of something interior, most likely arising from one of Snape’s monotone lectures that told him something wasn’t right, and if he really loved her, he had to make it right before going any further.
So somewhere in the midst of kissing, he sat her up with him, and started to pull away. Hermione, obviously emotionally compromised, started to cry, and reached back out for him. She was too scared to let him go, lest she somehow lose him forever. She was startled by him pushing her away.
He felt his heart hurtle and crash, and he took both her hands in his and kissed them. “Hermione, listen…I can’t do this now because…because I want…want to marry you, if you’ll have me.”
She blinked. “Marry…?”
“We could start a life away from here, ‘Mione. My father’s inheritance is mine as soon as I’m 18, and that’s only in a couple of months. That would get us off the ground at least. We could continue our schooling in the muggle world. Oxford, maybe. We could be whatever we wanted. We’d be free. And I’m not claiming I’d win the Husband of the Year Award, but…I’d try…really, really hard to be a good one, at least.”
“Harry…we’re still…so young,” she reminded him, wiping the tears from her face.
“Young, yes, but also…older than most. And…without any family now. We’d be even more alone, back in the muggle world. But we’ve been through enough side by side to make us something like family to each other already. I think…it would just grow upon that, and…we could…make a go of it.”
She tilted her head dubiously. “You…you want to spend your life with an insufferable smarty pants, always going on about the fascinating back stories unearthed in the appendixes of ancient tomes?”
Harry chuckled. “Hey, if you can imagine putting up with my impulsiveness and fits of emotion, I think it’s an even deal. Besides, maybe I’ll get lucky and some of your smarts will start rubbing off on me a little at a time. Failing that, our kids would at least get a 50/50 shot at brilliance.”
“I also will continue to be very outspoken. I’m not the submissive wifely type, you know, so you mustn’t expect it of me.”
“Eh, submissive wifely types aren’t my type anyway,” Harry stated with a smirk. “Sounds really quite dull and wishy-washy, not like you at all! And…I’ve always thought of marriage as being a balance of equals, with each side supporting the other and making the building stand.”
“Or two wings of a bird,” she offered. “Flight is only possible if both are made of strong bones and soft feathers.”
He smiled. “I’ll go along with that.” He gazed up at the sky and saw that the darkness was lifting incrementally, and the stars sizzling out. “Want to go to the high ground so we can see the light come back?”
“I’d love to,” she affirmed.
So they went walking through the darkness of the woods, in the trusting quiet, holding hands because it felt good, it felt…safe. When they reached the edge of the cliff, they gazed out across the shadowlands towards the unseen horizon waiting to be made manifest by the rising sun.
A breeze blew up, and Hermione shivered a little. Harry promptly undid his cloak and offered it to her.
“I’m alright, really,” she insisted.
He looked at her dubiously. “Oh, go on, take it. Equality is great and all, but it doesn’t mean chivalry has to be totally dead, does it?”
She looked at him slyly, and then slowly accepted the offer. “My thanks, noble sir,” she clucked.
“Should I make a fire?” he queried. “It’s rather cold, isn’t it?” He started reaching for his wand. Then he thought again, and decided that if he was going to try and live a muggle life, he might as well start now. He found two sticks nearby and proceeded to kneel down and start to rub them together.
She smiled teasingly. “Harry, you’re not honestly going to…”
“Hey, I’m determined,” he crowed. “Gotta start at some point, you know?”
“Yes, but couldn’t we start some other time with…matches?”
He sighed. “So you’re saying just…utilize the conveniences at hand?”
“I think that’s reasonable,” she counseled, pulling the cloak tighter around her. “Or else…we might just crystallize up here!”
“Alright, fine,” Harry relented, admittedly realizing that rubbing two sticks together was going to take forever and a day to achieve the desired result. So he snapped out his wand and rapidly set the twigs ablaze.
“Too bad I didn’t bring marshmallows,” she remarked.
“Or chocolate,” he added. “Or graham crackers. Honestly, ‘Mione, you’re slipping.”
She laughed lightly, and started braiding some nearby grass and nettles together to make a little nest around the crackling sticks as the morning breeze kissed the flame. And she blew on it gently, giving it the strength to keep burning. Her other hand, shielding it, accidentally got singed by the sparks, and she yelped.
Harry pulled something out from under his collar, and Hermione’s eyes widened. “The Wielder’s Amulet,” she noted. “I…I knew they presented it to you after the battle, but…I never saw it up close before…”
It was enchanting to the eye, that circle formed out of two-tone rainbow glass, with a crystalline center that contained ruby red liquid. And Harry started to unscrew something from the top of it.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. “You’re not supposed to…”
“Here, give me your hand,” he instructed, and then dabbed some of the oily substance on her burn, making her reddened skin almost immediately return to its normal color.
“Harry, you’re not supposed to waste it on frivolous things like that…”
“It’s not wasting it all,” he countered. “It’s…for healing. And besides, I…I want this…to become yours now.”
“No, that can’t be,” she retorted. “It was made long ago for the one in the prophecy who would bring down the reign of darkness. It was only to be worn by the one to whom the Elder Wand answered.”
“But…you’re the one who my heart is answering to now,” he replied softly. “Which do you think really has greater power?”
She blushed as he slipped the necklace over her head and brushed back her hair away from the chain. “Blood of the dragon, tears of the Phoenix, and the rainbow glass of resurrection,” she described it in a tone of reverence towards the relic.
“Yes, for strength, healing, and rebirth,” Harry noted. “And perhaps, in sharing it together as one, we will be granted some small measure of peace.”
She smiled gently and leaned against the rock with Harry, snuggling close against him. “I feel…almost like I could sing.”
“Do then,” he urged her. “Sing till all the birds come out to join you. Sing so your parents can hear you.”
So she sniffled involuntarily at the mention of them, and steadied her resolve, and started to sing an old Scottish ballad:
“I wish I was where Helen lies, for night and day on me she cries, for I am weary of the skies, on fair Kirkconnel lea…”
He heard the rustle of the wind, laden with the scent of pink-skinned blossoms, and the cooing of the pink-eyed doves, loving wildly in the growling predawn hunger. He licked his lips, grown dry, and the air cooled them. He tasted moisture on the breeze.
“Oh, Helen, rare beyond compare, I’ll make a garland of her hair, I’ll bind my heart forevermair…until the day I dee…”
The wind touched Hermione’s hair, and there was a sheen in it Harry had never noticed, two-toned, like the glass of the necklace she wore. Pale light was filtering through it, and revealing it as chestnut brown and strawberry blonde, and as the amulet shimmered red and then blue, his hand ran along the softness of the uncombed waves.
“I wish my grave was growing green, and a winding sheet drawn o’er my e’en, and I in Helen’s arms was lain on fair Kirkconnel lea…”
Oh, Snape…where would he be laid to rest? Not anywhere near Hogwarts, to be sure; not over Harry’s dead body. No, if he was going to leave it all behind, he would make sure that his teacher’s bones rested in free ground, untouched by the wand. No more magic…only consecration over the earth that would rain over the wood of the casket…
“I wish I was where Helen lies, for night and day on me she cries, for night and day on me cries, ‘Haste and come to me!’”
“Oh…that’s so sad,” Harry whispered, clutching her hand and gently rubbing the back of it along his cheek for comfort.
“Yes,” she agreed. “But it’s also…beautiful. For love is a stronger thing than death, after all. Perhaps we all need to be reminded of that.”
“Yes…as often as is possible. If nothing else is every taught in the whole world, the songs will keep us mindful of that. And the darkness cannot overcome a song.”
And the pink rays of the spring sun pierced the grey-eyed dawn. Bright fuchsia burst forth and spiraled into a bold orange orb that broke out from beyond the mountains. And the wind died down, and there was no violence in the silence this time, only profound knowing that the war was over. Peace had come, and with it, a strange melancholy joy, breaking forth like the sweetness of tears washing away the stain of blood. And he felt alive. And he felt awake. And he remembered that it was Easter Morning.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.