Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter, or Don't Know Why by Norah Jones. I do own an impressive shell collection, however. That's gotta count for something, right?
Summary: Harry rescues a shipwrecked wizard and nurses him back to health, like a regular Florence Nightingale. Who the wizard is, however, is another matter entirely; Harry soon realises that he can only hide from his past for so long. Some things are meant to follow you no matter where you go. AU
Thank you to my beta, Dragonb8! Like a true editor, she corrected my mistakes, encouraged me to continue, and overall made it possible for me to finally put this story to rest.
Harry sat gazing forlornly at the rough rock wall on the far side of the cave. The fluorescent glow of the many plants and creatures lit the room dimly, just enough for a person to see their surroundings comfortably. But for the moment Harry's eyes were unseeing and his mind far away. He propped his chin on his hand and leant down to press on his lap, continuing to stare into nothing. His mind was currently racing and pulling him in a million and one painful directions, down paths he had never wanted to revisit.
A groan to his left brought him back to the present and he dragged his body over to the other side of the room to sit next to the slowly waking wizard, who was rolling and moving restlessly under Harry's watchful eye. The man coughed a few times, but Harry wasn't worried. He knew he'd gotten all the water out of the man's lungs already.
Harry reached for one of the many bottles by the wall as the wizard sat up and started rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"Here," Harry pushed the reddish coloured bottle towards the wizard, "you need some freshwater." Not able to leave the man's side for long and relying solely on his magic, it had been hard taking care of the wizard whilst he was unconscious, making sure he got the proper nutrients and such.
Thankfully, the man took it and gulped it down without question. After he'd emptied the bottle and returned it to Harry, Harry scooted back a bit to give the man some space.
"How's your head?" Harry asked, "Chest? Back?" He was pretty sure he'd done a competent job at healing, but when one's patient couldn't respond it was difficult to tell.
The wizard shook his head and shut his eyes tightly, a sure sign of a headache at least. He affirmed this a moment later, voice rough from disuse, sleep, and trauma as he said, "Head hurts a bit...chest a bit...tight. Um, otherwise, just a tad sore." The wizard continued to clutch at his head as he curled his knees into his chest, resting his forehead in his hands.
Harry wished he had more to offer the man to ease his pain of waking, but knew that there was little he could do so far away from human civilization; he was no Healer and humans were more high maintenance. Unfortunately, Harry did not have all the necessary comforts to afford him.
After a moment, the man straightened a bit with a sigh and stretched his back, pulling his arms over his head, letting the blood flow again and snapping joints back into place with an air of lethargy. Breathing in and sighing deeply once more, the man finally turned his head to look at Harry, his eyes opening with complete clarity for the first time since he woke.
They were a deep blue, mixed with a bit of brown, a sight which caused Harry to catch his breath unexpectedly. It was one thing to rescue a human, a wizard at that, and bring him back to one's home to care for him, but quite another interacting with one, being so close to one, awake, after so long. Especially this one.
Five years. Had it really only been five years? It felt much longer. Though in the sea, time passed on the whim of the waves, as quickly or as slowly as it pleased. Humans were much more set in their calendars and hours, defining everything just so. He didn't know how he had lived like that before.
"Thank you for taking care of me," the wizard said quietly, his voice breaking Harry from his reveries. The man may still have been terribly disoriented and confused, but it would seem his manners would not suffer at least.
Harry returned the stare, watching as slight confusion ran over the man's face as he squinted in the minimal lighting to peer curiously at Harry. An oddly pleasant sensation churned in Harry's stomach at the scrutiny, though he brushed it off as nerves.
"It was my pleasure," Harry answered, feeling slightly uneasy, watching the man cautiously, and waiting for the moment when he would realise.
"Where are we, if you don't mind my asking?" the man said as he finally broke his gaze from Harry's face and took in his surroundings. The dank cave walls filled with the shiny knick-knacks and decorations Harry had found at the bottom of the sea, some from shipwrecks, others from ancient Mer colonies, rare shells and the like, a bed of seaweed and other bits in the corner, and a few other homey features, all of which set this place off as somewhere someone lived. That someone being Harry.
Harry felt a bit of pride welling up in his chest as his home was studied with intent interest by the man. He had done so much to make this space his own since coming here five years ago and he felt a wave of excitement bubbling up inside of him, itching beneath the surface of his skin, to be able to share his hard work with someone after all this time, to see the look of impress and interest light up in their eyes.
That is, until the scrutiny was passed onto him once more.
The man's eyes quickly roved up and down his body, finally taking in the pale, opalescent skin, eyes a bit wider than the normal human width, and a bright, shining green at that. His hair was wet and such a dark black that it looked blue, and sometimes green, in the fluorescent light. An odd, slightly raised v-shaped ridge could be seen going from just the top of his brow and deep into his hairline. His torso was bare, both of clothes and any hair, and just as wet as the rest of him. Below that his...
"You're a merman!" the man exclaimed, jolting back reflexively in shock. His eyes scanned over Harry's deep purple tail, taking in the shimmering green and blue light that reflected off of the scales and the way it curved behind him, the flukes of his tail flapping absently in the hole in the floor that acted as a door back into the water.
Harry took his analysis without complaint. The man wasn't used to travelling out here, wasn't used to seeing sea creatures like himself, even if, as a wizard, he was more familiar with such things than most.
"Yes. And you're a wizard." Harry pointedly looked down at the man's lack of a tail, and the wand he'd left resting by the man's head, which the wizard had yet to notice.
"Um, yeah." The man shook his head and seemed to come to himself, quickly getting over the fact that he was obviously in a cave underwater with a merman. He lifted one hand and extended it to Harry. "Uh, William Weasley. Pleased to meet you."
Harry smiled tightly and took the proffered hand. To his credit, he didn't show any sign of recognition. "Harry, of the Norwegian Sea."
William blinked slowly and looked down in thought. "That's farther than I thought," he murmured to himself. "I was just heading off of Ballycastle." His brow creased in thought and he pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose as he seemed to be trying to remember something.
"Your ship got caught in a storm. I understand that magic is useful in being able to crew a two-man ship with only one person, but sailing out when there are whitecaps a mile high and winds howling is just foolish." Harry shook his head. It had been a lucky coincidence that Harry happened to be swimming out that way, wanting to ride the crests of the waves in the storm and play with the thunder and lightning in abandon, without the fear of land dwellers seeing.
William looked properly chastised as he continued to stare down into his lap, but remained silent.
"What were you doing all the way up here anyway? From your accent you sound British, not Irish." Harry wondered if he was tempting Fate by pushing and asking these questions, but he couldn't help it, curiosity got the better of him.
"Work," William grunted in reply, "I work for the wizarding bank, Gringotts. I don't know if you..."
"I know it," Harry nodded, not saying any more. Not that he had any use for Galleons and Sickles anymore; the denizens of the seas and oceans bartered with more practical things than gold and silver. That is, when they even needed to barter at all; for the most part they were very self-sufficient and kept to themselves and their families. Being part of a family or pod, however, was one luxury Harry did not have.
"Well," William shrugged, momentarily unsettled by Harry's obvious familiarity with the wizarding bank, but choosing not to comment, "I was on assignment. Or, I was supposed to have been starting one. How long have I been out?"
William swore heavily under his breath and started looking frantically around for his wand. He tried to stand, but soon found that his legs were still too weak to support him. He sat back down with a thud and lifted his wand to start casting spells.
"Wait," Harry latched onto his wrist and stopped him before he could perform any magic. "I realise you have somewhere you need to be, but there's no way you're getting out of here without my help, and I'm not letting you go anywhere until I'm satisfied of a perfectly clean bill of health." He stared evenly into William's eyes, not letting off until the man nodded, though grumpily so.
Harry nodded, "Good," he added and made to take his hand back, when he saw William suddenly switch his gaze to his wrist and stare down at Harry's slightly webbed fingers.
"Sorry," Harry muttered as he pulled his hand back quickly to his lap, knowing his skin was wet and felt a little slimy to most land walkers. William hadn't seemed to mind during the quick handshake, but it was generally an uncomfortable feeling to be touched by a merperson, a bit like the shock of walking through a ghost, but with added feeling of running your hand through thick mud at low tide.
"Your hand's warm," William said, his eyes still fixed on where Harry's hand had been, staring at his wrist with a perplexed expression like he didn't quite know what to make of it anymore. "I wasn't expecting that."
"Well, yeah," Harry said, shifting uncomfortably and running his hand over his tail, smoothing out the scales beneath his fingertips. "We are warm-blooded creatures, after all. Not many people know that apparently."
An awkward silence descended and Harry cast around for a topic, any topic, to relieve the uncomfortable tension in the room. A bit hard to do when his mind was a jumbled mess. William's skin had been so much warmer under his palm than his own and he cursed himself that he hadn't wanted to let go when he shouldn't have even touched him in the first place.
"So, um, will anyone be sending out a search party for you any time soon?" Harry asked, wondering if he could innocently fish for information without coming off sounding too curious or too eager. Part of him knew he was better off not knowing anything about the land dwellers anymore, but then how did one explain William Weasley falling into his lap like this?
Despite his feigned ignorance, Harry knew exactly who he was. He'd seen him once before, during Family Day when the parents of first year students were welcomed into the castle midway through the first half of term to see how their children were acclimating to Hogwarts. Harry had no family; he was an orphan from the War of Voldemort, an evil wizard who'd been defeated at the hands of Harry's parents and the headmaster, Dumbledore.
Now all four of them were dead and Harry had been relegated to live with his last surviving relatives, the Dursleys. His Aunt Petunia had been his mother's only sister, and had taken him in out of obligation, though there had been no familial love there. Her taking him in might also have something to do with the small fortune awarded to them which had been meant to be put to his care and upkeep as their ward, in addition to being awarded the Potter Manor while claiming guardianship over the sole heir to the Potter fortunes.
Harry, of course, knew none of this until much later when he came of age to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and finally learned about his heritage. Thankfully, he had known a bit about magic from the house elves who had helped him maintain the Manor, not that the Dursleys were aware of the magic happening right under their very noses. And as magic was something they despised greatly, Harry was grateful for their ignorance.
Kippy and Tilly had been the only friends he'd ever known growing up. And it was probably due to that fact more than anything else that he hadn't been able to integrate properly into wizarding society, leaving him at the fringe, his name and his parents' sacrifices to the wizarding world all but forgotten, except for the faint scar on his forehead, a relic of the failed curse from Lord Voldemort. It had brought him a small bit of fame, if people gawking at him and turning to whisper when he had first come to Hogwarts meant anything.
It was thus of little surprise that come Family Day he had no one to visit him and see how he was doing in school. Harry had hidden himself in the shadows, watching as other families interacted. All the while wondering, if he could learn how to act like a proper young man, maybe the Dursleys would come to cherish him as they did their son Dudley who was, incidentally, Harry's age.
Upon watching, Harry had become quite taken with the Weasley family, who acted in all the ways Harry had always expected from a true family. They were loving and caring, much like Harry had read in his books. Ronald Weasley, Harry had decided, was exceedingly blessed to have such amazing parents, several brothers, and even a little sister. Harry had taken to following the Weasley family around for that day, clocking their every movement, every gesture and exchange that apparently set them apart as what a family should be.
The Dursleys weren't anything like that.
And now William, the perfect elder brother of the perfect, loving, happy Weasley family, had been brought to him by the gods of the Sea. He had not thought he would ever see anyone from his old life again; not that he'd had any close connections to mourn or that would have mourned him. But perhaps it was the joy of seeing a familiar face after so long?
A human had come to him by chance to share, even if for a short while, his life beneath the Sea. Was that the simple reason for why Harry felt he did not want to let William go?
Harry wasn't sure.
Perhaps it was also the reason for Harry's returned desire to learn more about the Weasley family, the family he never had and never would. He was truly an orphan now, with no family to speak of. But he had been taken as a child of the Sea, so even if he did learn the proper ins and outs of being a perfect son, it no longer mattered. Still, he leant forward to hear William speak more of his family.
Luckily, the eldest Weasley did not seem to find anything odd with the question, nor with Harry's fascination. Instead he just shook his head casually in answer.
"They will not notice my absence for at least another few weeks, perhaps even months." He paused and shrugged. "I've been gone much longer for my work, and don't check in on them as often as I should."
His look of half-hearted regret soon collapsed into a grimace as he added, "The goblins, I'm afraid, are another matter entirely. They will be thoroughly pissed that I'm late, but'll probably just find another sorry sod for the job if I don't show up eventually. I doubt they'd even write up that I was missing unless forced."
"And these are the beings you work for?" Harry asked dubiously. Sure his own relatives hadn't been much better, but he wouldn't have chosen them on his own; William had made a conscious choice to work with the Goblins.
Far from being offended, though, William just shrugged indifference in response. A masochist then, perhaps? That was certainly something Harry hadn't expected from the man.
"What's your field?" Harry asked, changing the subject and figuring it to be a fairly simple, typical question one would expect.
"Curse-breaking," William answered absently, shifting his body to lean against the cave wall, while looking up to take another cursory glance around the place. Fascination and interest lit up in his eyes, something only Harry could see, as his vision was superb even in the pitch black.
"I've been in some pretty neat tombs and stuff in Egypt, but this place is by far the coolest. You live here?" He turned his attention eagerly back to Harry.
"Uh, yeah," Harry waved his hand at the small room they were in, turning his face down towards the door in an attempt to cover up the blush on his cheeks. "It's just me here. It's been nice having a guest though," he turned his head to look back at William with a grin, "even an unconscious one."
William chuckled softly and drew his knees to his chest, gazing with a curious look at Harry.
"You cold?" Harry asked, somewhat stupidly. He didn't get cold down here, his kind were impervious to it for the most part, but he'd done what he could to raise William's body temperature while he was out of it. It wasn't like he could get the man a blanket; even if he could procure one from somewhere it would just end up getting wet on the journey here, and not much ever dried in this cave.
"I'm fine," William shook his head and waved away Harry's concern. "Actually, since I'm awake now, and you said you'd been itching for some company, mind if I ask a few questions?"
Harry bit his lip. The idea both intrigued and scared him. One wrong question, one wrong answer, and he would know. He would figure it out and then...
And then what? Harry didn't know. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if he figured it out for himself. William hadn't recognised him, which had been both a relief to Harry and a biting sting that had made him question just how much his disappearance had really changed, or how long it had really been. Did anyone expect Harry to return? Did anyone still think he was alive? Did anyone even care?
Yet of all the people to get shipwrecked way out here, it had to be a Weasley, one whom Harry had had a slight obsession with since his first year. During that long weekend for Family Day, Harry had dogged the man's every steps, learnt everything he could about him, and later fanaticised about having the man as his own older brother. Later, in his fifth year that image had changed to something different, something less platonic and familial, but Harry hadn't visited that fantasy in his head since leaving life on Land behind for life in the Sea.
Sighing in defeat, bowing to the inevitable, Harry nodded his head and smiled somewhat tentatively. "What did you have in mind?"
Seemingly bolstered by Harry's acquiescence, William leant forward a bit closer to Harry, smiling eagerly. "Well, I thought Merpeople only spoke Mermish, yet you speak English just fine, with a bit of a British accent too."
Harry held his breath. That question wasn't so bad, was it? It wasn't like he was revealing anything specific about his past nor admitting any sacred Mer-lore by answering.
"Those born to the water can only speak Mermish, yes. It's different from any other language and it structures the mouth in a different way to form certain sounds. You can learn it, but without that structure you'll never sound native. However, because their mouths are shaped so differently it's harder for those born to the Sea to pick up any other language.
"Those born on land first, who experienced 'the Change', however, are able to learn to speak Mermish fluently and still have the ability to learn other tongues of different beings and creatures."
"That's fascinating," William intoned, "So that means you were born on land first. When did you first hear the call to the Sea?"
It was an innocent enough question, a natural rejoinder, Harry knew; a polite question, even, expressing interest in another's passion, really. But to Harry it was the key to opening Pandora's Box. A box that everyone knew was never meant to be opened again.
Hogwarts, 5 years earlier
Rippling wave upon wave moved gently across the wide expanse of muted grey and black. The Black Lake looked strangely inviting from his perch by the window up in Gryffindor Tower, where he was vainly attempting to finish the last half of his Potion's essay.
It was only later in the afternoon, when he had finally finished up enough of his homework to no longer fear failing all his classes that he decided he needed to go take a walk and get some air.
He made the trek outside and sat on the shores of the lake, hidden from view of the school by the surrounding trees and tall rocks. He didn't know what he was expecting exactly. Maybe to feel calmer and clear his head? To just enjoy listening to the waves hitting the rocks and washing up gently on shore? But it was as he sat there, foot twitching restlessly and head turning this way and that as though looking for something to present itself from out of the waters, that he realised how very, very wrong this all felt.
It was just a lake, of course; it didn't make sense. How could a body of water, an inanimate piece of Nature, really, feel one way or another?
Harry didn't really know. He knew he sounded crazy the moment the thought had fully escaped, but it just... he thought... it just felt... It wasn't...enough.
And then there were the mountains.
Hogwarts was surrounded by mountains and the lake, which had both fascinated Harry before, but now...well, as he looked up at their looming presence, they bothered him. Made him feel restless and agitated, and frustrated every time he stared for too long. Like they were caging him in by the fact that they didn't bloody move!
Of course he kept that thought to himself as well. He knew how deranged he sounded and that any mention of such thoughts would likely get him locked up in a room in the Hospital Wing with Madam Pomfrey for some kind of psychological exam. That is if anyone even bothered to listen to him.
It was odd though because the realisation that what bothered him the most was the fact that the mountains did not move had seemed like such a brilliant epiphany at the time. The mountains didn't move, the lake didn't move the right way, nor did it smell right, or sound right, and the water didn't even feel right.
Then it was the showers. Yes it was good to strive for cleanliness, but once he started getting into the habit of taking at least five showers a day he thought there might be something wrong. He just couldn't help it, though; his skin felt so dry all the time. He started drinking more water each day than was healthy and still his throat was constantly itchy and parched.
He had known something was wrong with him. It was hard not to, when Nature irritated you and you felt like you had snakeskin, as everything in your body felt so dry. He would almost have loved to be able to shed his skin like a snake; he just hoped that whatever new skin was underneath proved better than what he was currently fidgeting restlessly in.
It seemed like everything made him uncomfortable, and for the first time since he got his letter to Hogwarts and was whisked away from the Dursleys for the better part of the year, Harry was glad to be boarding the Express away from the school for the summer holiday. Like usual, he rode in his own compartment with the students giving him a wide berth. Unless of course it was to pass by, point and whisper speculation about the possible threat of war looming in the future and what power Harry might still possess from his run-in with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named all those years ago.
Over the past couple years there had been murmured threats of a new dark lord rising up to take over the regime Voldemort had left behind. The wizarding prison of Azkaban had been broken into and all dangerous criminals escaped. People from families who had been securely and widely known to be with the Light during the last war had started going missing, and slowly, people had started turning their attention to Harry again. He could see the thoughts in their eyes, if Harry had been the only survivor in the final battle against the last Dark Lord as a baby, then surely he had some hidden powers that could defeat this one as well.
But one thing everyone forgot to ask was whether or not Harry wanted to. Or if he even cared to.
Even with so many eyes watching his every move, Harry had never felt more cut off from the world. A film had developed over his eyes, letting him look at the wizarding world in a different light. And just like the immovable mountains, he didn't like what he was seeing.
He was perfectly content sleeping the train ride away and then waiting for the right moment when everyone had vacated the train before making his next move. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was not going back to the Dursleys this summer, or ever again for that matter. And something told him the same held true for the wizarding world as well.
He didn't care where he went particularly, or at least, he didn't know where exactly he needed to go at this point; he was relying only on instinct now. Or he would be once he had officially escaped. So he waited quietly as the students disembarked, hiding under a powerful Disillusionment Charm when the prefects came through one last time, and watched in silence as the platform cleared and the train attendants made their final rounds. No one found him and thankfully the train did not disappear as he'd feared it might when all were gone. Magic did funny things, after all.
Another hour passed with Harry just sitting there, thankful that the Dursleys always expected him to find his own way home each year and never bothered to come and pick him up. But even as the minutes ticked by he was no closer to figuring out his next step than he had been when he'd hidden his school trunk in a small room off the Entrance Hall at Hogwarts before leaving the castle for good.
He knew he had to get off the train some time soon, that it probably wouldn't be moving again until September 1st, and that the barrier to the platform might already be closed off. But then, just as he was ready to get up, he heard the pistons starting up again.
Slowly, but surely, the train was moving once more.
Feeling a keen sense of anticipation, Harry snuck up towards the front of the train, which he found to be completely devoid of any conductor, and slid into a new compartment. There he fell back asleep for the rest of the journey, only waking once more when the train grounded to a final halt and a whistle went off shrilly.
His body and mind still numb from the pleasant nap, Harry stumbled down the steps of the train. Taking a fortifying breath, Harry looked around at where he'd ended up, noticing as he did that the Hogwarts Express did not need to keep to the tracks. Harry found himself in the middle of a grassy field, not yet succumbed to summer's dry heat, looking upon a small town in the far distance. He might have mistaken it for any manner of English countryside he saw through the windows of the Express to and from Hogwarts, except for the sharp tang in the air that made him pause and breathe deeper.
It was...salty? He breathed in again, even deeper, trying to take it all in without having to release the breath or the taste he was trying to capture in his throat. Definitely salty. Almost familiar...
Harry closed his eyes and breathed in again for a long, desperate pull of this addictive smell.
At the sound of grass crunching under the weight of turning wheels, Harry turned to see the Express slowly pulling away, backing up to return to the Platform, no doubt, until the next school year came. Harry sent it a silent thank you, grateful yet again for the mysterious intervention of magic when he most needed it. He knew he wouldn't be boarding that train again.
Having nowhere to go but forward, Harry started wading through the tall grass, intent on finding the source of the intoxicating smell. He had a feeling he knew what it was already. And almost an hour later after hiking several miles down a steep incline, through forestlands and past several small cottages, he was proven right.
It was a beach.
Covered in stringy, black seaweed and smooth, grey rock bed which led out into the sea, he knew he had found what he was looking for.
Harry stopped right where the scraggly grass, thick bush, and trees ended and the seaweed began. He breathed in deeply once more, taking another deep, euphoric inhalation of the air around him, knowing somehow that it would be one of his last. Shivering from the evening winds that smarted his face and pounded in his ears, Harry smiled and stepped out onto the seaweed-strewn rock. The skies had already begun to darken, the stars peeking through from above, and Harry soaked in his first sight of the sea, letting its soothing sounds and lapping waves lull him into a peaceful trance.
Only looking forward with pure exhilaration and elation on his face, he walked onward, down the beach, and into the water, never taking his eyes away from the lapping waves in front of him that playfully reflected the starlight from the evening sky. By the time his head was submerged, he could remember little more than his name and the fact that he needed to leave his life as a human behind him forever.
Harry Potter was no more. His heart had gone as cold as the waters of the sea for all humans and life on land. He wasn't coming back.
Out across the endless sea, I would die in ecstasy.
"When I was sixteen," Harry answered William evenly, the memories rushing back to him, making him feel a little disoriented. "The Sea takes you into her arms and blocks out all the pain of your previous life, and then moulds you into one of her own. Once that's done it's a slow process back to...humanity. If you even chose to return that is.
"As a Second Born, it took a couple years for me to merge my life in the Sea and my previous life as a wizard. It makes it harder that I am confined to this form until my seven years are up."
"Confined?" William asked in awe, a strange expression of astonishment and confusion on his face.
Harry nodded, "As a Second Born –"
William made a noise at the back of his throat.
"Sorry to interrupt, but you keep saying 'Second Born'?"
"I was born on land first and then called to the Sea, where I was reborn in many ways. So, Second Born. That's how we're described." He realised he was telling William an awful lot, but couldn't find any reason yet to stop. He didn't see any harm in answering William's questions so far.
"Once we take to the water, we're changed...like how we're supposed to be," he added softly to himself, flicking his flukes and running his eyes over the dark purple scales that covered his tail, which felt as smooth as the belly of a dolphin to touch.
He shook himself back to the present and looked over at William. "But we have to stay like this," he twitched his tail slightly and gestured with his hand to his entire body, "for seven years. Then we're free to come and go as we please, choosing whatever form we wish. But most choose to stay in the water no matter what. It's hard to go back after," he trailed off. "Well, after you left it all behind to make a life here," he said offhandedly with a shrug, hoping it wouldn't bring up more questions about his past.
William hummed noncommittally and returned to looking around the cavern room, seeming to understand the difficulty Harry had in admitting even this much, and giving the merman a moment to collect himself.
Harry trained his gaze on his tail once more, tracing mindless patterns with his finger.
After a moment or two William spoke up again. "So how much longer do you have until you can...shift?"
Harry nodded, telling him his terminology was correct. "Two more years," he said with a shrug. "Not that I mind much. I prefer swimming to walking; there's nothing on shore I really want to face."
He should say he was fearful of what he would face on shore after five years of being gone, having vanished from the Wizarding world without a word just as there had been whispers of Voldemort's old lackeys gathering strength. But he wouldn't admit to that out loud.
William opened his mouth to reply, but then seemed to think better of it.
"Are you hungry?" Harry asked, keen to change the subject before it all became too close for comfort, or more so than it already had.
William gave a sheepish smile and put a hand to his stomach. "Actually, now that you mention it..."
"I'll catch us some dinner. You like seafood?"
Harry barely caught William's nod and amused laughter before diving down through the opening and into the sea. Thank the gods for magic and Heating Charms because he doubted William liked his fish raw.
Several days after William had awoken, the wizard was resting at the back of the cave, idly examining a piece of jewellery that looked to be several centuries old and possibly Nordic in origin. Harry had found it sometime last year on a sunken ship that he had claimed looked like a Viking vessel. Speaking of the merman, William felt himself smiling as the Mer in question popped into his head, he expected Harry to be back within the hour with breakfast for them both.
Knowing a bit of Harry's history, in that he used to be an English wizard as well, it wasn't all that surprising how well they got on. But William couldn't help but feel especially drawn to Harry in a way he couldn't explain. Perhaps it had something to do with being a big brother to six younger siblings and the loneliness Harry radiated, consciously or not. It was a given that Harry had basically been on his own since starting his life in the Sea, but it seemed to William like he had had been on his own much longer than that.
Being from an especially large family, he couldn't even begin to know what true loneliness felt like. If anything, he was more familiar with what it felt like to need a bit of privacy, peace, and quiet lest he explode in frustration. But to not have anyone, and to live alone in a cave under the sea, away from any other beings...William couldn't even begin to imagine.
He had wondered at one point what had become of Harry's family. Surely a sixteen year old up and disappearing one day would have caused some sort of an uproar. Even if the young man had not attended Hogwarts, his disappearance would at the very least have been made known throughout Wizarding England, as small a group as they were. But William couldn't even recall such an incident. It made him feel both incredibly guilty and devastatingly depressed. How could such an amazing young man go unmissed? It didn't seem possible.
William felt himself dreading the day he would have to return to the surface. Even knowing his family would be worried, the goblins would be expecting him, and that there was still a war that needed to be fought, William couldn't help but wish there was a way he could stay down here just a bit longer. These past few days, living under the sea with Harry had been the best that he could remember in a long while.
But his life needed to continue up on land and Harry belonged in the sea. Eventually he knew they would have to part, much sooner than he would have hoped. And to paraphrase a famous saying, a fish and a bird may make a deep connection, but then where would they live?
William didn't know.
The days that followed passed easily, though in a bit of a blur. Slowly, subtly, feeding a morbid curiosity Harry had thought long dead, he was able to coax out some details about the Weasley family and the state of the Wizarding world he'd left behind.
According to William, the latest war was finally near an end. And with the help of a mysterious, secret group fighting for the Light, the Pureblood Supremacists would soon be put down. But when the next big evil would pop up again was anyone's guess. Harry kept that last thought to himself, however.
For the first time in years, Harry experienced the guilt that he had expected to accompany him from leaving the Wizarding world to fend for itself, but not for the reasons he might have predicted. He wanted to keep William down here, keep him safe and away from the war, because now that he had regained some semblance of his humanity and been introduced to an old, familiar face, he didn't want to let him go.
But needs must and William wasn't the type to sit and watch from the sidelines, as Harry soon found out. Harry supposed if he'd had a family and friends to defend he would have felt the same way, but that was before he'd found his place in the Sea. And nothing could make him want to leave his home now, or ever.
And William would certainly never even entertain the idea of staying with Harry once he was able to return to land again.
All too soon, William was completely recovered and had asked Harry to bring him back to shore. Against his every instinct, Harry complied, using his own brand of Mermagic to carry the other man, unconscious, back up through the depths of the sea, toward the light of the sun and land. From there William would be able to find some sort of wizarding means to transport himself to where he needed to be. Of that Harry had no doubt.
Upon reaching the surface, Harry found a rocky cave well hidden from the town above, where he set William down and bent down to release the man from his spell. But before he did so, Harry took a moment to let his fingers trace the contours of the man's face, feel his warm breath ghosting over Harry's palm, and pretend for a moment that he was just napping, and would wake up to see Harry staring down at him. Then he would say that he had changed his mind, that he wanted to be with Harry and would do everything in his power to stay with him.
But it was only magic keeping him asleep and within Harry's grasp. All too soon, the moment would be gone and Harry would be alone once more.
Steeling himself, Harry dropped his hand from the man's face and chest, and then cancelled the spell. He watched with guarded eyes as William blinked back into awareness, coughing a few times to settle his lungs, and then slowly sat up and scooted back closer into the cave, and away from Harry.
"You're on Fugloy, in the Faroe Islands," Harry said as he let his body sink further into the water and he swam back a bit to give William some space as his friend adjusted to the change in density. His jaw clicked up and down as he tried to adjust the pressure in his ears. Blinking a few times in the unexpected harsh light, even from under the protection of the rocks, William shook his head as though to disentangle the cobwebs lodged in his mind and then turned back to Harry. Suddenly noticing the distance between them, he crawled a bit closer to the edge of the rock bed until his fingertips were just skimming the gently lapping waves.
"Thank you," he said solemnly, "for everything."
Harry smiled and nodded his head. "Take care of yourself." He paused, took a breath, and then said hesitantly, "Promise me you will?"
William's mouth thinned into a straight line and he looked off to the side, avoiding Harry's gaze. "I'll do my best. It is a war, after all." Heaving a heavy sigh, he sat back and looked down into his lap.
Harry closed his eyes and nodded. "Then," he swam closer until he was inches away, tilting his head back just enough to look up into William's face, "Good luck. And," he bit his lip and quickly reached below the water. His hand emerged a moment later, grasping what looked like a soft, red cap. "In case you need it," he said hurriedly, shoving the thing into William's limp hands.
"Good luck," he repeated with a strained smile, and then dove away again beneath the waves a second later, before William could even begin to think of a response.
Sitting there on the cold rock, the spray from the high tide splashing in his face, William looked out blankly onto the lapping waves that spread out into the distance. For an hour he continued to look in vain for a purple glimmer of scales or glimpse of pale, glowing skin, but eventually he realised that his friend wasn't coming back.
Clutching at the bright red cap in his hands, looking at it in confused wonder, William felt like he'd just missed something very important, and hoped it wasn't too late to figure out, though he had a sinking feeling that something more than just an odd red cap had slipped through his fingers. Slipped past him like the water he loved so much.
Something has to make you run; Don't know why I didn't come; I feel as empty as a drum; Don't know why I didn't come...
The war took another year until it met its long overdue demise, the Light side prevailing in the end, though it seemed little more than a Pyric Victory to all involved. But life somehow found a way to continue; broken families, widows and widowers, orphans and parents all burying their loved ones years too early alike. Grief brought them back together as much as it had already torn them apart.
The Weasleys lost two of their own, with another taking up permanent residence on the fourth floor of St. Mungo's. William attended more funerals than he cared to count the following year, feeling only a bit of the relief he had expected to feel at the end of it all. Mainly he felt this gaping hole in his life that needed to be filled.
After the war, the feeling seemed to get worse and worse. The ground he walked on was too jolting, the air he breathed too harsh, and even visiting his family at the Burrow did little to truly warm his heart and make him feel safe. If anything it made him feel depressed and wanting for something that no longer existed. The loss of his brothers had hit their family harder than he could have ever imagined. But even as he tried to patch up the hole their absence had created, he felt his heart yearning away from the Burrow and towards something else he couldn't define.
So he applied within Gringotts for more jobs abroad, telling his family he wanted to explore places other than Egypt. It was no surprise that the goblins had plenty of interesting sites to send him, locations no other human being would or could ever see without a goblin's sanction. For over two years he travelled east through Europe and Asia, down to Oceania, up through the Indian Ocean, and then coasted along northeast Africa, all the while not staying in one place for too long. After leaving from the tip of Tunisia, he sailed through the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic, feeling an odd sense of relief and anticipation once he was out on the open waters once more and far away from land.
At that point he visited various islands, but avoided the continent altogether, doing odd jobs here and there when the goblins no longer had need for him. It wasn't until he was approaching Iceland that he realised why exactly he'd asked for time off from Gringotts two months ago. Instead of continuing on course, William turned around, changed direction and started heading east once more.
When I saw the break of day, wished that I could fly away, 'stead of kneeling in the sand, catching teardrops in my hand...
It was over four years since he'd been back here.
He knew he was crazy, standing out in the middle of nowhere on a small, rocky beach looking out at the roiling waters as the fog continued to roll in even though it was closing in on midday. He could barely make out the high, green cliffs in the distance, but it was just as well as his gaze was trained on the sea, peering through the fog as far out as his eyes could see.
Every flicker of purple or flash of sheeny white had him holding his breath and pressing closer to the shoreline where the waves had already soaked his robes up past his knees. The winds were loud, the waves crashed in a constant cacophony, and even as he waited, bared to all the elements, he had never felt closer to home.
After the sun had finally set, he realised he wasn't going to find what he was looking for tonight and returned, defeated, to the small village where he was staying at a small bed and breakfast.
For the rest of the week, he returned to the same spot, sitting on the same beach from sunup to sundown, staring out on waters that were glassy and calm on some days, churning and turbulent on others, or playful and rolling when the mood struck them. But even as the waters changed and the weather fluctuated from cold to freezing, he sat there unmoving, doing little more than reapplying a Heating Charm when his last started to wane.
He didn't know what exactly he'd expected. It had been over four years, Harry could change now; he could be anywhere, he could be anything. What did he think, that Harry would be waiting for him just off shore, coming back every day for William to return? For four years? Why would he? Did he even expect to see William again?
Yes, of course he did, William thought. Maybe, he hedged with a little less certainty, looking down at the red cap still clutched in his hands, just as the day that Harry had put it there. What was it for?
Soft like thick, rubbery seaweed, only more durable, with two thick string-like appendages on the side that could be tied together. If he didn't know any better, William would assume it was some kind of old-fashion bathing cap and nothing more. But as a wizard and a curse-breaker to boot, William could feel the subtle magic in it to know not to brush it off as some old hat. And besides, Harry had given it to him.
Harry. The young merman was still such a mystery to him. He'd been so easy to talk to, so comfortable to be around, not to mention gorgeous in an exotic, captivating way. He'd saved William's life when he could have easily let him drown; another human body polluting the watery depths of the sea. But he'd saved him, and then nursed him back to health, made sure he was okay, talked to him, asked him about his life, and told William about himself. William had always been under the impression that merpeople were scary looking, fierce, and vicious. Harry was none of these things. He was gentle, soft spoken, and so kind. His hands were always so warm when they brushed against William's, usually by accident, but William had never minded.
In fact, the only thing about being under the sea that had made William uncomfortable was when Harry was gone, out catching their meal for the day. Then William had felt lost in that small cave, wondering how Harry lived like this by himself day in and day out. He had wanted to promise the young merman a lasting friendship that would drive away all the loneliness forever. But he knew in reality they would be little more than words he couldn't fulfil. Looking back, days, months, even years after Harry had left him on the shore, he wished he had found a way to stay.
Over the years during the war and then throughout his travels with Gringotts after, William sometimes entertained the idea that it had all been a dream. Some elaborate, conceived hallucination his mind had made up while he'd been floating out at sea before he'd washed up on Fugloy. It was a dream he'd had often enough, to be sure, always the same dream too. A dream of a merman with bright green eyes bending over him with an expression of such adoration, care, and desire as the merman traced with his warm, wet fingers all the contours of William's face. He would then bring his face so close to William's, as though in a slow prelude to a kiss, letting the moment build up and William's emotions to run wild, and his lust to spike, but then the spell would be broken. The merman would jerk away and the moment would be gone.
Sometimes, though, the dream would follow through and William would close his eyes before he felt soft lips, slick with salt water, pressing lightly against his own. But that he knew at least had never happened, which only served to further feed his doubts of the rest of their encounter, while intensifying his feeling of loss and longing for Harry as well. What was real? What had he dreamt up? All of it? He hoped at least that Harry was real, or he would be forced to admit that for the past four years he'd been building up something that was much more than a crush on a fictional merman that lived only his dreams.
But then there was the red cap. The cap always brought him back.
He'd researched merpeople of course, the moment he returned to land, soaking up all he could. There was absolutely nothing about red caps, and everything he read was so different from what Harry had told him. It was amazing to learn just how little wizards truly knew about the Mer, as Harry had called himself.
But even with how different their two worlds were, how separate, he still felt like he knew Harry. The young mer was familiar to him in a visceral sort of way. The more he thought about it, the more he believed he knew who Harry of the Norwegian Sea might be. But it was too crazy to even really consider.
Everyone knew the Boy Who Lived was dead. He had gone off the radar and disappeared starting the summer of his sixth year, exactly five years before William had met MerHarry.
He supposed it was possible. If Harry had completely changed species, then maybe...
It would explain how William hadn't heard of any other young wizards going missing at sixteen. He wondered how he hadn't seen it before. But then again, there were a lot of things he hadn't truly realised the first time around. It was only years later that he even recognised more than simple friendship in his devotion to Harry. One man, even one with a tail, does not stick in your mind and haunt your thoughts for days on end unless it means something deeper. Or so William thought. His sister, Ginevra, had insisted that it was true when he'd finally broken down right before the war had reached its end, and told her what was bothering him. That was before she'd been cursed into insanity by a dark wizard.
But even then he hadn't fully accepted it. And the loss of his family and friends had been distraction enough for a while; the whole Wizarding world has been consumed in mourning for a long time after the war, and William was no exception. Until one day he finally woke from his grief to confront the pain in his heart that had never left. It was then that he'd realised that with every step he took to get away from Harry and his memories, the more painful that odd feeling in his chest became.
But still, William wasn't completely sure whether he was right or not. One thing he did know, though, was that he wanted answers. And the only way he was going to know anything for certain was by seeing Harry again. He wanted to verify that his time with Harry wasn't a dream. But most importantly, he wanted to see if Harry even thought about William the way William still thought about Harry. He hoped it wasn't all in his head. He hoped he would find the answers he sought soon. And he hoped above all else to see Harry's face again, after so long.
So going on nothing more than instinct the next morning, William set out on a small boat and sailed into the middle of nowhere until he couldn't see land anymore. There, he just let the wind and the waves take him where they would.
He must have dozed off at some point because when he woke up, just as the sun had started its descent from the sky, he saw a small, dark harbour seal dunking and swimming in circles playfully beside his boat.
"Hey there, little guy," William called out, stretching back to wakefulness and letting loose a big, jaw-cracking yawn. Leaning over the side of the boat, William looked down at the surprisingly trusting little animal. Instead of moving away, it actually came closer to William, bobbing up and down in the water as it peered up at him with bright green eyes. Eyes so bright and large that...
William's breath caught in his throat as recognition hit.
Could it be? He'd finally found him? But why...
Seemingly answering his unspoken question, the seal dipped its head towards William, looking directly at the cap that was still clutched tightly in his right hand.
Holding the cap in question up, William pointed to it and gave the seal a quizzical look. The seal nodded its head again enthusiastically, urging William on without words.
He wasn't sure how he knew – magic? – but William thought he understood what the seal was asking of him. What Harry was asking of him.
Looking around in the boat, he saw that he had some food, clothes, and basic necessities in a magically waterproof bag at his feet. Shrugging it over his shoulders, he turned the cap over in his hands before putting it onto his head for the first time since it had been given to him, and tied the seaweed-like strings under his chin. Then taking a deep breath both for courage and needed air, William dove headfirst into the water.
Down, deep down he descended, watching the myriad bubbles of air flying up around him, obscuring his vision. Eventually, nearly a minute had passed and William's lungs started to burn. And though he didn't feel the need to panic exactly, knowing Harry was somewhere nearby, he feel a certain instinctual fear taking over as his vision began to black out. Against his will, he took a breath of water, and felt an odd rush as not water, but air entered into his lungs.
He was breathing underwater!
As he was sure this wasn't any magic of his own, he had to assume that the cap currently glued to his head had been more than just a sentimental parting gift.
Renewed now that he could breathe once more, William started swimming around, looking in every direction and realising how much farther he could see than before. It was amazing!
Just out of the darkness to his left, behind the shadows of what looked to be some kind of rock jutting out from the sea floor, William saw the seal coming towards him and he swam out to meet it, a wide and excited smile blooming on his face as he did so. He was sure now of whom it was and that this was the one he had been trying to reach all along.
Meeting halfway, William held out his hand to touch the seal's nose, wanting to check that it was not some kind of mirage. He'd had plenty of those in the desert before. But just as his fingers made contact with the soft, rubbery skin, the seal drew back slightly and started contorting its body, growing and changing and twisting this way and that until a young merman with messy black hair, big, bright green eyes, and a deep purple tail swam smiling before him.
"I was hoping you'd come back to me," he said, taking William's outstretched hand in his own.
William replied, "It was impossible to stay away." Gripping Harry's hand, he pulled him in closer.
"It's good to see you," Harry said, dropping his head somewhat shyly, though not taking his eyes off of William for a second as he mirrored the man's excited smile.
"It's good to finally see you again too," William responded quietly, hesitatingly bringing his other hand up to Harry's pale, pristine cheek, his eyes scanning every inch of Harry and drinking it all in as though he were in a desert and not surrounded by water. "I have a question."
Harry nodded reluctantly, though determinedly. It looked like he expected William to have plenty of questions and was ready to start answering them.
"Do the Mer kiss?"
That question, however, caught him by surprise. Blinking rapidly, Harry opened his mouth in shock, nothing coming out for several seconds. Finally, he breathed in deeply and gave William a small, confident, inviting smile.
"They do, but only if the other person is particularly special, and...and the two wish to create a bond."
William let his hand caress Harry's cheek and looked deeply into his eyes. "I don't know how this will work exactly."
Harry shook his head minutely. "It will," he said softly, "if we want it to."
"Well, then," William didn't feel the need to say anything more; Harry would be able to work out the rest.
And with that, he leant in the rest of the way and captured Harry's lips with his own.
Don't know why I didn't come...
Murúchis Gaelic for merrow, or mermaid/ merman. Didn't want to give anything away in the beginning for those of you who didn't know.
A/N: I don't know about you, but does anyone see a theme in my stories? In my defence, I'm currently living away from the water for work and classes and it is driving me bonkers! I cannot wait to get back to the shore as soon as is feasibly possible.
Well anyway, as always, I hope you enjoyed the story, as I personally believe there aren't nearly enough Bill/Harry fics out there. So this is me doing my part to add to the wonderful fandom. Thanks for reading!