The undergrowth of the forest rustled under Harry’s feet, as early morning dew and chilled air worked its way through his thick cloak. He walked calmly, in no sort of hurry; with the sun just peeking above the horizon he was in no danger of being caught, and he had nowhere to be. It was nice to be able to relax, especially after years of being tense and on edge; he'd gotten used to automatically looking over one shoulder and waiting for danger to present itself.
The forest was near silent, the occasional far-off bird song breaking through the masses of dark wood and lingering shadows. Harry breathed in, as deeply as his lungs would allow, simply relishing in the small moment of freedom these walks provided. He had to give his thanks to Luna, he thought, though his feet were cold he felt more aware of where he was and the nature surrounding him. Wiggling his toes and feeling the cool, crumbling earth was grounding in a way flying couldn’t provide. It wasn't like the added vulnerability scared him, the Forbidden Forest was much less frightening when you'd faced off Voldemort, Harry thought with a slightly bitter smile.
He slowed down as the forest deepened, the ever-whispering of the wind through the trees murmuring like hushed voices, the immortal movement throwing dulled shades of green over the earth, softly dying down. A graveyard hush fell as Harry quietly entered a clearing, and padded carefully over to a fallen log, one that had obviously been so for a very long time. Moss determinedly crawled up the sides, the slowly rotting wood supporting his weight with a half-hearted groan. The clearing had an almost lost, abandoned feeling to it, all the trees ancient and no trace of human life to be seen. Even so, it didn’t feel dangerous, more like an unchanging haven for a troubled mind, or somewhere people came to be forgotten.
Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the sounds of the river, not at all surprising considering the location of the clearing. Harry knew he'd have never come this deep into the forest without Luna's guidance (though how she had known about it in the first place remained a mystery), and he couldn't help but smile slightly in the security of the clearing. He’d never really had somewhere safe when he was younger- sure, the cupboard could be a refuge, but the door could be opened at any time, and it always made him feel cut-off and lonely. Here, while he was alone, he still felt connected, and moreso at peace than life normally let him be.
More and more of the forest was waking up as the sun rose, Harry mused, distant animal calls and odd noises making themselves known. But no, that was wrong; it was simply that the more quiet, skilled predators awoke to hunt in the night. There was a good reason the Forbidden Forest was exactly that. But still... with lush grass between his toes, and the trees looking much less threatening as they were depicted by the golden sunlight in shades of rich brown, he couldn't help but feel content.
Somewhere, an owl that had yet to stop hunting let out a long, mournful hoot. Harry sat down on the log gingerly and rifled through his bag, finding the slightly shabby wooden flute Hagrid had gotten him for his first christmas at Hogwarts after a bit of rummaging. He'd asked Bernard Maltby, a 5th year Hufflepuff in the choir, to teach him the basics of playing flute and reading music. He'd always been pretty adept at teaching himself, and had practiced with some simple tunes in his free time (not that he had much of that). The carved flute’s sound always reminded him of an owl, and as he played a deep, echoing note the thought was reconfirmed. He wasn’t keeping track of how long he was playing for, time slipping by as the sun rose in the sky. Lost in the serenity, a song unknown to his conscious mind fluxed with the direction of his thoughts, though he found himself playing more quietly as new sounds became apparent.
When did he close his eyes? Harry opened them, blinking oddly at the change of scenery. Or rather, the sudden new additions to his surroundings. The herd of thestrals were quietly milling around, some half-hidden by the ancient oaks, seemingly unbothered by his presence.
The deathly horses were beautiful, in the same way a beautiful person could look peaceful after being embalmed. He doubted many thought the same thing, and he supposed for good reason- he already felt mildly embarrassed by such a morbid thought. When you compared a thestral to an aethonan or abraxan, creatures with angelic feathered wings and coloured coats of fur; all ethereal horses that children would ask for at Christmas, he understood. But thestrals... they may not have fur, but their coats were glossy and smooth in a way fur could never be, and darker than the Black Lake at midnight. It wasn't like they were hairless, they had full manes and tails like any other horse, and their wings looked far more suited to the wilderness than soft feathers. He knew what it was about their appearance that truly bothered people. Almost everyone that could see them were put off by their eyes; milk-coloured and almost smokey, they reminded him of nothing more than the ghostly prophecy orbs, once buried in the department of mysteries. They seemed to stare into your soul, screamingly creepy in a way red could never be. Along with the visible ribs like that of a skeleton, they were the obvious choice to accuse as harbingers of death.
But, regardless of their unique beauty, he was still sat in the middle of a herd of XXXX-rated magical creatures. Harry smiled unconcernedly, and slowly began to play a different song. A haunting sound of echoes and shadows and secrets, a sound to resonate with death's inevitable embrace. He kept his eyes wide open, and saw the thestrals begin to sway; heads dipping slightly from side to side, and ears flicking with the soar and dive of a long-forgotten song. They were all trapped in the melody, a dream-like scene brought into reality.
He let the melody of death die down, coming to rest beneath his feet, the echoes remembered by the earth, well-fertilised by the bodies and bones of battles long forgotten. Yet another memory caught in the sway of the world's existence. He had no food, words, or platitudes to offer creatures connected to the end of the life, something they intrinsically knew everyone living would experience; all he could give them was his acceptance in a sound, something recognised universally and celebrated for thousands of years. Slowly, but without fear, Harry stood up, a little stiff from sitting down so long. His bones creaked beneath his skin, almost as an acknowledgement. The clearing was well-lit in pale sunshine now, dead flora dotted around and tiny, new, bright blue flowers just beginning to bud. The largest thestral, who looked closer to true death than the others (Tenebrus, the first of the herd, Harry's mind murmured), looked him dead in the eye with his expressionless, pupiless, bleached-bone orbs, before slightly bowing his head and moving aside. Like ghosts on the edge of his vision, the thestrals started disappearing into the darkness’ embrace, one by one.
Harry pulled on his invisibility cloak, and walked away with Death upon his shoulders.