Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of the story. Thank you for coming on this journey with me.
Chapter Sixty-Five—The Blue Sky
"Can I talk to you, Harry?"
Harry glanced up. He hadn't thought Lily would want to come talk to him right now. Lupin had arrived earlier that day, and he'd been closed up with James and Lily for most of the afternoon. But there was his mum in the doorway of the library, her face pale and her eyes on the floor instead of his face.
"All right," he said, and turned around and moved a stool so that she would have a place to sit if she wanted to. "Did Lupin say something that gave you a shock?" That was what it looked like. "Or something you wanted to confirm with me?"
"You could say that," Lily whispered. Her eyes stayed on the floor, even after she'd sat down. Harry's attention strayed back to the book he was reading. Sometimes his mother needed a long buildup to conversations; sometimes, especially in the last few days, she went away without starting one at all.
"Is it true that you fought Remus and Obliviated him?"
"No, I Obliviated Snape," Harry said, raising his eyebrows a little. If Lupin was trying to make Harry look worse, then he'd gone about it in the wrong way. "Lupin changed into a werewolf during the fight. We were in his office, and he forgot to take his Wolfsbane Potion. Then he tried to bite me, but my physical changes protected me."
Lily hunched and wrapped her arms around herself for protection. "Why did—why did you never contact him again after third year? Why did he make you so angry?"
"He never intended to try and get me out of the Dursleys' house. And he never visited you when you were in hospital."
Lily blinked. Harry waited to see if a fragile tear would slide down her cheek, since it had done that before, but it didn't.
"You wouldn't have been allowed to stay with him," Lily replied after a moment's thought. "Werewolves aren't allowed to have custody of children, even if they're taking Wolfsbane. That incident in Remus's office should have shown you why."
Harry gave her a mocking smile. He knew it was mocking, he didn't want it to be, but that was the way it was. "And you think even a werewolf running wild would have been more dangerous to me than the Dursleys? You think he would have done as much damage to the core of what I am?"
He no longer really thought that the Dursleys had damaged him; he didn't feel the way he had when he was a child. But he knew his parents thought he was damaged. And he wasn't above using that as a weapon against them.
Lily pressed her trembling hand to her mouth. "I never thought of that."
"I mean—don't hold it against Remus that he didn't visit us in hospital," Lily tried then. "Different people can handle different things. Remus couldn't handle the sight of us lying in those beds. As far as he could tell, we would be insane forever."
Harry laughed. Lily flinched a little. Yar, sitting on the back of Harry's chair, flexed her wings and looked down haughtily.
"But why didn't he try?" Harry asked. "You were his best friends. He knew that you were still alive, which is more than I did for ten years. He's an adult wizard, a lot older than me. He has a lot more experience. He probably knows spells that I've never heard of, because I've specialized in Transfiguration so much. He didn't even try. Why didn't he? Why did he just accept that you were going to be insane forever?"
"Because—that's what the Healers said. That's what they believed."
"But why did Remus believe them?" Harry shook his head. "Minerva, Dumbledore, Snape, Regulus—they weren't particularly close to you. They weren't your best friends. But how could someone let another person's word hold them back when they might be able to do something? I would never give up if a friend of mine was in pain. I would keep trying until I succeeded or died."
Lily swallowed a little and sat up. "This is what Minerva meant," she murmured. "When she said that you were determined beyond determined, and you would go around any and all obstacles that were there."
"Of course I will." Harry cocked his head. "Wouldn't you do the same thing? You didn't run away when the Lestranges attacked. You stood in their way and fought. You fought for me. I don't understand why you think this isn't the same thing. Or why you can forgive Remus for not helping you more," he had to add. His parents' forgiveness was one thing, if they wanted to do that, but he never would. He would put up with Remus for his parents' sake, that was all. James seemed to like having him around.
"Oh, Harry," said Lily, and her smile was uncertain and unhappy, but it was there. "Of course we fought for you. It—just seems strange to see it in someone who's not an adult, that's all."
"I've been an adult since I first learned about you. I had to be."
Harry didn't see what he'd said to make her cry, but once again Lily's lip trembled. "I'm going to go talk to Remus and James about this," she said. "I think they need to hear it."
"If James chooses Remus over me, that's all right. I know he knew him for longer. And Remus hasn't done as much Dark magic as I have." Because he's a coward. But Harry didn't think the truth worth an argument.
And abruptly, his mother was around the table and hugging him, for the first time in a fortnight. Harry froze in surprise. It felt as though she was trying to say all sorts of things with her arms, and he didn't know what they were.
Lily pulled back, wiping her eyes. "I just want you to know that we're going to try," she said. "And nothing could make me choose Remus over you."
She stood there for a minute longer, and then dipped her head and left the room, wobbling only a little and putting out a hand to the nearest bookcase only once. Harry listened, but she didn't fall as she was going down the stairs, either.
That was strange, Harry thought, but it was still long minutes before he could go back to his reading.
"I wanted to talk to you alone, Harry."
Remus was standing in the doorway of the library, where Lily had stood yesterday. He looked as though someone was going to spring and rip out his throat. Harry shook his head a little. He was a werewolf. Why didn't he use that for the strength it could be instead of cowering from it all the time?
"Is—this not a good time?"
Harry realized the man had taken the headshake as a denial of his request. "No, you can come in," he said. "I was thinking of something else." He leaned back and watched as Remus groped his way to the chair Lily had taken and sat down. He kept his gaze fixed on his hands, and then it wandered to the books Harry was consulting, and then up to the window. Harry waited. He was good at that.
Yar, who wasn't, finally stirred on the back of the chair and then turned and pointed herself at the window. Harry got up and let her out, and watched for a minute as she spiraled up above the Muggle neighborhood, her eyes scanning. He wondered for a moment what the Muggles thought of her. But as long as no one tried to shoot at her, he doubted he would need to care.
As though Yar being gone had given him his tongue back, Lupin finally said, "I wanted to know if we could be friends."
"I doubt it," Harry said, turning around. "You don't have the qualities that I look for in my friends."
Lupin's face crumpled. He took another long few minutes to look at the window, and his hands, and the books. Then he swallowed air and mumbled, "What are the qualities that you look for in your friends?"
"Concern for me," Harry said, and came and sat down at the table. "Willingness to help me achieve my goals. Something I can help them with. Understanding. Not trying to change me." He tilted his head at Lupin. "You have something I could help you with, but you don't want help, and that eliminates the only one I can see."
"What do you think you could help with?" Somehow Lupin worked his mouth into a shadow of a smile.
"Getting used to your wolf," Harry said. "Accepting it so that you don't squeak in fear every time someone refers to the fact that you can change shape. I don't think I can improve on the recipe of Wolfsbane. I'm not good enough at potions. But you spend twenty-seven nights of the month, at least, in human shape. And all the days. You don't seem very happy. That would be one thing you could try to change. But I don't think you're interested in doing it."
Lupin tucked his hands under his armpits as if for warmth. "I want to make sure that I never hurt anyone else," he said carefully. "I want—you refer to it very neutrally, as changing shape. But it's a disease. A curse. Something I never asked for."
Harry frowned at him. "But it's here now, and it's not going away. So why don't you try to live with it?"
"Referring to it neutrally masks how horrible it is."
"Talking all the time about how horrible it is doesn't help you deal with it."
Lupin winced and stood up. "I think you might be right, Harry. Or James was. He told me that you were still—prickly about me not doing something to rescue you from the Dursleys while I could."
"I'm sort of bitter about that, yes," Harry said, leaning back in the chair. Lupin hastily averted his eyes from Harry's gaze. "But Minerva didn't do it either, and if I can forgive her, I can forgive you."
It seemed to take all Lupin's courage to remain in the room, but he said, "Then why—"
"I think you're a coward," Harry said quietly. "On the run from being a werewolf, on the run from how much I remind you of yourself because I choose to embrace the animal side of my nature, on the run from feeling guilty. Maybe someday, yes, we could be friends, if you wanted to do something about the wolf. But a lot of things would have to change."
Lupin's eyes dropped. "Maybe you're right about that."
"When you mean that statement, instead of using it as another excuse not to do anything, then we'll come to an accord."
Lupin's back straightened. He strode out. Harry raised an eyebrow. He wished he could think that was real courage instead of stung pride that would fade soon after Lupin was no longer in Harry's company.
It wasn't his problem, either way. Lupin could come and go, and Harry would stay out of his way and let him visit with James and Lily as much as he wanted.
But he wasn't about to make friends with someone who could barely meet Harry's eyes because of the way they caught the light.
Minerva stood up in concern as Lily tottered into the kitchen. The last thing she knew, Lily had been outside showing herbs to Harry in the Blacks' gardens. Lily had hit on improving Harry's Potions skill as something she could do with him, and Harry had seemed happy.
"Are you all right?" Minerva asked in concern, reaching out. But Lily only shook her head and sat down hard in a chair.
"I was—I was showing Harry some of the deadly nightshade they've got growing here…" Even in her shock, Lily managed to roll her eyes. "They're Blacks, of course they have it."
Minerva smiled, and waited for the rest of the story.
Lily reached over and picked up one of the stack of blueberry scones that the Black house-elves had made earlier, chewing it slowly. "Harry told me that he could tell which of the berries were the most poisonous. I told him they were all poisonous, and that was one of the reasons I wanted him to learn how to recognize the plant, so he wouldn't eat it or put the wrong ingredients in a potion by mistake. He told me that, no, he could smell which berries were deadlier than others. Which had just slightly more poison." She leaned forwards. "Do you think that's true?"
Minerva blinked and thought about it. She had long since decided that Harry had done more than he'd either thought of or told her about—that some of his changes might have changed other features of his body. "He could have enhanced his sense of smell."
"But as much as that?"
"I wouldn't put it past him. He's never talked to me specifically about it, though."
"I—I remember some Transfiguration theory," Lily said, and then gave a small, bitter laugh. "Better than I remember some of the events after Hogwarts, sometimes. I know how much work it would take someone who was ordinarily talented in Transfiguration to manage that. Minerva, he's a master. And he seems entirely unconscious of it!"
"He wanted to learn Transfiguration at first because he intended to physically change your brains to heal the damage from the Cruciatus Curse. He thought better of it in the end, but I think…"
"Yes?" Lily said encouragingly, leaning forwards over the table.
"I think it's now became his passion for itself. Whether or not he ever acknowledges it."
Lily leaned back, breathing a little fast. "I knew it," she whispered. "I knew—oh, he was such a smart baby, Minerva. He recognized words a long time before he could say them. We could ask him where the doorknob or the broom or Padfoot was, and he'd point. When he was five or six months old. He knew his name before he could say it, and he tried to hide when he was crawling and accidentally dragged the tablecloth and a whole bunch of plates off the table. Oh, Minerva, he's a genius."
And that's the path that's going to connect Harry to his mother, Minerva realized as Lily stood back up and walked outside to the garden, only needing to hold onto the railings on the stairs once. She loved studying and books. She loved it when she could unravel a difficult spell or figure out how a potion worked without reading the book. She never cared as much about Transfiguration as James did, but she can appreciate Harry's passion for it.
It was, perhaps, a slim foundation compared to the ones that the mothers of children Minerva had known had built upon. But it was so much better than nothing that Minerva felt as though someone had healed a wound in her chest.
"You have to try very hard to visualize your Animagus form."
"Oh, but Minerva cast a spell that already told me what it was," Harry said, and looked up from where he was sitting in the cross-legged position on the grass that James had insisted on. "She wanted to see the image of my soul."
His father paused and pushed his glasses up his nose. Harry smiled a little. He had offered to Transfigure James's eyes, but he'd refused, a bit nervously. Well, that was his right. Even though it wasn't like Harry would sneak a tapetum lucidum in there without warning him.
"What was it? If you don't mind telling me," James added hastily. "Padfoot wanted to keep his form hidden from me for a while."
Sirius Black was a very strange person, Harry thought. He didn't think even Regulus would have done that, as long as he'd achieved an Animagus form. "A goshawk."
James lost his nervousness in a second. "You can fly? That's brilliant!"
Harry had to laugh. "Well, everyone can fly with a broom—"
"That's nothing compared to what it would be like to have your own wings," said James, firmly.
Harry had to admit that, although since he didn't have wings yet he didn't know for sure. "But I never concentrated on becoming an Animagus because I wanted to make other changes instead."
"I know," James said, and his voice was soft and understanding, to Harry's utter surprise. "I know. You had other goals." He leaned forwards. "But now you can do that. First, you have to meditate. You have to get used to thinking of yourself as that other form. Maybe that's not going to be as hard for you, because you've already envisioned what it's like to have eyes that see in the dark and claws and kangaroo legs. But it still took me forever to learn to meditate. Now…"
Harry closed his eyes, thinking it would probably take him forever, too. There just wasn't enough trust in him yet to relax around someone he didn't know with his eyes closed.
But for his parents, he tried.
Neville hopefully snatched the letter from the barn owl as it fluttered through the window. Dapple, asleep on a chair, opened one eye and then closed it again. He had decided owls were too big to hunt.
But when Neville opened the letter, it contained only one word, although it was in the familiar handwriting he'd wanted to see.
Neville moaned in despair and flopped back on the slithering cascade of gifts that almost carried him off the chair. He glared at them. Someone had sent him several pairs of girls'—underthings yesterday. With a note about how much the wearer had worn them during the war, and what she'd done while she was—
His last hope had been that Harry would concede to put his name out there and at least divide the renown and gifts. But that hope was gone now. Harry's decision to not demand any of the credit hadn't made sense to Neville at the time. Now, he thought it was the wisest thing Harry had ever done.
"I suppose I have to do something with all of these, don't I, Dapple?" he muttered.
His cat opened one eye and stretched a luxurious paw. Neville watched him. Sometimes he shredded one of the gifts—always the ones that turned out to have traces of Dark magic around them later—and if he did that now, then Neville would have less of them to sort through.
But this time, Dapple just curled back up into a small circle and did nothing at all.
Neville allowed himself five minutes of sighing before he started working through the mounds and piles and heaps and mountains.
Minerva waited until Harry was done practicing his meditation and had opened his eyes himself before she cleared her throat.
Harry smiled when he saw her, and stood up, swatting grass blades from his robes. "Hello."
Minerva fell into step beside him as he walked back towards the house. "I notice that Formido and Immolator aren't here."
"Mmmm. They needed more room than the gardens here could provide, so I took them to one of the Black properties no one uses anymore, since the magic in the house is so Dark. They can run on the grounds and hunt. I left them a lot of prey."
"That you also Transfigured." Minerva shook her head. Harry was rich enough now to buy all the livestock he wanted for the tigers to eat, but he always turned to making his own first. She thought he probably always would.
The puzzlement in his voice meant it wasn't worth asking about, or arguing about. Minerva knew all the steps of that dance already. She turned around on the doorstep and looked at him. Harry lifted his head, eyes gleaming in the falling dusk.
"I know that you're trying hard to get along with your parents," Minerva said quietly. "And I appreciate that you're willing to learn the Animagus transformation and Potions for them. But I want you to know that you don't have to. Their love shouldn't be conditional. If you ever feel like you can't do it anymore, I'll speak to them."
Harry smiled at her and reached out to gently touch her hand. "I know. Their love shouldn't be conditional. But it is right now."
"Harry," Minerva began, aching sadness stirring to life in her chest.
Harry shook his head quickly. "I knew it could be this way. I would have brought them back even though it was. Please don't get upset, Minerva. If it turns out that I can't do what they want or it's too hard for me, I'll speak up." He raised his eyebrows, and a faint smile she had never seen before stretched his lips. "Have you ever known me to have trouble refusing something I didn't want to do?"
"No," Minerva had to say, and she was smiling too, without being aware that she'd been about to. "That's not one of your failings."
"It's not now, either. Please don't worry about it. And now. Tell me what you've planned to do. I heard that the new Headmaster of Durmstrang actually invited you there to teach Transfiguration?"
"Yes. It wouldn't start until next year. And I would never have considered it before. I never wanted to go so far from my home." Minerva wandered into the house with him and watched as Cross and Yar and a fat piebald mouse rushed up to greet Harry. She wondered if he felt the missing presence of a slim grey cat, as she sometimes did. "But with Apparition and Portkeys, it's truly not so far. And I'm more comfortable than I was before around the Darker Arts that the school teaches. I—wouldn't want to teach them or use them myself, but I can see their use."
"I was wondering," Minerva went on, not giving herself time to think, "whether you'd like to come with me. Study there. Take your exams there. They would welcome you, I know that. For being the last Black heir and—well, I've talked a little about your talents in Transfiguration when they wanted me to give an example of a student I tutored. Without mentioning your name, of course. The Headmaster himself contacted me the next day. He's very interested, Harry."
Harry looked up at her with eyes that resembled a tiger's more than anything else at the moment. "No."
Minerva started to open her mouth, but Harry went on. "Maybe someday, I'll want that. But for now? Exams are boring. I have parents to get to know. And they wouldn't let me take my animals."
Minerva was wise enough to know that most people wouldn't even have got an explanation of his refusal. She sighed. "All right. But do consider it. Maybe, if I stay there and teach for a few years, you might want to do it then?"
And Harry trotted further into the house and disappeared. Minerva watched him go for a few moments.
She supposed it was like Neville and his desperate attempt to get Harry to accept some of the credit (although Minerva did not have piles of Transfiguration job offers that she wanted to share). She thought Harry should be more widely-known than he was. She wanted to share his immense talent with someone, see him recognized and honored for it, watch people's eyes widen when they heard his name.
But Harry, at least at the moment, was as content to live and die unseen as a predator hunting in a deep forest hidden from human sight.
Tears blinded her only a moment. Then Minerva straightened her shoulders and went to Floo the Durmstrang Headmaster.
At twilight the next night, Harry took his broom and flew out of the house and up into the sky. Yar soared beside him, circling higher and higher, imitating his soaring with only the sound of her beating wings to mark her.
When they reached the height where they could both glide, Harry lay along his broom and looked at the earth beneath him. Lights made a great blaze of London. He doubted many of the humans living there, wizard or Muggle, would see him even if they chanced to look up at exactly the right moment.
But pressing all around the city was the darkness. Trotting through the alleys were foxes and rats and stray cats hunting for themselves. Swooping through the darkness high above them were bats, and owls, and the small migrating birds that flew for thousands of miles with no human prayers aiding their wings along the way. In the earth underneath the stones and through the cracks in the pavement and along the riverbanks swarmed countless lives, earthworm and beetle and bacteria and ant, that no one gave a thought to.
Harry shook his head in wonder. He would never…
He would never say that he was grateful for what the Lestranges had done. His parents should have had the chance to live their normal lives. He should have had the chance to grow up with them.
But he could not imagine, now, not being what he was. Not being able to smell the different amounts of poison in nightshade berries. Not being able to jump out of the way of a well-timed spell. Not being able to see in the dark.
Not being able to remember the darkness, those other lives that were all around. How could someone think humans were the center of the universe? How could they not know about what ran on four legs or sang on a branch or swam in the water or swarmed in the air just around the corner from them? How could they think of themselves as being alone with all the bacteria living in them?
Yar stirred beside him. Harry glanced at her, wondering if she had seen a rabbit, though it was dark for an eagle to be hunting.
But she only circled, and her golden eyes pierced his, and Harry understood. She was the most like him of all his creatures, a predatory bird like him, and at moments like this, she represented one of the desires of his soul.
Why stay? We can fly. Why not go away, keep flying and never look back, never allow ourselves to be bound to the concerns of those without wings? It is foolish to stay.
Harry swallowed and looked up at the stars. Yes, he could rise until he was among them and never come back. But he would never be lonely. Even now a few mice and his wand rode in his pockets. He could do anything with them. Why not fly?
But it was only one of the desires of his soul. He had others. To stay and get to know his parents. To be a friend to Minerva and Neville. To make more animals. To perfect his Animagus form. To learn to make his potions better. To see what happened to him in the next week, in the next month, in the next year and decade and century, among humans and other animals.
As long as he never forgot the darkness. As long as he never decided he was only human.
And the option of the wild sky would always be there for him if he wanted to take it.
Having that choice there meant the rest was also a choice. One he did not want to give away and no one could take away from him.
Yar launched herself downwards in a wide, near-silent swoop, reading his mind without him having to command her. Harry looked up one more time, and then turned to follow her.
With his claws gripping the broomshaft, with the large muscles in his legs tensing to help steer him, with his night-seeing eyes.
Not human. But he didn't have to be.