Title: Wolf's Choice
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Main story is gen, a few GoF canon pairings mentioned
Content Notes: AU of GoF, angst, gore, violence, torture, present tense, minor character death
Summary: AU of GoF. Harry begins his summer with horrific visions that come true much faster than he was expecting. He'll have to rely on his circle of friends, both his guardians, and all his allies to cope with the results.
Author's Notes: This is a long fic that is a sequel to my fic Other People's Choices. Make sure you read that first before you start this one.
Harry knows that he's dreaming. Well, part of him knows that. There's no reason for him to think that he's really running through a forest with a terrified woman fleeing in front of him, looking over her shoulder and stumbling now and then. Overhead, the full moon shines through the trees. Harry can see a lot better in the shadows than he should be able to.
And he's swinging from tree to tree, too. When Harry turns his head a little to the side, he can see that his arms are slick and darker than they should be.
He swings down into the middle of a clearing at the same moment as the woman stumbles to a stop in front of him. She thought he was the threat, but another one is stalking towards her from the far side of the clearing. Harry's never seen a wolf that big, and shaggy, and grey, and its yellow eyes are almost insane.
Fenrir Greyback, says a voice in the back of his head that doesn't feel like his. Harry knows it's a memory, something Snape told him, but he's doubly distant from the memory now since he's caught up in the vision.
He knew he was looking through Voldemort's eyes. He just didn't want to think about it before.
The woman backs up from the wolf, but towards the far side of the clearing, not towards him. Harry feels cold amusement floating on the top of his mind like oil on top of soup. He wants to vomit, but he manages to clench his jaw shut. Or maybe it's just a matter of not setting off alarms so that Voldemort doesn't sense Harry's presence in his mind.
Harry has been working on his Occlumency. It just—doesn't work to prevent these dreams yet.
The wolf crouches, then darts forwards, and the woman loses her nerve and tries to run. The wolf bites her on the ankle, which Harry thinks is a weird choice through the part of him that isn't sick with shock at seeing blood fly everywhere. But Voldemort knows why, and sure enough, when the woman tries to stand up, she stumbles. The wolf turns back the other way and hamstrings her other foot, too. She still tries to crawl, sobbing so hard at this point that it doesn't actually make much noise.
"More quickly, Fenrir," Voldemort's voice says. It crackles and sounds like someone is speaking through thick, torn meat. They probably are, Harry thinks, and he engages in a struggle to wake up. It doesn't work. "Infect her flesh with the fear."
The werewolf bowls forwards again from the other side, and locks his jaws in the woman's shoulder, then flicks his head up. Her arm tears mostly off. The woman screams hoarsely in a way that Harry is never going to be able to forget, and then she faints. Voldemort makes a clacking sound with his jaws.
Fenrir locks his fangs in the woman's skin and begins to pull. Harry has to watch as Fenrir skins her alive. Or she might be dead, with all the blood loss and the way her arm got torn off. Harry hopes she's dead.
When Fenrir has bitten off all the skin, he rips off a chunk of dripping muscle, and parades over to Voldemort. Voldemort reaches out and begins to roll it with hands that look as if they're made of black bone. In a second, he has a lump of meat that looks horribly like blood-smeared clay.
Voldemort molds it into his arm.
Harry watches for only a moment as it becomes part of him, replacing what look like tattered strips of flesh with a brand-new healthy exposed muscle, before he wakes up with a gasp.
"Harry? Are you all right?"
Fuck. Every night, Harry tries to be quiet, to the point of casting Silencing Charms around his bed sometimes. And every night—well, every night that Harry spends at Severus's house—Blaise wakes up sometime after Harry has gone to bed, cancels the charms, and then leaves the door of his room across the corridor open so that he can hear Harry.
"Just nightmares." Harry's voice is thick. For a second, he thinks of the way Voldemort sounded when he spoke, and he wants to scream. But screaming doesn't do any good. He learned that pretty early on. He sits where he is with his fingers clenched around the scar and watches small rivulets of blood cover his hand.
Of course, Blaise never believes him, so his wand sparks to life and he walks through Harry's door, sitting down on the edge of his bed.
"The Occlumency isn't working." Blaise's voice is low.
"Thank you, Master of the Obvious," Harry snaps at him, and then winces. That sends another throb of pain through his scar when he does it, one that seems almost satisfied. He never wants to be the sort of person Voldemort is, taking pleasure in other people's pain.
Blaise watches him for a second, then shakes his head and asks, "I'll keep your secret if you want me to, but why haven't you told Professor Snape that the Occlumency isn't working?"
"I did tell him. That's why we're working on it more intensely and in personalized lessons now."
"But he asked if you had the nightmares every night, and you told him you didn't. I was there when you told him."
The blood from Harry's scar appears to have stopped. He sighs and picks up his wand from the bedside table to cast the Cleaning Charms that get rid of it on his face and hands. "Because I don't spend every night here. He'd just worry all the time and either get upset enough to send me constant owls while I'm with Sirius or want to come over and give me lessons there. That would upset Sirius."
"Maybe you ought to let him worry," Blaise says slowly. "Since he wants to."
Harry sighs and says nothing. He has to balance his guardians, that's all. Blaise seems to think he should only be concerned about what Professor Snape thinks, but then, Blaise is living here permanently for the summer and doesn't see how Sirius reacts when someone cuts into his time with Harry.
"Get some rest," Blaise says. "Do you want some Dreamless Sleep Potion? Professor Snape gave me some last night and I didn't take all of it."
Harry shakes his head. "I've tried. These—visions come past the potion, too."
Blaise reaches out and squeezes his arm, once. Then he turns and goes back to his own room without a word.
Harry does manage to fall asleep and stay asleep the rest of the night, which is a minor miracle, considering everything he has to worry about at the moment. He wakes up again just before dawn and stares out the window at the glimmers of red on the horizon.
He does wish that he could talk to Snape and Sirius and not have them fight. Of course he does.
But he can't, so he gets up and takes a shower—making especially sure to wash off any blood that would be caught in the corners around his eyes—and goes down to breakfast.
Severus Snape is not a fool. Even if he somehow missed the way Harry glares at his plate this morning, he wouldn't miss the worried glances that Blaise keeps darting at his friend. It's almost every two minutes. Blaise apparently tries to concentrate on the huge plate of scrambled eggs with ham the house-elves have prepared, but at the two-minute mark, he raises his eyes to find Harry again.
Harry, meanwhile, is telling Severus about the way that he thinks he can apply the serpent magic he's learning from the Speakers to the war. "Voldemort's trained a lot more than I have, sure, but the Speakers swear they never trained him, and I believe them. That means that he can only use that one snake he commands against me. I can use a lot of them."
"You should know that Black has spoken to me on the subject of your having a pet snake."
Harry blinks. "What? I'm not going to ask for a pet snake. I'm planning to have serpents as allies, sure, but I'll form them out of magic or make deals with wild ones."
"I would be happy to purchase a snake for you anyway. You could simply keep it over here during the hours that you spend at Grimmauld Place."
"I'm not asking for a pet snake. Sir. But I really don't think that Voldemort would expect this tactic from me. I have to assume that he knows I'm a Parselmouth by now, not like that would have been kept quiet after second year. But he'll also think I either hate it or I'm going to use it just like he does. Not that I'm going to do something cleverer with it."
"The fact is," Severus says, lowering the cup of tea mixed with a Restorative Draught that he's been drinking, "I offered to get you a pet snake because I think you are too much alone."
Harry glances at Blaise. Blaise holds up his hands as if to deny that he betrayed anything.
"You are walking paths that few people ever walk, because few have the potential for serpent magic," Severus continues, and watches the relief wash over Harry's face. Perhaps he thought Severus would confront him about his nightmares. That will wait until they are alone. "It would be good for you to have someone who could accompany you on those paths and yet provide a perspective other than the Speakers'."
Harry thinks about it for the rest of breakfast, but only shakes his head at the conclusion. "Sorry, sir. I don't really want a pet right now. Hedwig is enough. And I have plenty of companionship." He scoops up a pear from the table and heads towards the study room on the ground floor where the Speakers will come today for a lesson with him.
Severus immediately turns his hard eyes on Blaise. Only to find him gone. The boy is exceptionally good about slipping away when someone's concentration is distracted.
Severus sighs and returns to his own study. He was up most of the night researching ways in which Occlumency might be applied to counter prophetic visions, hence his need for the Restorative Draught. His task is hindered by the fact that most of those with the Sight would welcome the visions, not want to hold them off, and also that he suspects Harry's "visions" are of the present, not the future.
He will not yet pry into Harry's mind or confidences. He wants the boy to come to him out of a sense of trust, not obligation.
But sooner or later, if the situation does not improve, he will interfere because he cannot stand to see Harry suffering.
"Welcome, Harry. I want you to go through what you have learned in the last fortnight so that we may build on the lesson."
Harry, chewing on his pear, nods. The request is always the same. To their credit, the Speakers do teach him new things, but he has to run through the repertoire every time, which means the lessons get longer and longer.
And the Speakers refuse to speak English, and go with Parseltongue. The only time that doesn't bother Harry is when they're completely in serpent form, which means they don't have the ability to speak human languages. Lyassa, who's in human or mostly-human form as a slender woman with brilliant green eyes and scales for hair this morning, doesn't have that excuse.
Harry starts out, once he's finished his pear, with summoning a snake, but using a Parseltongue spell rather than the one Draco did in second year. This snake is a British adder, who rears up attentively in front of him. Harry then asks him to perform various motions—lying down, slithering over to a table on the far side of the room, curling in a circle—simply to show that his control over a conjured snake is perfect. As the Speakers have told him again and again, it would be very different if he was dealing with a wild one.
Then Harry narrows his eyes a little and kind of calls on his magic and his Occlumency at the same time while hissing out the Parseltongue words for, "I see." Lyassa, who taught him this last week, was immensely pleased that he already knew Occlumency; she said it would make everything much easier. And Harry has to admit it does, kind of. Who knows if he'd even be able to do this without it?
The room spins like he's rotating on one foot, and then he settles again, with a snap, so that he's looking out through the adder's eyes. It's always disorienting, how flat and big things look, and how only a thin nictitating membrane protects his gaze instead of eyelids. The adder immediately slithers to the side and looks up at the underside of the table, where Lyassa stuck a piece of parchment before Harry came in. Harry's goal is to read what it says, something he did last week as well, but this time, he can see with a glance that the message is a lot longer and more complicated.
Harry concentrates, since he can hardly scowl in this form and he can't even really blink. The message winds its way in letters that range from small to large, which he's sure Lyassa did on purpose, to make it harder to read. It doesn't make him like her any more than he already does, either.
When he's ready, he lets go of the adder's mind and opens his own eyes to find Lyassa leaning her pointed chin on her fist, her mouth open slightly to show her pointed fangs.
"It says 'I wish you would come to the country of the Speakers.'"
"Right. You grow more impressive each day, Harry." Harry doesn't smile at the praise; Lyassa shrugs as if she can hardly help that, and goes on briskly. "At any rate. You are ready to learn the next important part of serpent magic."
She holds out her hand and gives a wordless croon that Harry hasn't been able to imitate no matter how hard he tries. The adder races over to her and curls around her wrist. Lyassa touches its head and is quiet for a second.
Harry waits. At first, during these lessons, he was irritated at how flashy the magic wasn't, but now he understands how important this is. Besides, if it isn't as flashy as some spells, then Voldemort won't sense him coming as easily.
Harry rubs his scar for a second, his mind going back to that terrified woman in the clearing. He has to stop Voldemort. Nothing else matters as much.
Lyassa abruptly opens her eyes and says in Parseltongue, "Show me the conjuration of what will happen two weeks from now."
The adder slips from her wrist to the floor, and for a second, lies there with most of the front half of its body raised from the ground. Harry blinks, eyes narrowed. He thinks Divination is stupid, although maybe it would be powerful if it was taught by someone other than Trelawney. But he's prepared to take this seriously if the magic will let him.
The adder begins to melt into patterns. For a second, it arranges itself in the shape of a lightning bolt that's so like the one on his head that Harry starts. It pauses after it does that. Then it twists into a circle with its tail in its mouth, and pauses again. Then one more time, and it's forming a mostly-straight line, with its head twisted off to the side.
After that pause, it slithers back to Lyassa, and she strokes its back for a second before banishing it. Then she looks up at Harry. "You can learn to divine the future through the runes that the snake creates."
"Right," Harry says slowly. He reckons those were runes, but he doesn't know what they mean. "Why did you pause with your eyes closed before that?"
"You must concentrate on what you wish to see. The conjuration of runes is powerful, but can only predict one event at a time. And then you must give the serpent a timeframe, in Parseltongue. Otherwise, it might predict a battle or a death that is far in the future and attracts the magic of diviners, not the one you want."
Harry leans back with his arms folded. "I don't know all those runes—"
"A great deal of your education has been neglected."
Harry ignores that. "I know that the first one looked like Sowilo, but the circle didn't look like anything, and neither did the last one."
"The last one was Tiwaz. The serpent was creating the rune with its head as one branch of the arrow and the foot of the table as the other. But you may not have been able to see that from where you were standing."
Harry grimaces. No, he didn't see that. "And the circular one? I don't know a lot of runes that are circular. Mostly, they have to use straight lines, because they used to be cut into stone."
"That was one of the serpent runes. Most of the time, we crate them from shed skins that we strengthen with our magic, so we are used to softer and more flexible forms."
Harry flings himself back into the nearest chair and groans. All of the Speakers are more prone to let him get away with that than Snape is. "Great. So there's another set of runes that I have to learn?"
"Yes. If you wish to learn anything of the way we fashion permanent constructions of magic, rather than fleeting and momentary ones."
Harry shook his head sharply at his own dramatics, and sat up. "All right. Then please start teaching me the serpent runes. And what does the circular one mean? And what did that message mean?"
"Conjure another snake. As for that particular rune, it means the same thing an ouroboros does, a cycle without beginning and end. I asked how much you would progress in your learning of serpent magic in the next fortnight. The snake used Sowilo, the lightning bolt that symbolizes you; the ouroboros; and Tiwaz. What do you think it means?"
Harry has to pause for a second to sort through multiple possible meanings of the runes he already knows in his head, but when he does, he feels a little better. "I have to go through some more cycles, but I'll achieve victory at last?"
Lyassa smiles at him. Harry manages to ignore, because he's had practice by now, the gleam of the venom along her fangs. "Very good for a first attempt, Harry, although a slight reading of emphasis in the wrong place. You must not merely go through the cycle; repeating that cycle is essential to your victory."
Harry fixes his gaze on the cobra that he conjures next. It's not victory over Voldemort, which is what he wants more than anything, but right now, knowing he can conquer this kind of learning is all the motivation he needs.