"… and that is how Krum ended up catching the snitch! It was amazing, dad. Sirius says that you would have loved it, though he thinks that mum would have teased you for weeks if you ended up acting as stupidly as I did when the Veela did their routine."
Harry smiled fondly at the memory of the game, as he sat cross-legged in front of his parents' grave. It was hard to believe that the anniversary of their sacrifice (Remus had recommend that Harry use "sacrifice" rather "death", which helped Harry feel more connected to the parents he never got the chance to know in life) had come again. The beginning of the day had been spent reading to children at Saint Mungo's, and now he had spent the past few hours catching his mum and dad up with his past year of adventures.
Rubbing his chest, idly wondering what he had eaten to have such persistent heart burn, he smiled broadly as he remembered another aspect of the Quidditch World Cup.
"Oh! So, the triplets… I told you that is what George, Fred, and Hermione call themselves now, right? Well, they ended up winning their bet with that Ministry guy… Batman… no! Bagman! Anyways, they won, but the guy had clearly not intended to pay off his debts. Luckily for Fred and George, Hermione had Albus hold their money for the bet. So, they didn't lose their life savings. They were really upset about not getting the extra money for their joke shop, but Albus let slip about Sirius and Remus being Marauders, and now they are thrilled to have real investors who are happy to share some of their pranking secrets."
Harry chuckled as he recalled a private conversation he had with Mr. Weasley.
"Mum, I think you'll like this part. According to Mr. Weasley, Mrs. Weasley wasn't overly keen about the twins' dream of starting a prank shop. But, once she discovered that Hermione was being put in charge of the business plan, she is tentatively excited to see their dream come true. Even then, she is still doing her best to confiscate all their merchandise and order forms. She apparently believes that if they can't sneak it past her, then they won't be able to sneak it past the staff at Hogwarts. Remus says that you would often do that sort of thing to dad and ended up drastically improving the pranking skills of the Marauders."
With a quick scratch at his chest, he looked around at Albus, Sirius, and Dobby. The three were acting as bodyguards, ensuring Harry had complete privacy.
"Well, that covers the Cup. I don't know if Malfoy's warning was valid or not. Albus loudly talked about how much he would love to let loose to defend me, and earned several glares from random witches and wizards, but nothing of interest happened. Remus says that means that Albus did his job, but… who knows? Speaking of Remus, you may have noticed that he isn't here tonight. Well, just shy of a fortnight ago…"
"Mr. Lupin, I will ask you more time" spoke an elderly wizard who stared at Remus with a deadly serious expression, "and I must stress this, a simple recanting of your position is all it will take to release you. Otherwise, you will be spending the next three months in that cell. Three months, at the minimum, with the possibility of never being released. Now, I will ask you this final time, do you recant?"
Remus stared resolutely back at the elderly wizard, separated by sturdy prison bars. The cell was bare, no bed for sleeping, no sink, no toilet. Other than the barred door and thick stone walls, there was a barred window that allowed one to see the sky outside. Harry watched Remus with bated breath.
The elderly wizard nodded seriously. "Very well, Mr. Lupin. The record shows that you have been offered three chances to recant, so we shall move forward. On behalf of the International Guild of Healers, I want to offer you my sincere gratitude. Very few would be willing to take such a risk, and I sincerely hope that tonight's results will be a rousing success for you. Alchemist Dumbledore, you may proceed."
Albus smiled kindly. "Thank you, Healer Tanaka. The full moon is expected to rise in one hour and 53 minutes. Remus, please drink the potion and then describe any unusual feelings you have."
Albus passed a stone cup through the bars, a glowing liquid of swirling red and gold sloshed gently within. Remus raised the cup toward the room full of observers on the other side of the bars. "Cheers".
With that, he carefully and quickly downed the entire potion, ensuring not a drop was missed. He then passed the cup back through a food slot in the bars to an awaiting Albus. The food slot was then covered with a thick plate of metal and thoroughly locked into place.
"It tastes like… nothing… not like water has no taste… but like the complete absence of taste. Other than that, I don't feel anything else yet."
Albus nodded. "Thank you, Remus. Please keep us advised if anything changes. Assuming nothing goes wrong, tomorrow morning your cell will be furnished with anything you would like to make your stay as comfortable as possible."
Remus smiled as he sat down on the bare floor. "Thank you, Albus. I do remember how this worked the last time we tested one of your cure attempts."
Harry walked up to the line on the floor which signified the minimum distance one was to keep from the bars. The separation between the bars was such that it should be impossible for a man or werewolf to get anything thicker than a finger or claw between them, but no chances were being taken.
As Albus conferred with the other observers, Harry and Sirius took seats on the floor. Harry found himself admiring Remus's relaxed expression.
"So… three months… doesn't that seem a bit extreme?"
Remus chuckled ruefully. "Perhaps it is a touch… over-cautious, especially if this ends up having no effect, but it is based on some reasonable precautions. Given the consequences of things going wrong, I prefer to err on the side of being extremely safe."
"That makes sense, but… why can't you just be locked in around the full moon? Or, just come at night?"
Remus's expression took on a saddened tinge. "Because of Eleanor Prewett".
"Who is that?"
After a pause, Remus sighed. "For as long as this curse has existed, people have been trying to find ways to cure it. The problem is that the curse is unbelievably strong and resilient. It fights every attempt at a cure. Transfiguration masters have had limited success in transforming the wolf back into a human, but the success is immediately reverted as soon as the master stops actively pumping their magic into the transfiguration. Potions masters have tried using the Draught of the Living Dead, but the potion fails as soon as the transformation starts. Up until Eleanor, no one had succeeded in making a difference that was non-fatal, and so there were no special precautions in place for those attempting cures."
"Magical transportation improved to allow one to cross the Atlantic in under an hour."
Harry frowned in confusion. "Why would that make a difference?"
Remus's expression transitioned into what Harry recognized as Professor Lupin mode. "This was in the middle of the 16th century. The Americas were largely unexplored by the European muggles, but the magical communities of Europe and the Americas were enjoying friendly relations. And… well, there is a long history that we can cover in one of your later lessons. The shorter version is that due to the Bering Strait, the rapid crossing of the Atlantic meant that one could now circumnavigate the globe within 6 hours. It was an expensive trip for those who weren't absurdly powerful enough to manage the portkeys and apparating without assistance, but it was doable. And, while most werewolves are usually disowned and in a near constant state of destitution, there are usually a couple of us who are lucky enough to have family willing to care for us."
Harry nodded slowly. "And Eleanor's family took care of her?"
"The Prewett family has a long history of putting family before everything, so when Eleanor was bitten at age 18, they didn't hesitate in taking care of her. And when the news came out that it was possible to travel the globe so quickly, nearly everyone impacted by the curse immediately wondered if racing the sun was the cure that we had so long craved. After all, if you are always in the daylight, then there is no moon to worry about. Eleanor, now 25, had a family that was moderately wealthy and could afford the trip."
With a deep sigh, Remus continued. "So, after a lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, Eleanor and her father began the trip. Eleanor was locked in a small cage for the entire journey. While there were no official precautions the family was required to take, they were not taking unnecessary risks. Over a full 24 hours, they travelled west, always leaving for the next jump around noon. When they arrived back in England, they had skipped an entire night of the full moon. And Eleanor… remained unchanged."
"What!? It worked!? That's amaz…" Harry looked at the sad look in Remus's eyes. "That's not the end of the story."
"No, it's not. To celebrate the apparent success, Eleanor and her father went to The Leaky Cauldron for lunch. They planned to share the good news with the family afterwards. While waiting for their food to arrive, Eleanor must have felt the exhaustion catch up with her. According to her father, the pair of them had not slept a wink for the entire journey. At that table, awaiting a good meal, and flooded with relief, Eleanor sleepily smiled and told her father that she loved him, and laid her head in her hands to take a nap. And then… she transformed."
Harry's eyes widened in shock. "But… it was lunch time… How is that possible? Wait! You said she was in the middle of the Leaky Cauldron. What happened?"
Remus shrugged with a sense of resignation. "The same fate that awaits all those touched by this curse. Tragedy, Harry, our constant companion. Tragedy happened. There were a pair of Aurors having lunch, and they responded as Aurors have always been trained to deal with an unrestrained werewolf. She had just managed one snarl after completing her transformation before being struck with two killing curses, followed by several more killing curses and other nastier spells. With that, Eleanor was gone and the Prewett family was fined so severely that it took them generations to climb out of poverty. Though, remarkably, they never let this dim their belief in supporting family. After that, attempts at curing our curse became much more regulated. After all, if the change can occur in the middle of the day, then extreme caution should be exercised."
"But how did she change when the moon was out?"
"The widely accepted theory is that the curse has more than one trigger. The primary trigger is obviously being touched by the light of a full moon. Another trigger appears to be time, which would explain why we will transform even when locked in a dungeon without any access to windows. Though, some believe that the moonlight transmits magic through walls as well, but it is still unproven. For Eleanor, the belief is that the constant sunlight kept the time trigger from fully completing but falling asleep somehow made the curse to realize it was past time for the trigger. It was one of the biggest breakthroughs in our understanding of our affliction and nearly every werewolf learns about Eleanor Prewett. Not that it is hard to remember, as the next breakthrough wouldn't happen for centuries after that."
Harry followed Remus's gaze and looked over at Albus, who was quietly arguing with Healer Tanaka.
"Was the next breakthrough when you tested Albus's cure attempt?"
Remus smiled fondly. "For all the fame that man has, he deserves so much more. The whole time I was in Hogwarts, Albus was researching the curse and possible cures. Well, Albus and the Flamels. It was their promise to research my affliction that just barely got me my permission to attend Hogwarts. Of course, I didn't find out about any of that until I was preparing to graduate and Albus approached me with the opportunity to test his possible cure. I agreed immediately, and one of the observers happened to mention that the deal Albus had made to allow me my time at school. I suspect he would have happily let me live my life without knowing the amount of effort that was required on his part to allow me a modicum of a normal childhood."
Harry chuckled. "That does sound like him. So, how did his attempt work?"
Remus tilted his hand side to side. "As a cure, it didn't work. As an avenue for more research, it was a grand success. As a very simplified explanation, it was an alchemical potion he and the Flamels had designed to neutralize dark magic. I still don't quite understand how they managed to get it to only target the curse, while not attacking any other magic. Still, he did get it to work… to a degree. The design is such that if there is no dark magic active, the potion remains dormant. Since the curse remains dormant until the transformation, the potion remains inert until the transformation. His cure kept me from transforming for just shy of 15 minutes."
"Couldn't he have given you a bigger dose?"
Remus shook his head dismissively. "The potion, like most cure attempts, is a hair breadth's away from being a highly toxic poison. I needed a couple of weeks after the attempt to work out the toxins as it was. However, the most important thing was that the attempt didn't pause the transformation, it slowed it down. The curse's magic and the potion's magic were fighting each other, so I managed to be lucid for 10 minutes of the transformation. That had never happened before. Up until that point in history, the transformation would start, while the person becomes catatonic. When transformed, the wolf would take complete control. The understanding we all had was that the curse forces the human mind into some corner of the brain, where only the vaguest sense of consciousness could be found. Sometimes I may remember feeling happy or angry, perhaps even a confusing image will be there. That was the understanding we have all had of the curse since… since werewolves first came into being."
"That's not what happens?"
"No… well, the curse still forces the human mind into the corner, but the mechanism is not an instant case of it being magically performed. What I discovered from the slow transformation is that the wolf takes control through the sudden and sharp application of pain. Instead of being instant pain, Albus's potion left me feeling the slow buildup of pain. I have been under the Cruciatus since that experiment, but the pain I felt before blacking out was something that Death Eaters could only wish to inflict."
"You passed out?"
"I BLACKED out. I am told I kept talking. I am told that I screamed 'I GIVE UP' and begged for the pain to end. After that, I became catatonic, and they watched over the next 5 minutes as my body slowly completed the transformation. It was that moment that changed a fundamental understanding of our curse."
Harry frowned in confusion. "I don't understand. Didn't you already know it was painful?"
Remus thoughtless ran a finger down one of the scars on his face. "The transformation… leaves us sore, and we sometimes get injuries that are painful. But the pain I felt was before the physical transformations really began in earnest. I believe… I believe that the pain is an act of dominance. The suddenness and intensity demand I submit. And that submission offers the comfort of a peaceful and pain-free place for my mind to rest for the night. It was that revelation that led researchers down the path of finding a way to bolster the human mind and keep it from submitting to the wolf."
Harry's eyes widened in recognition. "The Wolfsbane Potion!"
"Exactly! Wolfsbane Potion, again being mostly a poison, works by slowly putting the person under increasing amounts of pain while also deadening the nerves. Multiple doses are needed to bring us to the proper level of internal pain and balancing that with making as unable to feel as possible. Then, during the transformation, the curse is unable to inflict as much agony as normal, as we are already enduring more pain than it can it bring to bear. As such, we don't feel that sudden shock that instinctually makes our mind retreat. If we maintain our minds throughout the physical transformation, the wolf's mind then retreats and we maintain control even while asleep. Again, that is a simplistic description of a dreadfully complex potion. It also means that many of our kind pass on taking the Wolfsbane Potion, as they view the three days of agony not worth being able to keep their minds for the evening."
Harry winced in sympathy. "That's not what tonight's attempt is doing, is it?"
Remus chuckled. "No… well, I hope not. I have no idea how this will work out. I know that Albus is hopeful that Marcus's idea will be the key."
Harry stretched as he tried to find a comfortable sitting position, as his heartburn worsened.
"By the way, Marcus is why Albus was arguing with that healer. While everyone else laughed at my story of what happened with the Phoenix droppings, and Sirius even wrote a short version of a Boy-Who-Lived book called The Boy-Who-Lived and the Head of Flaming Poop, Marcus was filled with wonder by my letter. Although, he did appreciate the personal copy of Sirius's book which he promised to never share with another living soul. He knows that Remus is a werewolf, and he wanted to help a man who is both a mentor to him and my honorary uncle. If it wasn't for him sharing his ideas with Albus, the cure being attempted would have never happened. Albus wanted to make sure that Marcus got the appropriate credit in case the cure worked. Alas, Marcus didn't do enough work to be eligible for any awards, but Albus has ensured he will be listed as providing the key insight into the new attempt. I am told that, in this case, an accolade that small is still something major enough that even Snape would drool at the chance of receiving such recognition."
Harry shuddered as he forced the image of a drooling Snape from his mind as he continued. "I didn't really understand the technical details that Albus explained to Remus. What I gather is that he was able to work with the research provided by Newt Scamander, who had long since broken down the process that allows phoenix droppings to be magically inert, until impacted by active magic, and then it begins a full day of repeated self-immolation and regeneration. Albus then incorporated Newt's research into his previous cure attempt from years ago, with the hope that it would regenerate the magic of the potion as it fights the dark magic of the curse. The end goal being utter destruction of the curse. That melding of his cure with the phoenix... poop… I'm not going to bother trying to use fancier words for it. Sorry mum, but the melding was Marcus's idea, and he apparently giggled every time he got to write the word 'poop' to someone as revered as Albus and laughed even harder whenever Albus would write the word back. So, Marcus thought that the magic of Phoenix Poop could be combined with a werewolf cure, and Albus ran with the idea."
"I do hope that Marcus still appreciates his commitment to the phrase 'Phoenix Poop', because his name is going to be associated with it for a very long time. Because, and this is the big news, Albus's cure worked!"
Harry smiled joyfully. "It was awesome! The first ten minutes of the full moon went like Remus was expecting based on the attempt years prior. The pain was slowly ramping up to nearly unbearable, and then he began to laugh uncontrollably as his skin glowed and light erupted from his mouth. Apparently, phoenix regeneration magic is very ticklish when its internal. He was then pain free for ten minutes, and ten minutes after that when the pain started to become too much, the laughter and light show began again. It continued like that for the next few hours, with the pause between bouts of pain increasing slowly. Then, about three or four hours into the full moon, the pain stopped occurring. After that, Remus was conversing with us happily, having a pun competition with Sirius and Dobby, and then about every half hour he would pause to laugh uproariously as he emitted light. The light even became… cleaner, I think because it was no longer consuming the curse. When morning came, the laughter episodes slowed to an end and Remus finally drifted off to sleep."
Harry winced as his heartburn spiked painfully. "… ouch! Sorry, I have no idea what I ate. Where was I? Right! So, it's been twelve days, and Remus has not transformed. The healers have run the rather complex tests needed to detect the Werewolf Curse, and they have yet to see a hint or trace of it. They are tentatively hopeful that Albus's cure has successfully dispelled the curse utterly. If things still look good in three months, they'll start testing with other volun… OW! DAMN IT!"
"HARRY!?" Two men and an elf quickly appeared by the boy who had just screamed in pain.
Harry gripped his chest tightly as he mentally shunted his pain to where he normally stored the pain from when he looked at raw magic. With a deep breath and sigh, he responded to his worried guardians and friend. "I don't think this is just indigestion I'm feeling. Unless Sirius let one of his pranks get out of hand?"
As Sirius rose his hands in protest and Dobby glared at the animagus, Albus ignored the brewing conflict between Godfather and Godelf (Sirius having given Dobby the title) and stared at Harry's chest.
"Harry, are you able to look at the magic around your chest?"
Harry shrugged. "It will take a lot more pain than that before I hit my threshold. Why?"
Harry automatically shifted the pain of looking at raw magic (having worked his way up to a full hour before it became too much) and looked around. As he looked down at his chest, his eyes widened in shock.
"What… is that… how could I… Oh no no no no no no"
Albus gently squeezed Harry's shoulder, helping Harry to focus on not panicking. "I think I know what you're thinking, Harry. Let me assure you, it's not a link to a Horcrux."
Harry exhaled a relieved breath, having not realized he had stopped breathing when Albus had touched his shoulder. As he looked down at his chest, he could now examine things without having his thoughts clouded by shock. Like a Horcrux, there was a tendril of magic extending from his chest (from his heart, he guessed). Unlike a Horcrux, the tendril was not roaming in random directions, as it extended in an unwavering line towards some distant point in space. Also, unlike a Horcrux, the line seemed to be… straining… yes, straining. Like… like a fishing line. Which meant that Harry was the fish. Tentatively, Harry took an experimental step forward in the direction of the tendril, and immediately felt the pain disappear.
"OK… it's not a Horcrux. That's good. Instead, I just feel like I'm being reeled in by a hungry fisherman, which is not so good. What's going on, Albus?"
Harry took another step forward as he felt the pain start up again, causing the pain to dissipate.
Albus waved his wand in weird patterns over the magic tendril as he answered the boy. "I have never seen anything like this before… but Perenelle once told me about something similar in appearance to this. If it's what I am thinking… forgive me, give me a few minutes. Keep walking forward though, don't fight the magic for now."
After several minutes of watching Albus wave his wand and muttering, and many steps forward, the man paused and grumbled several barely audible filthy expletives.
"Give me one more moment, Harry."
Albus disappeared from the spot, with the familiar magic of a Hyper Jump. Several seconds he returned. His expression was calm, but Harry was familiar enough with the man to see that he was tamping down some extreme emotions with his Occlumency skills.
"Sirius" Albus spoke softly, "if I am correct, then we might be executing Plan S3 tonight. Please go with Dobby to collect what is needed while I talk with Harry. We will continue walking until you return."
Sirius's eyes widened in shock. "S3? But… Remus…"
"Remus will understand. Remember, the plan is only executed if the agreed criteria are met. Harry and I will be fine as we wait for you."
Godfather and Godelf looked to Harry with questioning eyes. Harry smiled slightly. "It's OK, go ahead. The pain is stops whenever I take step forward. I'll be fine."
With a final look, the pair disappeared with a loud pop. Harry then looked up at Albus.
"So, what is happening?"
Albus removed his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and gently put his glasses back in place. With a final calming breath, he responded.
"I hope that I am mistaken, but it seems we are dealing with a variation of a slave binding."
"… a SLAVE binding!?"
"A variation, yes."
"And how, exactly, do I have a slave binding… sorry, a VARIATION of a slave binding?"
"Let me tell you about the artifact known as The Goblet of Fire…"