The Surest Invisibility Cloak, Chapter 4

Far away in Nurmengard, a prisoner gave his jailor a nod and took his usual meal. Unlike normal, he ate all of it, although usually he could only choke down some; Nurmengard, after all, did not have the best cuisine. Today, however, he needed all the energy he could get. The bars were spread enough that his thin animagus form could break through, and today he would do so. Today he would escape. It was a glorious thought, even if breaking out was only the first step. He would still have to weather the icy Austrian winters and then have to survive his return to England, but being free was the first step. Even if he died out here, at least he would have felt the wind on his face one last time, would have had a chance to see something beside grey stone flooring and grey stone walls, and the barren courtyard the prisoners were exercised in.

He paused a moment, unwilling to waste wandless magic on something so frivolous as transfiguring his robes but equally unwilling to not, since prison robes were not exactly conducive to trust, and at last settled for changing them to simple grey dress robes, clean but old fashioned and unadorned. He then pulled a loose brick out of the wall, revealing a concavity in the wall which he had laboriously hollowed out on one of the many long days he had spent alone in this dark and empty place. Within the hollow was a dagger, transfigured from a large bit of wood using his limited wandless magic and scratched with runes of envenomation and ever-sharpness. He slid said dagger into a sheath that he had just spent much of his valuable energy transfiguring- best not to have the dangerous blade slice into him through his clothes.

He glanced around the cell just one more time, giving the old castle something of a farewell, and giving his old memories a send off too. Then he walked over to the glamoured window. A moment later found an eagle sitting where he had been, piercing eyes scanning his surroundings. Said eagle hopped onto the window ledge and looked out, through bars that were not there. The wizard found it somewhat difficult to just fling himself straight at the illusory bars, but his human mind finally managed to overcome the animagic instincts, and he flew through the glamour and into the clean, cold air.

It took some awkward fluttering to become accustomed to the movements of the air and the odd currants; the fetid air inside a cell, after all, never moved, but in only a short time he was flying as though he had been born to it, catching an updraft to soar straight into the uppermost levels of the sky.

He could see everything up here. His sharp, predator's eyes could discern the flicker of a shrew's tail a mile away on the wooded slopes around the castle, and could distinguish it from a leaf shifted by the wind with just as much ease from much the same distance. He could see every individual snowflake caught by the howling wind, every crack and mortar and cranny in the stone walls of his former prison and former home. And so he soared.

He flew for hours. His feathers fluffed up with the cold, and hunger bit harshly into his stomach, but he had known cold and hunger often before, and it simply didn't concern him anymore. He had to get to Britain; that was all that mattered. Had to get to Hogwarts, or Godric's Hollow, or wherever his former lover was hiding himself these days. Nothing else could concern him. He flew until he was past exhaustion, until his exposed feet ached with the cold and he was almost too faint to stay in the air, forcing himself on despite his weakened condition and the relative newness of his animagic form. In fact, he had flown nine hours at least, judging by the changing lights in the sky, when at last his wings could no longer hold him, and he fell bodily out of the sky.

He ought to have considered himself lucky for landing in a heap of snow and leaves, but Merlin it hurt. It was all he could do even just to catch his breath, and it was so cold. So cold...

He woke to feel hands on him, little white human hands. His beak automatically snapped, before his human mind took control, and he settled nervously into a pile of warm white towels, unable to do anything but watch. He couldn't risk a transformation unless his life was truly in danger, and the little girl who had him in her lap did not seem to mean him any harm. That did not mean that he was comfortable, however; he was perfectly aware of how fragile he was in this form, all hollow bones and mounds of feathers, and besides, it was rather inappropriate for him, a grown man, to be cradled on a child's lap. All the same, the towels were warm and he was hungry and so, so tired, and he had very little time to question it before he sank back into oblivion.

He woke again to smell an entirely too enticing scent of raw meat. His caretaker, this time with an adult (probably, judging by the facial resemblance, a relative) was holding him, though it was the man who was holding out the strip of meat. The animagus snapped at it cautiously; though he was not about to turn his beak up at food (he had always been adventurous, even if he was not starving) there was always the chance that the meat was laced with something to make it easier to transport him somewhere else, like an animal rescue center, which would make it still more difficult to get away. The meat smelled untainted though, so he ate it slowly to insure that starvation sickness would not take its toll, studying his captors/rescuers with tilted head and sharp gold-speckled eyes. He wished there was something he could do to thank them.

He learned that the girl's name was Tina and her father's was Liam, and that he was a schoolteacher and she was, as yet, not in school. The girl had apparently wanted to keep "the bird" and so he had let her take it in "only 'till it's well though, Schatzi." Tina wanted to keep him for good, but gave in at last, rather sulkily, when her father reminded her that the bird probably had a papa too. The animagus wanted to snort, but refrained, instead focusing on the bit of meat he was ripping apart.

It was a week later that he began to grow restless. The soreness and aches in his flight muscles and wings had subsided enough so that it was no longer painful to fly, so he made little practice flights around the house when his hosts let him out, slowly testing his endurance. Soon, soon he would be ready to fly again, to soar to his destination and confront the man that had stolen his freedom and his heart.

Tina, however, didn't want to let him go. She was almost smothering, treating him like a pet whenever her father wasn't looking, and if she hadn't been such a sweet little thing that didn't mean any harm, he probably would have bitten her. He did his best not to, though, both because she was trying to be kind and because she was actually kind of cute, and because biting a young girl, when he was a grown man (even in animal form) sent shivers of revulsion down his feathered spine. But could she please stop petting him backwards along the wings?!

It was, in fact, another week before they at last decided he was well enough to go. At last, the day arrived, and Tina was even crying a little as the great bird dragged his body into flight with experimental flaps of his wings, circled, and set flight. Unbenounced to the little family, a shimmer of wandless magic, protection, was left behind in gratitude.

And the animagus flew on, mile upon mile upon mile. He stopped only at nightfall, so as not to test his newly-recovered wings by trying to fly all through the night, and pounced on a vole in the twilight for supper. It was easy enough to roost in a great old tree, and by dawn he had taken flight again, still rather sore but still fit enough to fly. By the following day he was soaring over Switzerland.

Yet another week passed, but he could not help thinking that the time he had required to recover had been too much, had ruined his plans. He stopped only when he was forced to, by weather, exhaustion or hunger. He ate some rather unspeakable things, and slept among the gargoyles on church tops or in the hollows of trees, but always he flew on. Always. He had to.

And then he had reached the English channel. It looked very wide, and very turbulent, and ships crossed it and recrossed it, while his sharp gaze scanned the waters, seeing jumping fish, floating rubbish, and dolphins followed the foamy wake of the boats and crested the leaping waves. Gulls screamed around him, wondering at this dangerous and foreign creature that, though a predator, did not seem as if it wanted to hunt them, but he only continued.

He almost fell into the water twice, the first because of an altercation with a rather territorial buzzard, which probably sensed the wrongness and humanness exuded by the animagus (as did most other animals) and the second because of the salty spume that collected on his wings in his attempt to avoid said bird of prey. But he made it. Merlin, he made it.

Now all he needed was a place to sleep. And a wand. Even as powerful a wizard as he was needed a wand, and (though needs must) he was getting rather tired of eating small animals raw.

Then he could track his lover down, and then, perhaps, they could have a rematch. And the odds would be on his side, this time.