(Disclaimer: don't own, never will, don't plan to. Just doing it for fun.)
Chapter 34: Fall Apart
Remus Lupin had always known that fighting Dumbledore was a bad idea; Snape's idea of a joke, probably. But the old Headmaster was only a man, and an ancient one at that. Surely, despite being powerful, he wasn't invincible! But even with him, Padfoot, and Minerva McGonegall fighting him all at once, Albus was holding his own, even getting the better of them. It probably helped that he knew his own house and the attackers did not.
After telling Harry to go find Severus, (hopefully keeping both of them out of trouble) Remus hop-limped through the hallways toward the sounds of battle. His leg had been punctured with a bit of wood from the exploding bookshelf, and though it hurt, he wasn't bleeding very much. It could have been worse, he knew that. So, ignoring the throb in his leg, Remus followed his nose, and his ears, to rejoin the battle. Padfoot was barking, and McGonegall and Dumbledore were shouting, and that was more than enough to guide him in the right direction.
When he found them, he had passed three more holes in the walls, a destroyed staircase, and a lot of scorch-marks where spells had hit the floor or wall. This was a dining room, he guessed, but there were so many shattered and destroyed articles of furniture scattered around on the floor that it could have been a sitting room for all he knew.
Remus cast a shield charm as a red spell came hurtling toward him. The stunning hex splashed on the shimmering blue haze of his protego and he swiftly cast a brilliant lumos while shielding his own eyes, silently apologizing to Padfoot and Minerva for blinding them too. When Dumbledore was distracted, Remus cast several binding curses in quick succession and a powerful sleeping charm. Dumbledore got hit with the first two and blocked the next ones, and Remus cried out before he had to duck from the old man's return curse; a sickly yellow-green light that slashed like a sword before it faded. The Werewolf threw several stunning curses, which were all reflected or blocked by the wily wizard. But he knew Dumbledore was getting tired.
"Please, Albus!" Remus shouted from behind half a table. "Stop this! Think about what you're doing!"
"You do not understand!" the old Headmaster shouted back, confirming Remus' suspicions when Albus' voice came out breathless and pained. He couldn't last much longer.
"You're trying to kill us!" Remus yelled, jumping aside when the table shattered under an exploding curse and Albus threw the ceiling's chandelier at him. Remus drew on all his strength and hit the chandelier with the best transfiguration spell he could, transforming the deadly glass into fluffy bits of cotton. He now looked like he'd been hit with a mini-snowstorm, but at least the now-cotton chandelier wasn't lying in sharp pieces where anybody could fall on it.
"You accuse me of trying to kill you!" Albus panted. "I am … you are …" He stopped, and Remus realized that the two of them were all that was left. Padfoot was unconscious on the floor and he could see Minerva huddled in one corner, hunched over a lot of blood. Remus was facing Dumbledore alone.
"What, Albus?" Remus pleaded. "I know you don't want this! None of us want this! Why are you doing this to us?"
"You have all betrayed me! You've ruined everything!" Dumbledore cried out, his free hand going to his wild hair and tugging on it. His spectacles were gone and the tie for his beard had disappeared as well. He looked like a demented old man in a nightgown, not the most powerful wizard in Britain. "I only want what is best for everyone; I only wanted … to save the world. But you don't understand; none of you do. You cannot see the forest for the trees … but in order to keep a forest alive, some trees must be cut down. Sometimes … in order for life to flourish, death must come first." The old man's voice dipped on the last sentence as if he was talking to himself.
Remus shifted his feet. Perhaps he could talk the mad old man down from his insanity before he ended up truly killing someone. "We do want to save the world, Albus, you know that," the Werewolf said gently. "And I know you only want the best for all. But you're going about it all wrong. There are other ways. You don't have to control the very thoughts of your allies to make us obey you. It is things like this that would make anyone reluctant to trust you!"
"You deliberately misinterpret what I say!" Dumbledore shouted, his voice verging on hysterical. "You have gone behind my back, allied yourself with a convicted criminal, attacked me in my own home! What say you, Remus Lupin? Was I wrong about you all those years ago? Whom should I trust?"
"If you'd started by trusting us, none of this would have happened," Remus responded. "I asked you about Harry, and you should have told me what I did to him. You should have been honest with all of us. We all could have worked this out together. And Severus! You've misused and hurt him in ways I can't even fathom! How are you any better than Voldemort or Grindelwald if this is the way you treat those you even claim to love?!"
"You understand nothing!" the old man shrieked, his eyes flashing with insanity. "It is because of my love that any of you are still alive! None of you understand the costs of war!"
"Because you tried to play god once too often!" Remus shouted back. His blood boiled with frustration. Albus Dumbledore believed with all his heart that he was right and would never be dissuaded. This was a waste of time, but Remus couldn't stop. "We are not pawns on a chessboard!" the Werewolf went on. "We are men. Women. Individuals. You cannot steer us around like mindless drones that exist only to do your will. If you cannot treat us as the human beings we are, then we shall stop you; yes, by any means necessary!"
The old man's face turned pained. "You think to stop me, Remus?" he demanded. "I, who alone have hope of defeating Voldemort when he rises again?"
"I thought you said only Harry could do that?" Remus pointed out mildly.
"The boy needs me!"
"No one needs what you have been giving," Remus retorted grimly.
"How do you mean to stop me?" Dumbledore cried out. "Are you willing to split your soul for victory?"
"I will not try to kill you unless you try to kill me," the Werewolf replied.
"You have no idea what is at stake tonight! The fate of the world is at stake!"
"So stop this madness and help us! Together we can decide what to do; honestly, and honourably. You know that is the right thing to do, Albus."
Dumbledore suddenly raised his wand and slashed it violently in his direction. "Stupefy!"
Remus yelped in surprise and threw himself to the side as the red stunning curse hurtled toward him. Albus' voice came again, chanting a different spell. Remus ran around the room, aware that he cried out when the curse hit the wall next to him instead of rendering him unconscious, but he had no idea what he said.
Remus was running again when he crashed into a small creature that appeared out of nowhere. Strangely enough, it was the house elf from upstairs. Remus shoved it away from him and scrambled to Minerva's side. She looked weak and semi-conscious from blood loss, and Remus yanked off his robe to press the cloth against the nasty gashes in her shoulder and arm.
"Good lad," Minerva whispered faintly, her head lolling against his arm.
"Hold on, Minerva," Remus whispered, pressing against the wounds and trying to remember the emergency spells for sealing deep wounds until a healer could look at them. As he worked, he could hear Dumbledore and the house elf.
"Kooky!" Dumbledore shouted, aiming his wand to the roof and causing a strange quake to shudder through the foundations of the manor. "I am going to bring down the house! Where is Harry?"
"The invaders be's taking the boy!" the elf shouted. "The Werewolf there! He's took the boy!"
"You useless creature!" Dumbledore scolded. "Go, find Harry. I'll take care of this."
Grumbling, the elf vanished with a pop. The Headmaster stalked over to Remus and Minerva, his blue eyes gleaming in the dark.
"You're insane if you think I'm going to tell you where Harry is, with you looking like that," Remus spoke up, forestalling the obvious. "What happened to you? I don't remember you ever acting so … unhinged."
"A whole lifetime!" Albus gasped, pressing a hand to his face. "An entire lifetime of work … shattered through my own foolish mistake. I have no choice now but to start over."
"Start over?" Remus repeated. "Start over what?"
"I have been working against Voldemort since he was Tom Riddle," the old man said desperately. "And I moved too slowly. Now, unless things go exactly as I planned out, he will destroy the world and all of us with it. Surely you see! Surely one man's memories was a worthy sacrifice upon the altar of victory! But no, you all had to meddle. You and Black, I almost expected. But Severus? I never expected him to work with you, not after he almost killed you. And Black … I am shocked, Remus. Shocked that you would consider me such a foe that you would join forces with my oldest friend, and with a man you always disapproved of, and the man who betrayed your friends …"
"Shocked that you've become the villain you sought to destroy?" Remus asked quietly, ignoring the comment about Sirius' supposed betrayal. Now was not the time to get into that. "You know, it's not too late to turn back. It's not too late to stop."
"If only that were true, my dear boy," Dumbledore said faintly. There were tears in his voice now. Remus couldn't even tell if they were real or feigned. After the way Dumbledore had been acting, he had no idea what the old man would do next. The only thing he could do was keep him talking and hope some solution presented itself.
"It is true!" the Werewolf protested. "I promise you, it is not too late. It may be too late to ever regain our trust completely, but you can stop this now, before anyone else gets hurt!"
The old man shook his head sadly. "I must silence you. All of you. I regret it, truly. But the people cannot be thrown into panic. You will tell them they cannot trust me. It is for their good, and yours."
Remus sucked in an alarmed breath. He wouldn't … "You've lost your mind," he whispered.
"I am afraid I am sane at last, my poor boy," the old man smiled sadly, though there was something eerie in it that spoke of darkness and madness. "Death, through an unfortunate accident, will be how your chapter ends. While it is a grievous thing, I am afraid that it is nonetheless necessary. You have become a danger to yourself, to your friends, to me, and to the world. I shall not hold back, when the fate of the world is in my hands. We will all die in the end, but your end, I promise you, shall be glorious." He raised his wand and smiled sadly. "Farewell, Remus."
The Werewolf refused to close his eyes. He was a Gryffindor and he stared death in the face. His skin broke out in cold sweat and his heart hammered his ribs so hard he was almost afraid they would break. He stared at the wand that would snuff out his life and so he missed the black shadow as it rose. Padfoot staggered silently from the floor and threw himself on the old man's back, snarling as the dog's jaws clamped down on the meat of Dumbledore's shoulder. The old man fell backwards with a terrible scream, and Remus cast Stupefy as loudly as he could. The red beam silenced the Headmaster, and all was still.
Sirius transformed back into a human. "Yuck," the Marauder grumbled, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. In the gloom, his blue eyes almost seemed to glow, and Remus remembered the last time he had seen his old friend's eyes in the dark. Recalling that awful meeting in Azkaban, in combination with what had just happened, caused him to start laughing. Hysteria, tears, and giddy laughs seemed to be the only way to deal with the grief and fear and panic that had gripped him.
Sirius stepped over Dumbledore's unconscious form and crouched next to his friend, who was still laughing and crying at the same time. "You okay, Moony?" the animagus asked anxiously.
Remus nodded and calmed down, wiping his face as he turned to Minerva. She was unconscious, but still breathing. "We need to get her to a doctor," he croaked. "And Harry's still upstairs with Snape."
"And that elf's looking for him too," Sirius grumbled, rubbing his ribs. "Ouch; that old man can sure cast a stunner. I'll take care of that little monster, and get Harry and Snape. You get Minerva to St. Mungo's … or Poppy. I'll … uh, see what needs to be done. If they're hurt, I'll take them to Poppy. If they don't need a healer, I'll take 'em to the Safe House at Prongs' place."
Remus nodded, and watched as his friend transformed into a dog before racing off. The Werewolf cast 'mobilus corpus' on Minerva McGonegall and gently floated her along after him. He was almost out of the dining hall when movement from behind startled him. The old man was waking up.
Dropping Minerva and canceling all his focus on anything else but keeping Dumbledore from killing him or the Transfiguration Professor, Remus spun around and aimed his wand.
"Foolish boy," Albus whispered with an eerie smile full of peace and insanity. "You are right. I have made too many mistakes to live …"
"I never said that," Remus protested.
"It would be better to let all play out as it will," the old man murmured without paying attention to the Werewolf's words. "The balance of power will be restored."
Remus shook his head. What was the crazy old man talking about? None of it made sense. But suddenly, Dumbledore raised his wand to the ceiling and chanted something too soft for the Werewolf to hear.
The house began to tremble. Albus began to laugh, sounding more like a madman than a warrior of the light. Remus Lupin didn't need to wait and see what the old fool had done. He scooped up Minerva's body, grateful for werewolf strength, and ran for his life, pleading with any and every god that might or might not exist to please let Sirius escape with Harry at least, though Snape would be a nice bonus. He was only just starting to get to know the acerbic Potions Professor, and Harry did not deserve to be orphaned a second time.
He ran, even as the Manor's very foundations shook under him and the walls collapsed.
Harry was startled when the house gave a tremendous shake, like an earthquake, and he sat still, his back straight and his head tilted back in alarm as he studied the weirdly vaulted ceiling of this secret room. When the shaking faded, Harry let out a long breath, but he breathed too soon.
With a loud pop, none other than Kooky the house elf appeared right in front of him, glowering with terrifying rage.
For a few seconds, Harry and Kooky stared at one another in silence. Harry felt his face getting hot with shame even as his insides grew cold with fear. Would apologizing help? Harry opened his mouth to say sorry, but nothing more than a squeak made it out. Finally, the house elf stepped closer and pointed a gnarled finger at him.
"Oho, so boy thinks he gots away from Kooky, does he?"
"N-no," Harry stuttered, his heart hammering with fear. "But I …"
"Little boy is in such big trouble, oh yes he is," Kooky growled, cutting off Harry's stuttered explanation. "Now boy gets over here right this second, or Kooky will make hurts like boy wouldn't believe, oh yes he will."
"P-please, Kooky," Harry pleaded, struggling to stay brave and stick close to his Professor. "I can't. Please don't h-hurt me, but I've got to stay here. I can't leave the Professor."
Kooky glanced down at the Professor as if he hadn't noticed him before. Stepping closer, the elf poked at the man with his foot. "Kooky knows this one," he muttered. "Master sure brings the strange ones."
"I can't leave him," Harry whispered, fighting tears. "H-he saved me before, an' now I've got to save him. Please don't take me away, Kooky."
"Boys gots to pay the Life Debts, yes they does," the elf grumbled reluctantly. "An' dark scowler be's Master's pet too; humph …"
"Professor's not a pet!" Harry blurted out indignantly. Then the house elf's words caught up with the boy. "Hey! I'm not a pet either!"
"Master likes pets," Kooky said with a shrug. "But never takes care of 'em, does he? No, no, only Kooky takes care of Master's pets. Good Kooky always does what he's told, yes he does …"
"Stop calling me a pet!" Harry protested. If he was a pet, then he wasn't worth more than an animal and everything Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia said would be true. The Professor's first order to him had been to forget what they told him. How could he forget those words if even the old Headmaster thought they were true?"
"What be's a pet, eh?" Kooky snapped. "A pet be's a not-important creature. Masters keep pets for interesting, or fun, or guarding, or reasons … guests and family be's lots different. Guests an' family be's there for company, or loves, or good things all the, all the time. Kooky thinks boy should know this."
Harry was silent as the elf's words sank in. "The Dumble-Man … has a reason for keeping me?" he whispered, his heart hammering in his chest. "Is he … What's he … gonna do to me?" He was no good to guard anything, and he didn't think the Dumble-Man would throw a ball for him to fetch anytime soon. What if the Headmaster treated him like the Dursleys did? What if the old man was going to try and teach him magic things and punish him if he messed up, like Kooky did? The Professor had only ever spanked Harry the one time for lying; never for mistakes, even when Harry was really sure he'd be punished. He wasn't like the old Headmaster, who put poison in his tea to make him talk about Snuffles and Snape and stuff he didn't want to say.
"'Tis not Kooky's place to say," the elf grunted in reply. "But Kooky thinks no. Master never be's much busy with his pets, 'less he wants to know things."
Harry nodded in relief. That made sense. The Headmaster had only ever come to him when he had questions to ask, and although Harry didn't like talking to him, Dumbledore had never really hurt him. It was just the way he felt around the old man that he didn't like. Now that he was sure the Dumble-Man would not hurt him, Harry turned his attention back to his Professor. Kooky said he knew the old Headmaster, and Harry knew that. But what worried him was that the elf called the Professor a 'pet' not a 'guest'. Was it Dumbledore who hurt him?
"Is he dead, Kooky?" Harry asked desperately, placing one of his blood-stained hands on the Professor's pale face. His skin was cool to the touch, but not cold. He couldn't tell if the man was breathing or not.
"Snapey be's not dead," Kooky replied impatiently. "But Kooky's orders is not about him; they be's about boy!"
"My name's Harry," the boy in question growled, glaring at the irritating little monster.
"Kooky doesn't care," the elf sneered, and then showed his sharp little teeth in a creepy grin.
"I h-hate you," Harry mumbled, fighting back another wave of tears. A sudden rush of anger and frustration hit him, and it all spilled out of his mouth before he could stop it. "I hate you, and I hate the stupid Headmaster and I hate this huge confusing house and I hate Remus the Wolf for leaving me here and I hate …!" Harry cut off abruptly. He hated Harry, for being so useless and for not knowing how to take care of the hurt Professor. He hated everything right now, but himself most of all, for not knowing what to do, for being so weak and stupid and small.
He was crying now, huge sobs that shook his little body and big tears that rolled down his cheeks and dripped onto his Professor's face. He'd do anything to fix this; to have the Professor open his eyes again or something. He pressed both of his hands to the Professor's face and sobbed incoherently. He wished there was some magic that could help him right now, but no matter how he pushed at his freakishness, (and he could definitely feel it humming inside him) he couldn't get it to come out and go into the Professor to fix him like it was supposed to. Harry cried harder and curled up against the Professor, burying his head in the shirt that smelled like him; like clean sweat and herbs and spicy things. He still smelled blood and dust, but under it all was the steady scent of his Professor. Harry tangled his fists in the Professor's shirt and ignored Kooky's annoyed croaky voice ordering him to come on before his Master got angry. Harry shut out every sound except one; a soft noise that his over-sensitive ears had picked up and that he could even feel under the thin shirt his Professor was wearing.
The faintest of heartbeats.
Harry stayed as still as he could, even holding his breath. It was there; steady like the ticking of a clock and just as faint as one too. The heartbeat was slow, but Harry knew that a heart beating meant 'alive', and if his Professor was still alive, that meant he would be alright. But he was still asleep. Harry sat up again, his own heart hammering so hard now he could hear it. The Professor needed a doctor. They needed to get him to a doctor quick before his heart stopped beating. A doctor would know how to wake him up.
Before Harry could open his mouth to beg Kooky for help getting to a doctor or a hospital, the very foundations of the big house started to tremble. The rumbling noise started a second later and the shaking got worse, making dust fall from the roof and more things crash and fall in the destroyed room where the big fight had happened a few minutes ago. Harry yelled in wordless fear and threw himself over the Professor, wrapping his arms around him tightly. He wasn't sure if he wanted the unconscious man to protect him or if he was trying to protect the Professor, but he felt a tiny bit better hanging onto him like this.
Kooky shouted something and grabbed him. Harry shrieked and almost pulled away, but the shaking house, the dust, the fear that it would all collapse on top of him, fell away in a disorienting swirl that he recognized. Kooky had pulled him out of the wreckage like how he had moved him to the tower bedroom, and the Professor was still in his arms.
When Harry looked up, they were sitting in grass outside in the dark, surrounded by tall, scary-looking trees. It was very dark out here, but he could see pretty well. A lot of birds were flying past, squeaking or chirping or cawing in panic. The ground was shaking a little and he could hear the same rumble from before, only a lot quieter. Above the trees, he could see the top of a tower … no, a few towers, trembling and swaying a little. As Harry watched, the tall roofs of the big house-castle started to sink and clouds of dust came up instead, followed by the worst ground-shaking yet.
Harry clutched his Professor, now lying on his back in the grass, and he shielded his face and the Professor's face from the dust cloud that rushed at them, roaring through the trees like a beast. Harry held his breath and tried to keep the dust and stirred up leaves and twigs from getting in his face, or the Professor's face.
When Harry looked up again, it was deathly still and silent, and Kooky was gone.
Harry sat for a long while, waiting and watching the Professor. The man did not move or wake, and nobody came even when Harry screamed. He felt as if he was the only one alive in the world. After another long cry, the small boy curled up against the Professor, shivering with cold in the night air. The Professor was very hot now, like he had a fever, and his face was burning hot to the touch. The man's heart was beating faster now, but Harry was still scared. He had no idea where he was or what to do. He wondered if maybe Remus the Wolf and Snuffles and the lady Professor were all dead since the house had fallen down, but he didn't know what to do if they were.
Resolving to wait until morning, the boy lay down to sleep, leaching off the Professor's body heat. Sometime in the night, the Professor started muttering.
Harry sat up, blinking and realizing that he must have fallen asleep. The Professor was not awake, but he was mumbling in his sleep and moving as if having a bad dream. Harry rubbed his gritty eyes and then tried to wake him up, but nothing worked. Only when Harry practically lay down on top of him, his head on the Professor's chest and his legs curled against the man's side, did the Professor calm down. One of his arms rose and curled around the boy's skinny waist before he seemed to go back to a quiet slumber, and eventually, Harry fell asleep again.
Harry was woken again by silver light on his eyelids. He jerked awake, and the Professor didn't even stir. His breathing was harsh and his body felt even hotter. Standing in front of Harry was a large, silver wolf, glowing as if with moonlight. It turned, as if directing him to follow. Harry looked down at the Professor, but he thought he recognized this wolf. It was the one who bit him; Remus the Wolf. Did he have the ability to turn into a big silver creature of moonlight and air? Harry swiped his hand gently at the silent creature, and his fingers went through it. But he thought he caught a sense of the magic creating it. His hand tingled, and with one last glance at the Professor in the bed of grass and leaves, Harry got up and followed the wolf.
His legs ached with weariness, but he pushed on, following the silver creature through the woods to a man who was walking. At the sight of him, Harry stopped, but the silver creature turned and looked at him again before it vanished in a shower of silvery blue sparks.
"Harry!" the man gasped, running toward him with his arms outstretched.
It was Remus the Wolf. Harry allowed the man … Werewolf … to grab him in a fierce hug and kiss him several times. It was like nothing he had ever experienced, but it felt good in a way that made his knees weak and the tears come. He cried helplessly and Remus the Wolf wrapped him in his arms, hushing him and soothing him with such tenderness and gentleness that Harry wondered how he ever could have feared him.
"Th-the P-Professor," Harry sobbed. "L-left him a-alone."
"Alright, alright; you're safe now. I've got you. We'll go find him," Remus whispered, kissing his head again and pressing him against his chest as he stood up. Carrying Harry in his arms, Remus the Wolf followed Harry's trail back through the woods until they found the Professor. He still hadn't moved, and Remus put Harry down while he checked him over.
"Is he okay?" Harry asked desperately. "He was having bad dreams earlier, and I hugged him until it went away, but he never woke up. Now he's hot and breathing funny. Is he going to die?"
"I think he's alright," Remus the Wolf answered too easily. "We'll just get him to a doctor and he'll be fine." He pulled a necklace out of his shirt and put it around the Professor's neck.
"What's that?" Harry asked nervously. "And where's Snuffles and the lady Professor?"
"They were both hurt, and Poppy's taking care of them," Remus answered. "You remember Poppy, right? This is a portkey. It'll take your Professor straight to a bed where she can take good care of him. Me and you will have to touch it also, but will you let me hold you?"
Harry nodded and allowed the Werewolf to pick him up. He was so very gentle, and kissed him again, and Harry snuggled closer, enjoying Remus' warmth and his strangely familiar smell. It was earth and dust and grass, and other things he couldn't put a name to. He smelled musky and dusty and a little bit like a dog, but not quite. He felt comfortable and sleepy again, and didn't protest when Remus grabbed his hand to touch the amulet around the Professor's neck.
Just like with the silver bracelet that Snuffles had accidentally burned him with, Harry felt like he had been yanked out of space by a hook behind his stomach and slammed down somewhere else. He must have yelled, but his face was muffled by Remus the Wolf's shirt. When he lifted his head, feeling dizzy and still inspecting his hand to make sure it wasn't burned, he was in the big white room that the Professor had called Hogwarts Infirmary. The Professor was sprawled on a bed next to them, and Remus the Wolf was still holding him tightly in his arms.
The lady hurrying toward them looked awfully familiar, and Harry perked up at once. "Hi, Ma'am Pomfrey," Harry called out shyly, glad he'd remembered her name.
"Harry!" she called back with a big smile. "I'm so glad you found him, Remus. Any injuries?"
"I don't think so," Remus replied. "Harry? Are you hurt anywhere?"
Harry shook his head and burrowed into the Werewolf's shirt again. "Tired," he mumbled. "Perfessor's sick," he added, his eyes dropping shut on their own. He felt the tickle of magic washing over his skin, but it didn't hurt him deep in his bones like before. This was just like cool water washing over him.
"Get him to bed," Madam Pomfrey's voice said quietly. "Diagnostics look alright. We can talk in the morning. I'll see to Severus."
That was the last thing Harry heard before the exhaustion caught up with him and he fell asleep in Remus the Wolf's arms.
Remus startled awake when sunlight fell on his eyes. Groaning, he sat up and rubbed his eyes, realizing that he had fallen asleep in the chair next to Harry's bed. The small boy was still fast asleep, breathing so quietly that even Remus' excellent hearing had trouble picking it up. Rubbing the crick out of the back of his neck, Remus got to his feet and stretched.
Footsteps sounded softly behind him, and when he turned, Poppy was approaching. She greeted him with a tired smile. She had probably been up all night long. She put a finger to her lips and gestured for him to follow. Without hesitation, Remus followed her to her office, where she quietly asked for coffee and a light breakfast. Remus jerked instinctively when he saw the elf appear, but it wasn't the kooky one Dumbledore had ordered to hunt down Harry, and he relaxed before asking for some breakfast as well.
Once they were both settled with the food and hot drinks brought by the Hogwarts kitchen elf, Poppy sighed and pulled a parchment out of her sleeve. She did not look happy.
"How did you sleep?" she asked him neutrally.
"Well enough," Remus shrugged, keeping his tone light. "My back didn't like the chair, though."
Poppy smiled, though he could detect worry in her eyes. "Well, next time do your back a favour and sleep in a proper bed, hmm?"
"Yes Ma'am," Remus smiled back. "So … you wanted to tell me something?"
"Severus is in a coma," Poppy said gently. "His wound was not bad at all, though I am wondering who treated him. Had they not, it would have been a close thing, to save him at all. Blood loss was not as severe as it could have been, thanks to some quick thinking. Essence of Dittany was used to close the wound site, and although I had to practically cut him open again to clean it properly, it was very well done."
"It was probably Harry," Remus answered quietly, shaking his head in wonder at the child's remarkable composure. Even he grew queasy when treating his own injuries if they were deep. Harry must have guts of steel to have done such quick and efficient first aid with barely any knowledge of magical healing. "I asked him to find Severus and stay with him, and see if he could do something if the Professor needed help."
"He is a remarkable boy," Poppy said softly, dabbing her eyes. "He may very well have saved Severus' life. But I am afraid that his wounds now are such that I cannot heal them."
"What do you mean, Poppy?"
The Medi-witch shook her head helplessly. "His mind is active … very active. He is feverish with it. But he is trapped in his own head. I do not know what happened … I can't even begin to guess. Perhaps a Legilimency battle?"
"Dumbledore said Severus absorbed all of his missing memories at once," Remus supplied, wondering if that would help.
Poppy nodded thoughtfully. "Well … I suppose that would explain it. I cannot know if Severus will ever wake, or if he does, what state he will be in. I can only hope that he can sift through his memories on his own and wake up someday. For now, I will treat him as I would any coma patient."
"Thank you, Poppy," Remus said quietly. It was a lot to consider, and a lot to worry about, but he would take care of Harry until his father woke up. It was the least he could do. "How are Sirius and Minerva?"
"Minerva's fine," Poppy chuckled. "I had to give her a sleeping draught earlier. I'm surprised you didn't wake up! She was cursing a blue streak because I wanted to keep her for another day or two. The wounds were not serious, but she lost so much blood. Sirius … well, getting crushed by a falling roof is not something easily recovered from. I am keeping him unconscious while the skelegrow does its work."
Remus nodded, but his relieved smile faded quickly. He glanced down at his porridge and struggled to say the next sentence. "I couldn't … I never found Dumbledore's body. There was too much rubble. But … what are we going to say?"
"The truth," Poppy said quietly. "His house fell on him."
"I already sent word to the Aurors that Albus hadn't been himself lately and also reported the abuse Harry has been subjected to. Hopefully that will be enough to convince them of his instability. But I hope you erased all trace of yours and Sirius' presence in the area, because I am sure they will find everything they need to around the ruins, including evidence of the spell he used to destroy his own home."
Remus shook his head impatiently. "Of course I erased our evidence. It wouldn't do for Sirius to be blamed for this after all. But I just … don't understand why he would do that. He acted … insane."
Madam Pomfrey was silent for a long while. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet and steady, but he could hear the grief behind it. "He has long been slipping. The last war took its toll on him; you know that. He wanted to prevent the next one, and it was too much for him. I cannot speak to why he seemed to think that all things were permissible, including child abuse, mind-rape, and deceit of the highest order … But I know that it will be a good thing for Minerva to become Headmistress of Hogwarts. I know that she will keep her head, and not lose sight of the trees for the forest."
Remus chuckled sadly. "That was one of the last things he told me, you know: that we can't see the forest for the trees. Something about … how we see individual people, but he always saw pieces in a puzzle, or figures on a chessboard. He thought he saw the big picture, but he lost sight of everything when he decided that he was equal to a god."
"For as long as I have known him, I could see how he always considered himself wiser and better than others," Poppy murmured. "He grew … unhinged, I suppose. But then, when one fails at being a decent human being, one fails at everything."
"Hey, I said that!" Remus smiled wistfully. "Remember? I told you that when I was fourteen, or maybe fifteen. I told you that I wanted to succeed at being a human being …"
"Because if we fail at that, what good are we for anything else?" Poppy finished with a fond smile. "Yes, I remember. My Remus; always so wise."
"I don't know about wise," Remus mumbled, suddenly embarrassed. "Harry's still a Werewolf and it's my fault. Really, if you think about it … everything that has happened in the last month is all my fault."
"No, it isn't," Poppy corrected him fiercely. "Dumbledore put Harry in Little Whinging to begin with, and he is to blame for what happened last night. You have made a mistake, yes, but a completely unwilling one. Thanks to you, many good things have happened as well. You will see. Harry will be fine, with you and his godfather … and now, his true father."
"I don't think we should be the ones to tell him that," Remus said firmly. "That should be for Severus to tell."
"Yes, of course," Poppy agreed gravely. "But if he does not ever awaken, Harry must learn the truth from someone."
Remus winced. "Let's give it a month or two … Should Minerva start looking for other Transfiguration and Potions Professors?" He changed the subject.
The Hogwarts nurse laughed in surprise. "You want to apply?"
"Of course not," Remus answered hastily, blushing at the thought that he would be good enough at anything to teach it to seven classes of teenagers. "But I could assist her for a while. Maybe I could suggest a few applicants for the positions. My contacts are many … though most of them despise me personally because of what I am."
"Whatever you are willing to do for her, I am certain Minerva will appreciate it," Poppy said kindly. "However, you have other things to worry about. Harry needs you, in the absence of anyone else to care for him, and Sirius needs to have his innocence proved or he will be a fugitive all his life. There may be a legal battle concerning Harry if you do not figure out what to do. Without Albus Dumbledore as his magical guardian, and his relatives woefully inadequate …"
Remus winced and rubbed his head. He hadn't thought of that. There were so many other things to worry about he didn't even know where to begin. "Do you think the Weasleys could take care of Harry? Or the Longbottoms, maybe?" he suggested.
"I would not know," Poppy sighed regretfully. "My advice: find a lawyer and talk it over with him. I'm sure if you find someone sympathetic they might be able to show you a path."
She got up abruptly as a chime went off in the office. "Looks like Minnie's awake," the medi-witch informed him with a mock-exasperated look. "Finish your breakfast, Remus, and then spend some time with Harry. I'm sure he's rather spell-shocked by everything that's happened to him in the past weeks."
Remus nodded in agreement, and set aside his food. He called for the kitchen elf, and when she arrived to take the tray, he asked for something that Harry could eat. The elf agreed and said she would bring it right to his bed. Remus sighed and got up as soon as she vanished, straightened his robes, and stepped out of the office. He passed Minerva and Poppy bickering, as they were wont to do, and passed Severus, lying motionless in his bed. He paused for a minute, watching the man's pale, still face, his chest that barely moved with each breath, and he thought of what must be going on behind those closed eyelids. Was he even now wrestling with his demons, his very reality? Would he awaken completely insane or catatonic? Or would Severus somehow pull through and wake, whole and healed somehow?
Remus sighed and kept walking. When he arrived at Harry's bed and observed the small, dark-haired child lying curled on his side, looking so peaceful and innocent, Remus could only hope that Harry would finally find peace in his tumultuous life, now that the old meddler was gone for good. But after talking to Poppy, he knew that it wasn't a sure thing, even though Remus would fight tooth and nail to protect his pup. He sighed heavily and sat down in the chair by the bed before he reached out and ran his fingers through the tangled hair on the pillow.
His Wolf practically purred with contentment in the back of his mind, even though wolves don't actually purr.
Admit it; you're glad he's ours, the Wolf said smugly.
Shut up, Remus threw back good-naturedly, continuing the card his fingers through the boy's hair.
But you are glad, the insufferable inner canine insisted.
How could I not be? Remus sighed, giving in. But he will suffer because of what you … we … did.
We will be with him, the Wolf assured him.
Remus nodded, his thumb lingering on Harry's cheek. Always, he agreed silently. The Wolf must have concurred, because he didn't object. Instead, the inner monster poked his consciousness up and out, though in such a way that he was almost asking permission. A little surprised, Remus allowed the Wolf control, and watched as the Wolf bent and kissed Harry's forehead, letting his lips linger, breathing in his soft, puppyish scent, learning it by heart …
Sometimes, Remus and his Wolf had meshed in supremely stressful moments, allowing their instincts and identities to meld in a way that was breathtaking and mesmerizing. But this quiet moment, when the Wolf was gently claiming his pup, was somehow different, yet just as beautiful and incredible. Remus felt so completely in tune with his Wolf that he almost wondered where one began and the other ended. He would die for Harry, and so would the Wolf. He loved this child with all his heart and soul, and so did the Wolf. Harry was his, and he was Harry's.
When Remus finally pulled away from the boy, there were tears on his cheeks. He backed away and wiped his face, and the Wolf fell gently back into his place at the back of their mind, separate from him once more.
Harry felt himself waking up, but he was so comfortable and peaceful that he didn't want to move. He was warm, and was lying in a soft bed under soft, warm sheets. There was a gentle hand stroking his head and he felt so safe and happy that he almost drifted back to sleep. But suddenly all of his memories rushed back. He sat up as fast as he could, staring wide-eyed up at the man who had been sitting with him while he slept. It wasn't the Professor. It was Remus the Wolf.
Sitting in the sunlight like this, he looked so much different. He even looked different than the wolf-man who had come to see him on Privet Drive and turned all creepy and scary. He was dressed in a plain button-down shirt of a plain light brown colour and slacks that were almost the same shade, and his light brown hair looked a bit messy. He smiled uncertainly at Harry and his yellow-flecked brown eyes blinked quickly.
"Hi," Harry whispered.
"Good morning, Harry," Remus the Wolf answered quietly as he gave Harry a more real smile. "Did I wake you?"
"No," Harry mumbled groggily. He fell back on his pillow and stretched. He felt limp and comfortable again and he stared lazily up at the white ceiling. "Thought you were the Professor," Harry mumbled. He sighed and sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. It had been a while since he had slept so deeply and comfortably. "Um …" Harry hesitated, peeking up at Remus the Wolf. "Is the Professor gonna be alright?"
"He is sleeping," the Werewolf man answered. "He needs a lot of rest to get better."
Harry nodded, swallowing past the lump in his throat. Suddenly, Remus the Wolf turned to a tray on the bedside table and picked it up. "Are you hungry?" the Werewolf asked politely. "We have eggs, sausage, and porridge, and I think some toast and kippers too. The Hogwarts elves have outdone themselves this morning. What would you like?"
Harry blinked in shock as Remus put the tray down on the bed and started lifting silver covers off the dishes. His mouth watered at the enticing smells that wafted up, but he didn't dare touch anything. He glanced nervously at the Werewolf until the man handed him a glass of something orange.
"Try some juice first," he said gently. "Your appetite will come back after you have a few drinks, I can tell you that."
Harry obediently took the glass and gulped. To his surprise, it was very familiar. Just a few days ago Mrs. Weasley had given him the same thing when she'd brought him supper in bed. The fruity drink slid down his throat; cool and refreshing, like liquid sunshine. It was so good and he was so thirsty that he downed half the glass before he realized it. Blushing, he put the glass back down on the tray and smiled sheepishly at Remus.
"It's good," the boy said softly. "Thank you, sir."
"You can call me Remus," the wolf-man said with a smile. He gestured at the tray with all the delicious food on it. "Why don't you start on something there? I'm sure you can find something you'd like. If you'll excuse me, I have to go ask Poppy something."
Remus got up and left Harry alone with the mouth-watering breakfast that was more than he had ever eaten at any one meal in his life. But with Remus the Wolf gone, Harry felt better about picking up the plate of sausages and the fork, and starting to eat. He didn't realize how hungry he was, and he was almost done with the sausages and was starting on his toast before Remus came back. The Werewolf looked happy to see him eating and nodded approvingly.
"How's your appetite?" Remus asked kindly.
"I'm hungry," Harry answered quietly. "Thank you sir … Remus."
"You're very welcome," the wolf-man replied. "And I already ate, so don't worry about me."
Harry nodded with relief. He had not been sure of how to offer some of his food, so he was glad that Remus had already eaten. When Harry looked up at the sunlight pouring through the high windows, he wondered how late it was. He wasn't used to sleeping in.
"I'm sorry," Harry blurted out, putting his fork down and wrapping his arms around his suddenly roiling stomach. "I didn't mean to sleep in so late, sir."
"Harry," Remus said softly, leaning forward on the bed with the kindest and most understanding smile Harry had ever seen. "You are in an infirmary. Sleeping in is practically required here. Why, Professor Snape is still snoozing away, and look what a glorious day it is! You don't need to be sorry, Harry. You were up late, and you needed your rest. Okay?"
Harry nodded carefully. "Okay," he whispered, the anxious knot in his belly slowly unwinding. He looked back down at the tray of food, and since he was still hungry, he slowly picked up the fork again. Remus gently touched his head, freezing him in place from sheer surprise, and then the wolf-man sat down in his chair. He pulled a small book out of his pocket and started to read, leaving Harry to finish his breakfast in peace.
Once he was full, Harry set the fork down and sighed in contentment. That was the best breakfast he had ever eaten, and the wolf inside him had finally stopped howling for food. Living in the Headmaster's creepy tower, he had been too scared to ask Kooky for more food, even when his stomach had been protesting. Why was he so hungry lately? The Professor wasn't here to ask, but he had something better: an actual Werewolf sitting right next to him.
"Um … Remus sir?" Harry spoke up timidly.
The wolf-man looked up, smiling mildly as he closed his book. "Yes, Harry? Are you finished?"
"Er," Harry glanced at the clean plates on the now empty tray. "Yes sir." He swallowed hard and suddenly wondered if he had been greedy to finish it all. There had been quite a lot of food. "I'm sorry, sir," he said a little desperately. "I shouldn't have, but I was just so hungry!"
"No need to be sorry," Remus said kindly. "All of it was for you. I'm glad you liked it." He got up and put the tray back on the bedside table, snapped his fingers above it, and it suddenly vanished.
Harry gaped. "Wha…? How did that …?"
"The kitchen elves took care of it," Remus explained, smiling. "Now … did you want to ask me something else?"
Harry blinked, trying to remember what he had wanted to ask before he started apologizing for eating so much. "Um … Oh! Why am I so hungry, sir? Is it 'cause I'm a wolf now?"
Remus frowned thoughtfully and sat back in his chair. "Your body is changing rapidly," he explained. "I do not remember if my own appetite was so much larger after I was bitten … but I wasn't even six years old."
Harry's eyes widened. Of course Remus the Wolf got bitten to turn into a monster, but he hadn't really thought of Remus as ever being a child even younger and smaller than Harry himself. The boy suddenly wondered who kept Remus from dying, since of course he didn't have a Professor to pick him up out of the street and take him home.
"My metabolism sped up considerably when I became a teenager," Remus went on, his eyes distant. He shook himself out of the past and smiled at Harry again. "But to directly answer your question, I suppose that Werewolves do have bigger appetites than most wizards."
"So … I'm always gonna be so hungry?" Harry asked despondently. He really didn't want to be a burden, but if it couldn't be helped …
"I think when things balance out in your body, you'll have a healthy appetite, like any nine year old boy," Remus assured him. "And teenagers are always hungry, whether they're Werewolves or not."
"Oh," Harry replied, sighing with relief. So he wouldn't always be eating everything in sight and dealing with awful hunger cramps. That was good. Now that he'd slept and eaten, he felt full of energy. The Professor had said once weeks ago that after his first Full Moon, he would be pretty much all better. He felt stronger than he had in a very, very long time, and he wanted to go see the lake again and sit under the Professor's tree. But he didn't think he could now. Not with the Professor so sick and maybe other things to worry about.
"What is it, Harry?" Remus the Wolf asked gently. "What's on your mind? You look worried."
Harry shivered and wondered whether he could tell the wolf-man. He was pretty sure it would be fine; after all, Remus was with Snuffles before, and he even came looking for him and the Professor after the Dumble-man's house fell down. He still didn't understand what had happened, and maybe Remus could tell him.
"Well …" Harry hesitated. "I don't want to go back. I, um … is the Dumble-man here? I don't want him to take me away again."
"Dumbledore will never take you away ever again," Remus said firmly. "He's gone."
Harry nodded solemnly. "Is he dead?" he asked in a soft voice.
Remus hesitated. "I think so," he said carefully. "The whole manor fell on him."
Good, Harry thought fiercely, but the next second he felt ashamed of himself. Dying from a house falling on top of you sounded awful. He didn't have anything to say, so he started picking at a ragged nail on his thumb.
"Can … can I see my Professor?" Harry asked softly. "Please?"
Remus stood up and held out his hand. "Of course you can," he answered just as quietly. "He's not far away."
Harry slid off the bed and took Remus the Wolf's hand. It was rough and calloused, and his fingers were not as long as the Professor's, but it felt nice to hold someone's hand anyway. He looked down at himself, surprised that he was wearing pajamas he had never seen before and he didn't remember changing last night. Did Remus put pajamas on him while he slept? That was something his Professor used to do. It felt strange to think about Remus the Wolf and his dark Professor in the same context, doing the same things to take care of him. He didn't really know what to think, so he just silently followed Remus to a bed that had curtains around it. The curtains were open on the side of the foot of the bed so they could just walk in, and Harry wasn't exactly ready for the sight of his Professor just laying there under the white blanket, so still and pale.
Harry pulled away from Remus and darted forward, stopping on the right side of the bed. Was the Professor really sleeping? He didn't look relaxed. He looked tense. Trembling, Harry reached out and touched his white cheek, almost expecting it to be cold. But the Professor was warm, and not fever-warm either. He lay terribly still and quiet, and it frightened the small boy.
"Wake up," Harry whispered desperately. He fought the choke of tears in his throat, but when they came up, he hastily wiped his eyes with his sleeve, not wanting to get the Professor's bed wet with his tears. "Please, Professor," Harry pleaded. "Please wake up!"
Remus gently touched his shoulder and pulled him into a gentle hug. Harry gratefully fell into arms that smelled like a wet dog that had been rolling in dusty grass. "Why won't he wake up?" Harry sobbed. "Why won't he get better? I tried to help him, I really did. But it's no good. I'm no good. I couldn't fix it. I'm sorry."
"Harry, Harry," Remus hushed him, stroking his hair soothingly and tightening his other arm around Harry's ribs just enough to support him. "There is absolutely nothing to be sorry for. In fact, you saved Professor Snape's life. Did you know that? Poppy told me earlier that whoever took care of his cut did an excellent job. Do you hear me, Harry? You did a perfect job. You saved the Professor. Now he just needs to sleep to get better, alright? Do you … do you remember after the Full Moon? You probably felt so tired and achy, and you fell asleep for a while. Right?"
Harry nodded into Remus' shirt. "Hurt," he said softly. "Hurt all over."
Remus' grip tightened a little, but he kept talking, his voice calm and soothing and comforting. "That's right; and you slept for some time to get better. You were still tired even when you woke up, right?"
Again, Harry nodded. "Dumbledore took me back to the Dursleys," he whispered, trembling a little. "I didn't want to, and my Professor said I never have to go back, but he took me back anyways …" he trailed off and then wriggled free of Remus' arms. He stared up into the Werewolf's gold-flecked eyes and wondered why he saw such concern there. Who was this Remus? Why did he care?
"I'll never let you go back there, Harry," Remus said fiercely, a bit of a growl in his voice. "I swear to you, I will never let your Aunt or Uncle touch you again."
"Why do you care?" Harry muttered, folding his arms rebelliously. "Why are you bein' nice? You bit me and hurt me and almost killed me. Then you came to Privet Drive and you grabbed me and hurt Snuffles. You're gonna hurt me again."
A look of pain flashed over Remus' face before it simply crumpled into sadness. Tears glittered in his brown eyes and then spilled down his cheeks. The golden fire behind his eyes seemed to have dimmed, somehow. "I am sorry, Harry," he whispered. "I never, ever meant to hurt you. I would … rather die, than hurt you. But I did, and I am sorry. If I could undo it, I would. I did not mean for my Wolf to bite you, and I did not mean for my Wolf to take over that day and grab you either. I am so very sorry … and I just want to help you. I want to take care of you until the Professor wakes up, or … other arrangements can be made. I want to make up for what I did to you."
"You hurt Snuffles too," Harry pointed out.
"I already apologized to him," Remus smiled a little. "He said he understood."
"I was scared," Harry whispered, hugging himself tightly and turning away so he could cry. He wanted to climb up on the bed next to his Professor and snuggle close to him, letting all the bad dreams and feelings fall away, because he would be safe next to the Professor. He even kept the Big Bad Wolf dreams away.
Harry suddenly spun around and pointed accusingly at Remus. "You're the Big Bad Wolf!" he gasped, suddenly connecting the dots. "You were always trying to get me away from my Professor!"
That look of pain settled over Remus' face again. He reached out pleadingly. "Harry, I …"
"No!" Harry shrieked. He scrambled onto the Professor's bed and climbed over the sleeping man to put him between himself and the Werewolf. "No, get away! You're not taking me away! I don't wanna go! I don't!"
"Merciful Merlin!" Madam Pomfrey's voice interrupted them. She was standing in the curtain doorway and she didn't look happy at all. "What is going on here?" she demanded.
Remus got to his feet and backed away. "I'm going now," he said carefully. "Poppy, I'll be in the Library if you need me." He turned and left, and Madam Pomfrey watched him go with a confused look on her face. Harry almost thought he looked like he was running away. He felt a little bad, because Remus had looked like someone had punched him in the stomach. Had Harry's words really made him feel so bad? The boy shook his head and burrowed down next to his Professor, crying quietly. Everything was so unfair.
Madam Pomfrey put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Harry? What's wrong?"
"He's my Big Bad Wolf, Ma'am Pomfrey," Harry moaned, not moving from where he had curled up against the sleeping Professor's side. "Wants to take me 'way and I don't want to go. I wanna stay with my Professor."
"Oh Harry," the nurse said softly. She stroked Harry's head for a little while until he stopped crying. Then she pulled him upright and dried his tears.
"I didn't mean to be mean," Harry whispered, feeling guilty as he remembered the hurt look on Remus' face. "D'you …? Do you think Mr. Remus will be okay?"
"I'll talk to him," Madam Pomfrey said briskly. "But first, let's get you into some proper clothes, and then you can come to my office and you can just tell me what is going on."
Harry nodded obediently. She was probably wondering what the Big Bad Wolf thing was about. Only his Professor and the Wolf knew about the dreams, of course. Maybe he could try to tell her about them. Maybe she would be able to help him make sense of everything.
I hope this chapter was everything you were hoping for. I knew what I wanted to happen, and this is somewhat close to what I needed ... Anyway, I am really grateful for your reviews. You keep me going!