Disclaimer-Main characters and settings owned by JK Rowling
A/N: Well, here we go. This is, of course, a continuation of the story begun in Here Be Monsters I: Wizard's Lament. For persons new to this fic, it is absolutely essential that you read HBM I before starting on HBM II. Otherwise you will be totally lost.
Temporally, this picks up on 5 July, 1996, more or less where HBM I left off (there are a few hours overlap). As I have stated in response to some questions about Albus in HBM I, it is crucial to remember that this fic, although having many chapters, occupies a very condensed timeline thus far. When HBM II opens, Sirius has only been dead eleven days. This is very important to understanding Albus in HBM I, it is absolutely essential to understanding Remus in HBM II.
I have begun a Yahoo group dedicated to the discussion of all my fics and the universe in which they are set. The address is in my profile, and I encourage everyone to join us there for ongoing conversation, polls, and goodies such as timelines and chapter docs.
HERE BE MONSTERS II: PSALM OF THE WOLF
Chapter One: Harry, Harry, Quite Contrary
Friday 5 July, 1996
08 34 GMT
My gums hurt.
That in and of itself would probably not be remarkable for most people, but when you are a werewolf you learn to pay attention to certain things. For instance, aching in your gums that turns into burning pain in the incisor region, tenderness and stabbing pain in your fingertips and around your fingernails, and cramping discomfort in your lower back as if the vertebrae are screaming in protest at being held in a vertical position; all signs of an incipient transformation.
I want to believe that this is all just aftereffects of last week's full moon, which was a very, very bad episode. Sometimes the pain from a particularly intense episode will not fade before the next full moon rises. I often suffer from debilitating pain for months at a stretch.
It was a mistake to try and brew the wolfsbane potion myself. I have never had much talent for potions, and that one is particularly complex. It was only partially effective and I had to spend the night locked in a basement room that had a suspicious resemblance to a dungeon cell. Knowing Sirius' family, it may well have been just that.
But however much I want to believe this is just the lingering hurt of 29 June, I know that is a pile of animal waste (pick your favorite creature). I know it as surely as the scents of cat hair and cheap hairspray tell me when I am at Arabella Figg's house, or the smells of cooking, laundry, and ozone (from frequent apparation) let me know that a house elf is in the vicinity.
Or as surely as the odors of paper and ink and quills in all stages of decay tell me that I have entered a solicitor's office. With a soft sigh I walk down the carpeted hallway toward the waiting secretary. She is observing me with the kind of look assistants to very important people develop – that look that hovers midway amongst arrogance, disdain, pity, boredom, and analytic scrutiny. I have seen it many times on the faces of functionaries for the Committee for the Control of Magical Creatures, as well as the faces of prospective employers the moment they discover my lycanthropy.
People like Dolores Umbridge often claim that werewolves are liable to lose control at the slightest annoyance. It suits their purposes to have people imagine they might get their throats ripped out over giving incorrect change or accidentally bumping someone at a busy floo point. As silly as that is, it is true that sometimes, although rarely, incredible emotional stress can trigger an untimely episode. For the past week I have been feeling like I might transform at any moment.
Especially when I smelled THAT smell.
No. No, it was my imagination, what I thought I smelled at Privet Drive. It must have been! I have not smelled it for two days. It must have been my imagination.
Please, God, let it have been my imagination.
I am dreading this very badly, and the dread has settled into my bones. Somehow reading Sirius' will validates his death – announces it and places an irrevocable seal on my friend's demise. Odd, I saw him fall through the veil with my own eyes, yet the thought of reading his will has me near tears. I suppose it's because I am still trying to tell myself he is going to come back. Even though I know better, I still expect my wonderful friend to walk back through that accursed veil, dusting himself off, cursing his bitch cousin, and demanding to know where Harry is and when we are going to eat. I still tell myself that we are just holding all his possessions for him until he gets back, as if he's just taken a quick business trip to the Continent. The thought of dividing his property is almost as painful as if we were discussing dismembering his physical form.
I reach the desk and stand uncomfortably, silently cursing whatever functionary demanded that Arthur be early at the ministry today for an all morning meeting. With everyone else occupied on one duty or another, that left delivering the will to me. I halfway suspect this development was deliberate, judging by the half-annoyed, half-smug tone Tonks used this morning when she told me I would just have to leave Privet Drive for a few hours.
The firm of Graves, Garman, and Reed is one of the most trusted solicitors' establishments in Wizarding Britain – at least so far as the Order is concerned. Two of the senior partners, Caractacus Garman and Hermes Reed, actually attended Hogwarts with Albus in the time of the muggle queen, Victoria. Although not members of the Order as such, Albus long ago came to trust their discretion and rectitude. Thus it is that I have come, bearing the thick envelope containing Sirius' will and final statements.
The secretary looks at me in her bored way and inquires as to my name.
"Remus Lupin," I say softly, "to see Mr. Hermes Reed."
"Which Mr. Hermes Reed," she answers in an arch tone, "we have three here at the firm."
"He is here to see me, Elizabeth." The speaker has emerged from a nearby doorway as we were talking and walks toward us rapidly with small, delicate steps. He is almost exactly my age, but looks ten years younger – in part because I look older than I am and in part because he has made judicious use of cosmetics.
I suppress a groan. This is another reason I did not want to be the one taking care of this errand.
"Oh, Mr. Reed the Third." Elizabeth ticks something off on her desk with an efficient motion. "Will you be using one of the conference rooms, Mr. Reed?"
"No, Elizabeth," he says in his high voice, "we will use my office. This way Remus." He smiles at me and beckons me forward. "I bet you didn't expect me to be handling this situation."
"No, I wasn't. I think we... I mean Albus..."
"You thought Grandfather would do it? Don't worry, he will give final approval. I am just going to do the actual work – unless of course you object?"
"Oh... I suppose not."
"Good!" He smiles. Hermes has a brilliant smile. He always did. I concentrate on his smile and try to ignore the almost overwhelming scent of ... is that lilacs? ... coming from him.
We step into his office. It is bright, cheerful, and excruciatingly neat, not at all what you would expect a solicitor's office to look like. Then again, Hermes isn't what you would expect a solicitor to look like, either. His long hair, delicate features, and well-manicured nails are not exactly stereotypical. Neither are his robes. I really did not know you could buy men's robes with floral patterns on the border.
He motions me towards a chair and moves around his desk with his flowing stride. I see that he still collects potion phials. The whole back of the room behind him is outfitted with shelves laden with the containers in all materials, shapes, and sizes.
Hermes notices that I have seen his collection and smiles again. "Yes, I still like those things. Odd, how we invest so much in our little trinkets isn't it?"
His smile does not falter, and his eyes are clear, but did his tone sharpen, just slightly? My mouth is dry and my head pounding and I wish I was done with this and out of here.
I know how much Hermes' collection means to him – I know all too well. Suddenly a splinter of pain comes from my back and I grimace involuntarily.
Hermes frowns, his expression alarmed. "Is something wrong, Remus?"
"No, Hermes," I sigh, squirming in the chair, "it's just my back. I haven't recovered..." I falter. He knows about my lycanthropy from the newspapers, I assume, but still...
To my surprise his face looks genuinely concerned. Walking over to a closet he pulls out a large, lace-laden pillow and brings it to me. "Here you are. It must be very bad – during the full moon I mean."
I look up at him. His expression holds no mockery. Silently he places the pillow between my back and the chair, fluffing it fussily. Then he places his soft hands on my shoulders and gently helps me lean back.
"Thank you, Hermes. That's much better."
He remains standing behind me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders. "Poor Remus," he finally says, almost whispering, "I don't suppose life has been very good to you these past seventeen years."
Hermes removes his hands. But instead of returning to his desk he walks over to the office's window and stares out. I can tell that many thoughts are flashing through his mind, but I cannot begin to read them.
Spontaneously I ask, "Has life been good to you, Hermes?"
"No," he says softly.
I can well believe that. Hermes is, well, a fag, and the wizarding world isn't any kinder to men of his kind than the muggle world is. Oh, it's true that you don't often find religious objections to homosexuality among wizards – religion being a very eclectic practice in our world, at least in Europe – but many wizarding families, and not just the purebloods, hold it as a sacred duty that every wizard and witch marry and have children to perpetuate magical humanity. Hermes and his ilk don't fit into that equation.
He turns from the window and goes back to the desk, looking across at me with a curious expression. "Do you think he would have minded that I am handling his will?" He picks up a letter opener and slits open the envelope.
"Why would he?" I know what Hermes is getting at but I really don't want to think of it.
"Well, he did put me in the Hospital Wing when we were third years."
"I had forgotten about that." I really had. Hermes for some mad reason made a pass at Sirius when we were third years. He ended up in the infirmary with a broken nose and a sprained wrist.
"It was far from the worst beating I ever got," he says matter of factly, up-ending the envelope and letting its contents fall onto his desk.
That is only the truth. "Herpes" as he had been nicknamed by one of the muggle-born students, tended to get the Hell beaten out of him about once a fortnight. Almost always it was because he had made a pass at the wrong person.
I used to be incredulous at how he kept at it, time and time again. Of course, that was before I lost James and Sirius and Lily and even Peter. That was before I learned what it was like to be alone, not just despised and reviled, but alone.
Now I think I understand perfectly why Hermes kept leaving the hospital wing and offering himself to the fists of his outraged schoolmates. It was because the fists hurt less than the aching emptiness inside.
"You thought I meant the other time," Hermes says evenly as he sorts out the papers and envelopes on his desk, his hands briskly arranging them in neat stacks by size, "the night of the Quidditch Ball."
"Yes," I reply, "I did." When we were sixth years the First War was at its height and Hogwarts had decreed a Quidditch Ball to celebrate the end of the quidditch season and attempt to relieve tension. Sirius and James had come up with a prank to play on Hermes involving a forged letter of invitation from a certain Hufflepuff with a very high temper. Unfortunately the Hufflepuff proved to have a much higher temper than they expected and Hermes had ended up hurt rather badly. To make matters worse his phial collection had been smashed – and it was only then that we, or I at least, learned that many of the pieces had been given to him by his dead grandmother. Hermes had been carried away to the Hospital Wing, wailing into his hands.
And I, useless Moony, had as usual stood by and done nothing. I remember now standing in McGonagall's office uncomfortably polishing my prefect's badge as Professor Flitwick (Hermes was a Ravenclaw) demanded to know what McGonagall intended to do about James and Sirius' behavior. They had been clever with their forgery, but not clever enough to evade Flitwick's graphology charms. It was the only time in my life I have ever seen gentle Flitwick well and truly enraged. Even Minerva was taken aback by the force of his wrath. Sirius and James ended up cleaning all of Ravenclaw Tower from top to bottom while reciting school rules at the top of their lungs (like I said, Flitwick was really angry). For my part I was suspended as prefect for two weeks while I picked up every recoverable shard of glass with tweezers, delivering the slivers to Professors Flitwick and McGonagall who, working together, were able to restore much, but not all, of Hermes' collection.
"Well, that was a long time ago," Hermes observes, folding his hands neatly in front of him, "but I will admit that I still have hard feelings about that." His voice is even and matter of fact.
"I don't blame you. I..." I swallow hard, "I suppose you understand the Ministry will not look kindly on you for this. Lot's of people there aren't great friends of Dumbledore."
"You are speaking of damage to the firm?"
"No, to you personally."
"I know. But it is my job." He starts to flip through the papers with prices, efficient motions.
"Oh. Are they making you do this?" It seems cruel, but I suppose solicitors are not supposed to have – what is the phrase I heard on muggle telly – "passion or prejudice."
"No. I volunteered." He looks across at me. "In fact, I insisted."
"Why?" I shift in the chair, trying to get comfortable. It isn't possible. "I didn't think you liked Sirius."
"I didn't." He sighs. "I did not like Sirius or James or even Lily."
"What about Peter?" I can't resist.
"I rarely noticed him."
"Oh." Swallowing hard, I look him in the eye. "Then why?"
"Because of this." He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out something. It takes me a moment to recognize it as a copy of The Quibbler – the edition that contains Harry's interview.
"Yes. He must be a most extraordinary boy."
"He is." I smile broadly.
"A most extraordinary boy," he repeats, "and one who was all alone." His voice is soft and his eyes are suddenly filled with sadness. "So alone with all the world against him. Imagine, standing his ground after all The Prophet had said." He lets the paper drop. "Poor child. I thought about him then, when the article came out. By himself with everyone spitting at him, even the Ministry. He must have felt so helpless. And now Albus says Sirius was his godfather, and he is even more alone than before." Hermes continues to stare directly into my eyes, his own gaze heavy. "Alone. Alone at Hogwarts with the whole world reviling you. I know what that is like."
Sitting there, my gums aching and spasms gripping my back, I suddenly feel a surge of affection for this prissy, dandified, effeminate little man. Sometimes you find light in the oddest of places. I just found it in a lonely middle-aged fag who paused to fish out a pillow for a werewolf, and who is going to defy the Ministry for a boy he has never met, all because his large heart has room for compassion as well as sadness and anger and bitterness.
And I feel I stab of shame for myself. Yes, I know a sliver of contempt for the prefect who did nothing to stop his friends from playing a cruel joke on sad, silly, harmless Hermes Reed.
"Yes, Remus?" His smile is friendly. I do not understand how it can be so friendly, in fact.
"I'm sorry." I don't feel better. Somehow I think I'm supposed to, but I don't.
"Thank you, Remus." He looks over the papers quickly. "I will examine these and get to my grandfather. He will contact Professor Dumbledore."
"Thank you," I say, rising to leave. Hermes, however, holds up a hand and motions for me to be seated once again.
"Remus, do you know why I did not like Lily much?"
"No." That was odd. Most people adored Lily.
"Because she wasn't very smart."
He cocks his head and looks at me. "Lily chose James."
"Yes." What's the point?
"She might have chosen you."
I feel my mouth drop open.
"You always were the best of the four, Remus."
I don't know what to say. My jaw works but no sound comes forth.
"Of course," he pauses thoughtfully and taps his lower lip with the end of his quill, "Sirius did have the best arse."
For a moment I am stunned into silence. And then the laughter comes. It begins somewhere in my lower belly and wells upward, making my torso and shoulders shake. I don't know what's funniest, the plainspoken tone of Hermes, the thought of him staring at Sirius' behind all those years in Hogwarts, or the thought of the look on Sirius' face if he could have heard that comment. For the first time since my friend's death, I laugh.
Hermes joins me, his laugh high and melodic. Lacing his fingers together he leans forward across his desk and says conspiratorially, "I confess though, that I always used to wonder about James' thigh muscles. Think what kind of development you must get from all that Seeker training. Gripping the broomstick and all."
I laugh, I chuckle, I chortle, I guffaw. Tears of mirth and memory roll down my face. Oh, to see James' reaction to that! Even better to hear Lily's! She probably would have given Hermes a detailed report while James stood to one side dying of chagrin.
After several minutes of shared laughter we rise and shake hands. I feel better than I have in days. It is amazing where we can find light. It is also amazing where we can find healing.
Friday 5 July 1996
18 01 GMT
After a busy afternoon of errands for the Order – errands I suspect have been deliberately arranged to force me away from Privet Drive in a well-meaning attempt to help my mental balance - I apparate back to Arabella Figg's. Finding a small stack of mail waiting, I stick it into my bag and walk to Four Privet Drive.
And my good mood evaporates immediately. For a moment I had been able to forget about Harry and his suffering. Now, though, I am forcibly reminded by the smells of sour, acidic vomit mixed with the salty reek of an unwashed adolescent male body and the hot, thin vapors of fever. The whole of Number Four Privet Drive is cloaked in the miasma of his sickness. It wrenches me from gut to heart every time I step through the door, as I have often done lately. Not because of the odor itself, when you are like me you get used to smelling much worse things and keeping a straight face, all the time wondering how the people around you go through life with such ineffective noses. What hurts me is the overwhelming pity and fear that flood through my body when I catch the scent of Harry's suffering. It hurts even worse when I remember how he used to smell, a vibrant combination of soap, athletic musk, and the dust of Hogwarts, all overlain by an incredible sweetness so appropriate to his nature.
As I step into the Dursley residence the pain in my fingertips becomes so great I can barely grasp the doorknob, so badly do canine claws wish to erupt from my flesh. The sight of Petunia does not help matters, and I have to clench me teeth against the burning in my gums. But from long practice I manage a calm smile, even though I don't trust myself to say anything.
Petunia stands in the doorway of the kitchen, a bitter look on her face. "They're upstairs," she says in the same tone she would use to announce a roach infestation.
I nod silently and start up the stairs.
"Could you tell that creature..."
I look at her calmly, but something in my eyes (perhaps the irises are shifting from amber to yellow?) causes her to stop. I assume by "creature" she meant Dobby. Insulting as that is, if I thought she was referring to Harry, I'm not sure I could keep my fragile calm.
"Vernon and Dudley have gone to visit Vernon's sister," Petunia says, completely switching topics. "I was thinking of joining them tomorrow."
"That might be best," I allow. I turn to ascend the steps.
"If the boy is still sick, I could..." she breaks off again as I turn to look at her, mildly surprised. She reddens slightly. After a few seconds of silence, she nods brusquely and retreats into the kitchen.
I don't bother wondering what she was trying to say as I climb the stairs. Not so long ago I would have been delighted by such a show of concern, albeit mild, on Petunia's part. Now I am too tired and depressed to give a damn.
At least I don't detect THAT smell. I had hoped I wouldn't. I had prayed to whoever might be listening that I wouldn't.
Maybe I imagined it. Yes, I must have imagined it.
I reach the top of the steps to find Dobby standing in front of Harry's door, his arms filled with sodden bedclothes that reek of vomit. His face is disfigured by an expression of such overwrought sorrow that most people would have found it funny.
Most people would. But I, as I am reminded every day of my life, am not most people.
"Professor Loopy!" Dobby bounces up and down excitedly, artfully balancing the pile of soiled cloth in his arms. "Dobby is so glad to see you!"
"I am happy to see you, too, Dobby." I cannot help but smile at the excited elf. Having him look after Harry was one of Dumbledore's better ideas. "How is Harry?"
"Harry Potter is sleeping." Dobby looks at the floor, suddenly and obviously uncomfortable.
"What is it, Dobby?" I ask, going down to one knee to be face-to-face with him.
"OH!" Dobby suddenly drops his burden and starts to pound his head with his hands. "BAD Dobby!"
"Stop that! Dobby, please!" It makes me ashamed to admit, but my family was never wealthy enough to have an elf and I have always been a little uncomfortable around them. But after what Dobby did to the MLE field team yesterday, I have been reminded of just how deserving he is of respect.
Dobby does stop, then looks at my with his large, worried eyes. "Harry Potter..."
"Harry Potter is a good wizard!"
I almost laugh. Of course Harry is a good wizard! Then I see that Dobby is wringing his hands and looking miserable.
"What is it, Dobby? Has Harry done anything?" I feel a surge of wild panic in my belly, but I thrust it back down savagely.
"Harry Potter... Harry Potter has scared Dobby," the elf says softly.
"What? Has he done anything to you?" I can't imagine that Harry would hurt Dobby, of all beings!
"OH NO!" Dobby looks horrified. "Harry Potter do something to Dobby? Oh no! BAD DOBBY!" Before I can stop him, he turns and runs full tilt into the wall, banging his head savagely. "BAD, BAD, BAD, DOBBY!!"
"Dobby, stop!" I hiss, afraid that he will bring Petunia charging up the stairs. He ignores me and continues to bang his cranium against the wall. "Dobby," I say desperately, "You'll wake Harry!"
He stops instantly. "Professor Loopy is right. Dobby must not wake Harry Potter."
"No, Harry needs his rest." I smile despite myself. The elf's devotion, overdone as it may be, is heartwarming.
"Yes, Harry Potter must rest." He seems almost to be talking to himself. "Harry Potter is very tired."
"Right. Now, what is going on, Dobby? How did Harry scare you?"
Dobby looks down, and I am afraid he is going to start crying. "Harry Potter is a good wizard!" he repeats.
"Of course he is, Dobby! Please, what is the matter?" I force myself to take deep breaths and try to stay calm.
"Harry Potter is saying... is saying bad things."
"What do you mean, bad things? Please, Dobby. I need to know." I instinctively want to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder, but not knowing what house-elf etiquette is, I keep them folded.
"Harry Potter is saying he... is saying he..."
"Is Harry saying he caused Sirius Black to die, Dobby?" My throat clenches, but I try to keep looking him in the eye.
He nods, not looking up. "Dobby told him he must not say such things. Dobby said it was filthy Kreacher who is to blame! Dobby said it was them who did it!"
"Dobby's..." he takes a deep breath, "Dobby's former masters."
The Malfoys. Ah yes.
"Harry Potter will not listen." Dobby continues. "Please," he looks up, "Please, Professor Loopy must make Harry Potter listen! Harry Potter must understand he is a good wizard!"
"I will try, Dobby," I promise around the thick lump in my throat.
"Please," the house elf continues, reaching to take my hand, "Dobby has told him! Dobby has said..." he stops, his eyes suddenly growing wide. "BAD DOBBY!" he exclaims, leaping for the wall.
One good thing about being a werewolf is the accentuation of one's reflexes. I snag Dobby easily. "Careful, Dobby. Now, what did you say to Harry?"
"Dobby..." the little elf seems to sigh and squares his shoulders, "Dobby will do anything for Harry Potter, Professor Loopy. Anything!"
There is something more than a little scary about the fanaticism in Dobby's gentle green eyes. I rise to my feet, but keep one of his hands in mine. "I know that, Dobby. So does Professor Dumbledore. That is why you are here."
"Dobby wants Harry Potter to smile," he says softly, the look of determination still on his face.
"Dobby said... Dobby told Harry Potter that he would bring him filthy Kreacher's skin, if Harry Potter wanted it."
Werewolves do not scare easily. Being one of the more feared creatures in the magical world inspires a certain odd bravery. But the look on the gentle elf's face is one of the most frightening things I have ever seen.
"You did... that, did you?" My mouth is so dry I almost croak the words out.
"Yes." He speaks with absolute matter-of-factness.
He would, too. I have heard it said that the loyalty of house-elves would put dogs to shame, but I had never appreciated that fact until this moment. The look of utter and complete devotion on Dobby's countenance is terrifying. I have absolutely no doubt that, should Harry decide he wants Draco Malfoy's head for a hat rack, Dobby would cheerfully pick up a meat cleaver and make for Malfoy Manor.
"Well, we will..." I don't know what to say. "We will talk about that later, Dobby. I need to look in on Harry right now."
"Do not wake him, Professor Loopy," Dobby says sternly. "Harry Potter must sleep! He has to go to the solishitor's tonight!"
"I'll be very quiet."
"Is Professor Loopy going to the solishitor's?" Dobby asks.
"Yes." I blink my eyes rapidly against the tears. "Yes, I am."
"What is Professor Loopy going to wear?"
I feel an intense surge of embarrassment as he regards me. Do I detect just the faintest hint of disapproval as he looks at my shabby robes? Or have I seen that disapproval so often, from so many people, that I imagine it?
"I have brought some dress robes," I say at last. Well, if you can call them dress robes anymore. I have been using them ever since I graduated from Hogwarts. I meant to buy some new ones the summer after my first year of teaching, but getting fired put a major crimp in those plans.
"Good! Dobby will press them when he presses Harry Potter's!"
"Oh, that won't be necessary." The thought of Dobby, used to the fine clothing of the Malfoys, ironing my decaying robes brings another surge of embarrassment.
"Oh, Dobby likes to press robes," the elf says earnestly. "Where are they?"
"In my bag, downstairs." I left it sitting in the entrance hall.
"Dobby will get them! Remember, do not wake Harry Potter!"
"I'll..." Dobby vanishes in a flash, "Remember," I finish.
Gathering my nerves I slowly approach the door to Harry's room and walk in. The smell of sickness is much worse here – so bad that even an ordinary human nose could easily detect it. The room is dark but neat – perhaps Dobby's doing.
I walk quickly to the bed and look down. Harry is huddled under some blankets, shivering. He is drawn into a peculiar position, his knees flexed and legs together, his wrists clasped and drawn level with his head. He whimpers softly as I approach and his shivers grow worse.
I cannot be the father he needs. I am too weak, too helpless. Even now my body aches with the pain of my accursed disease. What sort of support could I be to this brave, hurting child?
No, Harry must not learn to love me. I would betray him in my weakness, and the devastation would shatter him. It would shatter me.
But now he is asleep. He is asleep and we are alone, and it is safe for me to lower my guard. He is asleep, and I can show the desperate tenderness that fills my heart and tears at my soul as I watch him suffer.
Sitting on the bed I reach out and slowly, softly stroke his messy hair. His soft cries cease. I let my fingers trail down the side of his neck, tickling gently. His lips twitch and he squirms slightly, his body trying to draw away from my teasing fingertips. Bringing my other arm around I cradle him in a loose hug, letting my right hand caress his chest and shoulders through the blankets.
"Quiet, puppy," I whisper. I slowly tease along the rim of his ear, grinning as he twitches and giggles softly. My fingers stroke along his jaw and encounter... whiskers? I grin even wider. The puppy needs to shave. Bending down, nearly overcome by the fierce tenderness I feel, I kiss his cheek.
And then I jerk back, stifling a cry of alarm. It is there. The smell is there, clinging to his cheek like some foul, alien scent polluting a rose. It's mild, so subtle that even my nose barely caught it. It is the sick-sweet smell of a dead thing that has been left to rot in the sun, the cloying miasma of rot. It is the odor I wanted so desperately to believe I have imagined these last couple of days.
It is the smell of poison. Harry has been poisoned, and I have no doubt as to how.
Clever, clever Wormtail. Oh yes, it was Peter. He was always smarter than people thought, even if his intelligence was of a decidedly rodentine sort. How often did Sirius and James take credit for intricate pranks that sprang from his vicious little mind?
Yes, clever Peter. After all, it was simplicity itself. Find a large black dog and place it under any one of a number of controlling spells. Smear its claws with poison and then settle in to wait. Wait until Harry was passing by, knowing full well that his sweet, wounded heart would compel him to pet a creature so similar to Padfoot. Wait until he came close, then send the dog to attack him, once again through any number of spells or tactics. Hell, Peter could easily have programmed the animal in advance. It isn't that hard, given an intelligent creature like a dog.
How long did you wait in the shadows, Peter? How long have you lurked about Privet Drive, your poison-bearing dog at your heels? I can even guess what you named him. Poisonfoot. You always did have a taste for that kind of twisted mockery.
Of course he would not have had to wait THAT long. No, just until I was not there, until Kingsley was busy, until Dung Fletcher was away. Just until our clumsy little Auror was on duty. Yes, our gentle Tonks, guaranteed to tangle her feet in the leash and fall down on the job – literally.
That isn't fair. No it isn't fair at all. I will be very, very ashamed of myself in due course. But right now, the smell of poison in my nostrils, justice can go hang.
Schedule for Friday night: Attend will reading, have late dinner, tear Tonks' throat out, take shower, go to bed.
But now, now I will do what I always do in this kind of situation.
I will move my useless self to one side and call for help.
Silently moving away from the bed, I creep out of Harry's room and down the stairs. I find Dobby in the basement, cheerfully folding laundry.
"Dobby," I say in a calm but stern tone, "please fetch Madam Pomfrey!"
"Is Harry Potter worse?" He practically hops from side to side at the thought.
"Yes, Dobby, he is worse. Please tell Poppy to come at once."
"Dobby will go! Will Professor Loopy watch Harry Potter? Dobby will not be long!"
"Yes, yes. Now just go, please!" I don't mean to snap, but really I want Poppy now.
"Make sure Harry Potter drinks his milk if he wakes up!" Dobby's tone is pleading?
"Milk?" I keep my voice low and even. I have a lot of practice staying calm when in fact I want to growl.
"Yes, Harry Potter must drink his milk. Else she will be so VERY angry!" Dobby stares at me earnestly. I might have imagined it, but at the mention of the mysterious she he seemed to shiver slightly.
"I will make sure he drinks his bloo... his milk. Now please go!" I speak through gritted teeth.
Luckily Dobby does not seem to take offense. Rather he nods vigorously and vanishes.
Who in the name of all the principles of magic is SHE? Umbridge? Her power at Hogwarts is over, and I cannot imagine Dobby taking orders from her with regard to Harry in any case. McGonagall? Protective as she can be, I can't see her prescribing milk as a regimen.
The thought of McGonagall reminds me that I have a bundle of letters waiting in the bag which was no longer sitting in the hall when I came through. Luckily I see it in plain sight near a neatly folded pile of clothes. Doubtless Dobby moved it so that he could remove my robes. As I bend to pick the shabby bag up I see that he has indeed removed the robes, as well as my socks and undergarments. My underpants are greyer and more tattered now than Severus' ever were. Another flood of shame, this one with multiple roots, roles over me. I hastily remove the letters and make my way back up to Harry's door.
I can't bear to go back in to the room. I think if I have to sit there with helpless, poisoned Harry I will die from worry and sorrow and anger. Instead I sit on the floor outside his door, my back to the wall, and start leafing through my mail.
There are three letters, two from Hogwarts, one from the Ministry, and one with an international owl frank and no return address. I pick up the Ministry letter first, expecting it to be a routine communication from the Committee for the Control of Magical Creatures. I have to check in periodically, rather like a paroled criminal. At least they are not requiring a detailed account of my sexual partners yet, although such has been proposed – as has mandatory sterilization of all werewolves.
But it is not from the Committee:
5 July, 1996
Dear Professor Lupin,
I hope this letter finds you well. I write to express my condolences, and those of the ministry, on the loss of Sirius Black in the recent disturbance at the Department of Mysteries. It is my understanding that Mr. Black was your friend and schoolmate, and I hope that the recently re-opened investigation will serve to lay to rest any lingering questions of injustice that might still adhere to Mr. Black's memory.
With the return of You-Know-Who, the Ministry has instituted a policy of vigorous outreach to populations unfortunately estranged from the mainstream of wizarding society. It is our belief that a united front is absolutely necessary in the upcoming struggle. We would be very pleased if you would consent to join us as a special liaison to under-represented and disadvantaged portions of the magical population of Great Britain. Your knowledge of these groups, and the high esteem in which you are held by the Ministry and the staff and students of Hogwarts, make you a perfect candidate for this important position.
As you know, a full review of the legislation governing activities of certain portions of our population is underway. Your help in this review process might prove of historical significance.
Finally, we must be candid in our admission that we are well aware of the high regard in which you are held by The Boy Who Lived. The tragic misunderstandings of the past year, as well as the insistence of the Ministry upon proof of You Know Who's return before risking a public panic (a policy we fear that Mr. Potter may have misconstrued as distrust and hostility on our part) has left the Ministry sadly estranged from Harry Potter. We have every hope that your good offices can aid in mending this breach. We are particularly anxious to move forward in healing this wound, as the imminence of war makes discussion of appropriate security arrangements for Mr. Potter and the other young heroes of our world absolutely crucial.
Although we understand that you would probably be insulted by an offer of a monetary contract for your participation in our war effort, please be assured that the ministry is prepared to be very generous in compensation both in terms of salary and expenses. Also I can inform you that as an official of the government you would have wide latitude under the provisions of laws for the control of lycanthropy.
Although we understand that you might want to consider this possibility for some short time, we must insist that you contact us within the next 72 hours.
Ministry of Magic
I let the letter lie in my lap for a moment, then crumple it with a savage contraction of my fingers. Once I would have been overjoyed at the thought of the ministry reaching out to magical creatures and half-breeds. But this missive just leaves me feeling sickened and dirty.
The sound of soft footsteps alerts me to Poppy's arrival. She smiles at me as I rise quickly.
"Is Mr. Potter worse, Remus?" Her tone is brisk and businesslike, her expression slightly annoyed, but the tension in her shoulders and stance screams of concern.
"I think he's been poisoned, Poppy."
I hear a squeak of dismay behind me and realize too late that Dobby has overheard. Undeterred, I outline what I have smelled.
To my relief, Poppy does not dismiss my suspicion with a sneer. Instead she frowns and sighs. "I will have to take some samples and see if I can find anything. Meanwhile I need to talk to Albus. We must get him back to Hogwarts or to St. Mungo's."
"Very well." I follow her into the room. Reaching down, I shake Harry gently. "Harry, wake up."
"Hmmm, Moony?" He wakes slowly, rubbing his eyes. As he sits up a spasm of shivers wracks his torso.
"How do you feel, Harry?" Stupid question, but I have to say something.
He shrugs and swings his legs over the edge of the bed. It is too fast and he drops his head into his hands with a groan
"Hello, Mr. Potter," Madame Pomfrey says briskly.
"Madam Pomfrey, what're you doing here?" Harry backs up slightly onto the bed, his eyes narrowing.
"I need some samples, Mr. Potter. This won't take a moment then you can get back to resting."
"That's OK. I need to get up, anyway." He casts his gaze over to his desk, where I see the auror texts Tonks lent him lying open.
"Harry," I say softly, "you need to rest."
"I agree," Poppy says.
Harry starts to retort, then looks thoughtfully at Madam Pomfrey and shuts his mouth.
"Harry, Harry, Quite Contrary," I think fondly. At least he has learned something of how not to engage in futile argument. Hermione Granger's influence, I suppose.
"Well," I smile at Harry awkwardly, "I'll be downstairs if I'm needed. Don't forget that we need to get ready for the solicitor's in a little while."
"Yeah. I killed Sirius. I might as well get my share."
I take in a breath, feeling as if somebody has kicked me in the gut. Harry Potter is saying bad things, indeed. Harry's eyes are dark and dull, so unlike the lively green eyes I remember.
"Harry, no!" I surge forward. "You can't say that!"
Harry turns bright red, opening his mouth to yell.
"Mr. Potter," Poppy breaks in softly, "what exactly is this?" She has raised his shirt and is looking at something on his back.
"Nothing," Harry says sullenly, "just a sore." He winces as Poppy runs a finger over his shoulder blades.
"Remus, come here." Poppy's voice is cool and tight.
I hurry across the room and look at Harry's back. The pain in my gums blossoms into bright agony.
Harry's back is disfigured with dozens of large, weeping blisters. They are grouped in clear lines, spelling out an unmistakable word.
A/N: Thus it begins. This is only the first third of what was originally going to be an introductory chapter. The next chapter blends this installment with HBM I. We will see the reading of Sirius' will and Remus will learn of the plot developments that are occupying Albus in Scotland while Remus is being horrified at Privet Drive. We will learn more about the nature of Albus' ward beads. And for those of you who have asked how the Ministry know enough about the prophecy to threaten Harry with the Thrall Laws, Remus thinks that's a good question, too.