Chapter 18 – Somewhere I Belong
With the coming of the ever-stressful year-end finals, Harry's nightmares returned with a vengeance. But at least their content was new. Almost every night, Harry dreamed he was standing in front of the Shrieking Shack in the middle of a hurricane. But tonight was different, as there was more.
"Master of puppets, I'm pulling your strings"
Harry could barely catch the words screaming past his ears. The winds howled furiously, a mixture of rain and hail pummeled everything to the ground, and the trees all around Harry were being either uprooted, snapped in half or both. He could barely stand as he was buffeted and assaulted from all directions, and he continued trying to push through to the derelict house even as he was continuously struck with debris. His robes and clothes underneath were being sliced to ribbons, but that barely registered in his mind.
"Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams"
Harry hardly made any progress against the weather, and suddenly he noticed that a vortex of wind, rain, hail, and debris not ten meters from him began to coalesce into the form of a ghostly woman.
"Blinded by me, you can't see a thing"
Harry's stomach clenched in terror. Long, wild and tangled hair whipped around the gaunt face of the woman. Her papery-white skin was contrasted grotesquely by the ragged blood red dress she was wearing.
In his ears whispered the tortured words shrieking in vain for dominance over the wind:
"Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream"
But everything suddenly didn't matter, not even the very air trying to shred him into tiny gelatinous pieces. Harry's eyes widened as the banshee came into better focus…
"I will occupy"
"GWEN?!" he shouted, but the name was torn away from his mouth. The banshee didn't seem to notice, her voice keening its distress to the void she was trapped in as the very dress she was wearing scattered droplets of blood everywhere. The wind carried the crimson in sheets and splattered them all over Harry. His glasses were peppered with red, and he shouted again.
"I will help you die"
The Gwendolyn banshee whipped around, and glittering sapphire eyes devoid of life widened as she noticed Harry. Faster than thought, she shot through the raging hurricane, still screaming.
"I will run through you"
Right at Harry.
He threw up his arms and screamed as her misty hand touched his scar… it burned… it BURNED!!
"Harry! Harry, wake up!" Ron shouted as he shook his best friend violently. Harry screamed again in absolute terror, completely trapped by the agony focused on his infernal scar.
Suddenly his face exploded in sharp pain. Ron had slapped him.
The nightmare released Harry as suddenly as it seemed to grip him, and words hissed out of his mouth as if he were merely the medium:
"Now I rule you, too"
Harry's back arched as if he were finishing a grand mal seizure. Manic laughter escaped his lips and he collapsed limply on his bed, hopelessly tangled up in the sheets.
"Harry?" Neville's frightened voice was like sandpaper in his ears, and the raven-haired young man groaned deep in his chest.
The door to the large bedroom slammed open as people rushed in.
"What is going on here?" Professor McGonagall's almost panicked voice cut through the dead, shocked silence in the room. Harry faintly heard her shoving people out of her way as she came to his bed, but he couldn't move, couldn't speak. He felt so… drained.
"Potter, can you hear me?" the Head of his House urgently spoke at his side as she sat on his bed. Her cool hand brushed Harry's sweat-soaked hair back from his brow. "Potter… what happened? Harry…"
But her voice faded down the elongated corridor of his consciousness as Harry finally fainted.
"Harry, you look absolutely terrible."
He grinned mirthlessly. "Why thank you, 'Mione. It must be all the sun I've been getting."
She stopped in the middle of the hall and planted her fists on her hips. Other students hurrying to their classes broke around her like river water flowing around a boulder. "I'm serious. You look like hell. Have you been getting any sleep?"
He shrugged as he gazed at nothing in particular past her shoulder. "No, not really."
"Harry, something's got to be done about this. You're well on your way to a breakdown if this isn't stopped soon."
He grimaced. "I'm open to suggestions. It's not like this's coming from Voldemort, you know. And Madame Pomfrey can only give me so much Dreamless Sleep potion." He sighed deeply.
It had been two and a half weeks since the first nightmare about Gwendolyn and the hurricane, and Harry was lucky if he'd gotten more than a few scant hours' sleep each night. He'd taken to staying up as late as possible in the Common Room studying, with either Dobby or Winky bringing him pitchers of strong coffee to help him stay awake. And then when he finally dragged himself up to his room, he made sure to cast a sound-proofing charm on the hangings around his bed so he wouldn't continue to upset his friends with his screaming. He knew this was only a temporary Band-Aid to the problem, but Harry was at a loss as to what else he could do.
Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall had spoken to Harry at length after the horrible first time he'd woken everyone in the Gryffindor tower with his screams. They'd even consulted with both Madame Pomfrey and Professor Snape about ways of dealing with the nightmare, but they just couldn't figure out what was wrong. The entire school was abuzz with rumors about why Harry was having such terrible dreams, and even the other professors were concerned. Professor Trelawny was of course all atwitter with excitement, and had constantly approached Harry with her opinion that he was having psychic premonitions so terrible in nature that she felt he needed to be under her constant surveillance and tutelage.
Harry snorted as he thought about that. Right. Like that old fraud could do anything to help him. Her so-called "inner sight" was as blind as she was, in his opinion.
Gwendolyn had of course also heard about Harry's nightmares, but he didn't want to upset her with what he was certain were images his unconscious mind was projecting in order to relieve stress. He had told no one of what his nightmares contained… no one except for the Headmaster. And anyway, Gwendolyn was increasingly looking as bad as he felt. He'd been wondering if maybe she was having nightmares too.
"Maybe it's time to consider going to Saint Mungo's," his dear friend suggested firmly, snapping Harry out of his musings.
But he shook his head. "'Mione, if Dumbledore can't figure this out, then I doubt anyone else would have a chance."
They started walking to their next class, Care of Magical Creatures, their pace slower than normal as Harry had very little energy lately. They didn't speak, and Harry felt his fuzzed mind wandering again.
Very quietly, he unconsciously began to sing. "Master, master… Where's the dreams that I've been after? Master, master… You promised only lies…"
Hermione's brow creased in deepening concern as she caught the faint words.
"Laughter, laughter… All I hear and see is laughter… Laughter, laughter… Laughing at my cries…"
Finally she couldn't take it any more. The young woman grabbed Harry's upper arm and swung him around to face her. "Harry, you're singing it… again."
He blinked, his eyes slowly coming back into focus. "What?"
"That song. You've been singing it nonstop since the nightmares started."
Harry frowned in puzzlement. "Thought I'd stopped doing that."
"You did, for a day or two. The words, Harry; they really worry me. It sounds like they're about Voldemort."
Dulled emerald eyes closed briefly. "Wish I knew where the hell I'd have heard it before. It's not the kind of music Dudley listens to, and I only hear Muggle music when I'm at Privet Drive."
The halls were mostly empty now, so Harry and Hermione were able to clearly hear the rapid footsteps clattering from behind them. The two turned to see Ron running up the hall towards them.
He slid to a puffing halt, holding on to a stitch in his side. "Found… out… what… that… bloody song is," he panted. At his best friend's questioning glances, he explained through gulps of air. "Dean's got… an older brother… a Muggle… listens to… something… called… hefty Myrtle…?"
Hermione rolled her eyes a little. "Are you trying to say heavy metal, Ron?"
The redhead blinked. "Yeah, whatever," he said glibly. "Anyway, it's called… Master of Puppets, by…" he paused, screwing up his face as he tried and failed to recall the name. "Some musical group from America. I gotta say, Muggles are so weird."
Hermione smacked her friend in the arm, and the redhead winced with a muttered, "Ow!"
"Okay, so we know it's a real song, and not something my brain made up," Harry thought aloud with a one-shouldered shrug. "Well, that's a relief."
"How so?" Hermione questioned, still glaring at Ron for his faux-pas.
"It means I'm not going completely insane," Harry smiled grimly, and Ron snorted. "Just wish I knew where this was coming from. I doubt that Voldemort would be listening to Muggle music." He trailed off for a moment as he tried to envision the Dark Lord trying to figure out a CD stereo system. He chuckled, unaware of the concern on his best friends' faces. "C'mon, we're gonna be late for class."
They started walking again, and after a few quiet minutes Ron wondered aloud, "I hope Hagrid's okay."
The other two nodded their agreement, as the half-giant had been absent for most of the New Year on secret Order business. Professor Grumblyplank had taken Care of Magical creatures over indefinitely, and was teaching the class in her own very capable way. But while the substitute professor had taught them about many interesting creatures, Harry found that he missed Hagrid's style… as well as the man's innocent love for the more dangerous creatures in the magical world.
That evening, Harry was sick of sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room, as his friends had finally figured out what he'd been doing to keep himself awake and had been insistent on having at least one of them sit up with him as well. Most nights the company was a welcome diversion, but this time he just wanted to be left alone. His scar was sending stabbing pains through his eye, and he spooked at every little movement of the shadows.
"Well, I think I'm off to bed, Ron," Harry yawned and stretched before climbing out of the comfy depths of the armchair he'd been ensconced in, pretending to read over Firenze's homework for the past two hours.
"Whu… what?" Ron shook himself awake; he'd been nodding off when his friend's quiet words startled him. "What time is it?"
"Gone past one," Harry replied with a small smile. "C'mon, let's go on up. I think I'll be okay tonight."
Ron scrubbed his eyes before looking warily back at him. "You sure, mate?"
"Yeah." Harry reached over and pulled his best friend off of the couch. They made their way companionably up the stairs to their room, and Harry climbed into his bed on the pretense that he was actually going to sleep. He waited a few minutes, until he heard Ron's soft snores join Seamus and Dean's in an odd chorus before he carefully slipped out of bed and grabbed the Invisibility Cloak from his chest.
He swept the cloak over his shoulders and adjusted the hood so that he could see clearly without revealing his face before he noiselessly made his way back downstairs and out of the Gryffindor tower.
"Who's there?" the Fat Lady called out sleepily, but Harry didn't answer. Best if she didn't know exactly who was wandering out in the corridors so late at night. Also gave Harry plausible deniability.
The portrait swung back shut, with the pink chiffon-clad woman grumbling about ghosts messing with her beauty sleep. Harry wandered through the long corridors of Hogwarts, finding the eerie silence somehow comforting on this particular night.
He passed by darkened classrooms, and had to hastily duck into one of them when he came across Filch and Mrs. Norris patrolling the halls. Once they had passed without noticing him, Harry continued on his way.
He was down by one of the entrances to the dungeons when he heard raised voices. Harry made his way to the slightly open door that the voices, as well as light, spilled out from, and peered through the opening.
It was the Weapons classroom, and standing in the middle were Gwendolyn… and Malfoy of all people. And they were armed with rapiers.
"I don't have to explain myself to you, boy." Gwendolyn's words dripped with venom, and she raised her rapier threateningly with both hands. "And I don't appreciate your coming in here to threaten me."
Harry's eyes widened. What the devil was Malfoy doing?! He ever-so-carefully pushed the door, opening it slowly enough so that, he hoped, the room's occupants wouldn't notice.
"I'm not threatening you, Gwendolyn," Malfoy murmured, raising his own rapier in an echo of the woman's movements. "I merely wished to warn you."
'Warn?' Harry thought. 'Of what?' He was finally able to slip into the room, keeping his cloak wrapped tightly about himself so that it wouldn't get caught and reveal his presence.
"I know who your father is," Gwendolyn growled, her eyes glowing in fury. "And for someone with the reputation you have in this school, I find it very surprising that you care about my welfare in the slightest."
Malfoy's already pinched face darkened in anger before he took control of his temper and lowered his sword to point at the ground. "Have you learned nothing of reputations from Professor Snape?" he asked, his gaze level and back straight.
She spat at the ground. "You know nothing about him."
Malfoy shook his head, suddenly looking tired and much older than his tender sixteen years. "I know more than you think. And don't assume that I'm what I seem," he said quietly.
Gwendolyn sucked in a shocked breath. She wasn't the only one. Harry quietly clapped his hands over his mouth to mask his breathed exclamation.
"What do you mean by that?" she demanded, but Malfoy merely strode over to the weapons wall and hung his rapier up before quickly leaving the room without another word.
Gwendolyn stood stock still for a few minutes, blinking as she obviously tried to make sense of her encounter. She shook her head then, and pulled out her wand from behind her back. With a fiercely grim expression, she cast some sort of wards on the room before drawing an outline in the air. The places her wand tracked glowed silver before the form of a woman began to materialize.
After a few more seconds, Harry once again gasped silently… for the ghostly figure of Bellatrix Lestrange appeared in the room before Gwendolyn. It was obviously not the real woman, as her mouth opened and moved, but no words came forth.
The apparition sneered openly at Gwendolyn, and Harry noticed that his friend's face had become hard and filled with a terrible icy hatred. It was so unlike any other expression he'd seen before on the woman, that it made Harry step back in not a little fear.
He never wanted to see Gwendolyn with that look on her face again.
The Bellatrix ghost raised her wand in a mocking salute, and Gwendolyn did the same. Their eyes narrowed, and suddenly spells began flying through the room.
Harry quickly ducked through the door, not wanting to get hit by a stray spell by accident, thus revealing his presence to Gwendolyn. He stayed for a moment longer, wondering what exactly the woman was achieving by battling with a mock-up of the despised Death Eater. But when his friend suddenly roared in fury, he peeked his head back inside to see that she was no longer there… instead, a giant black Manticore crouched directly in front of the shade, its poison fang-tipped tail lashing from side to side.
The Bellatrix apparition silently shrieked in fear just before it was set upon by the furious animal. And Harry suddenly realized why Gwendolyn had summoned that particular shade. He backed away from the door and the now muted roars of the infuriated creature within, and hastily made his way back to Gryffindor tower.
Harry froze in the doorway to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Ron and Hermione bumped into him with muttered curses.
"Harry, move!" Ron grumbled with a little shove to his mate's shoulder blades, and Harry unthinkingly complied.
"What's going… oh!" Hermione exclaimed as she noticed Remus Lupin leaning against the teacher's desk at the head of the room.
The werewolf smiled and absentmindedly nodded at the teens before turning to consult a rather large book on the desk. The rest of the class streamed through the door, with students murmuring and exclaiming their various levels of surprise as they also noticed the new teacher.
"Oy, Professor Lupin, what're you doing here?" Seamus called out.
The Professor turned to face the milling students and once again leaned against the desk. "The Headmaster had some urgent business to attend to, and has asked me to fill in temporarily. That is, if none of you mind?" He tilted his head to the side inquiringly.
"Not as long as you don't rip my throat out for giving a wrong answer," Seamus joked in return, and Remus snorted softly as Lavender and Parvati shot evil looks at their classmate for his tactlessness.
"I can assure you that I won't," the Professor said with a twinkle in his eye. "As your final exam is in a fortnight," he paused a moment as most of the teenagers groaned their displeasure. "My time here will be spent reviewing what you've covered so far." He reached behind himself and pulled forth a small sheaf of papers. "Well, it seems that everyone is caught up on the subject matter for your year."
Harry chuckled as he settled himself at his table, and the Professor glanced over at him questioningly. "Not like we haven't had our obstacles," the young man commented wryly, and Lupin nodded with a chuckle of his own.
"How right you are, Mr. Potter. So, for today, we'll be going over the various Dark Creatures you've learned of that you might encounter, and what measures you should take to defend yourselves…"
After the class ended, Harry approached his friend while the others were leaving in chattering groups.
"Remus, what are you doing here?" he softly asked the werewolf. "Really?"
Lupin frowned slightly. "Professor Dumbledore had some urgent business at the Ministry…"
"Anything to do with… The Order?"
Lupin sharply glanced at the last of the students leaving. "Harry…"
"I know, I know; we're not supposed to talk about it." Harry waved off the man's concern irritably. "But it's a bit strange, is all I'm saying."
Lupin leveled an assessing look at the young man in front of him. "Yes, it's on Order business," he replied quietly. "But I'm also here because of you, Harry."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut, raised a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "Please don't start, Remus. I've had enough from everyone else."
The elder man blinked and tilted his head to the side questioningly. "No, I know there's little I can do to help you with that," he said solemnly. "Actually, I'm here for another reason."
Harry opened eyes now full of mild confusion. "What?"
Lupin merely smiled. "You'll find out later. I'll meet you after your last class. Weapons, right?"
Harry nodded with furrowed brows.
"I heard that your teacher knows quite a bit about Muggle defense," Lupin continued with a twinkle in his eye. "But we'll talk more then. Don't want to make you late for Transfiguration, do we?" And with that light comment, the werewolf guided his baffled young friend out of the room.
"What is it, Mister Potter?" the Potions Master snapped irritably from his position beside the impressive weapons' rack along the back wall of the classroom.
"Where's Gwen?" Harry dropped his backpack and robes along the wall beside Hermione's and Ron's as the rest of the students streamed into the room.
"Professor MacCollum is indisposed today. I shall be teaching this class alone," Snape retorted acidly. "Hurry up, hurry up!" he growled at the last of the students' entering the room. "Today we shall be reenacting the Al la macchia, and as we're shorthanded today, I shall be assigning a certain few students the task of ensuring the safety of the rest."
"Great," Ron muttered darkly. "Sounds like a job for Malfoy and his Slytherin suck-ups."
Harry frowned. Where was Gwen? Was she okay? It wasn't like her to miss a Weapons' class. As Snape was picking out students to supervise the reenactment, Slytherins to Ron's eternal disgust, Harry raised his hand.
"What is it now, Potter?" the greasy-haired man gritted out impatiently.
"Is Gwe… erm, Professor MacCollum ill, sir?" he corrected himself hastily at the elder man's pointed glare.
"None of your bloody business. Now if you would kindly shut up and pay attention, we could get on with today's lesson?" Snape bit out the last words crisply, his eyes glittering with malevolence and a promised dire ending should he be interrupted again.
'Something's wrong here,' Harry's mind murmured in alarm. 'Snape's worried.' He carefully backed away from the front of the group and let his classmates move in front of him until he was beside the door. He checked to make sure no one was paying attention to him, and then gently opened the door and slipped out.
He went down to the kitchen, but Gwendolyn wasn't there. But one of the house elves was helpful enough to tell him that she had seen the witch talking with "that strange Mister Frenzy" just a few minutes earlier. Harry thanked the tiny elf, just barely making it out of the kitchen with only an armful of pastries.
He strode towards the last spot that the elf had seen Gwendolyn at. He rounded a corner, and bumped into…
The werewolf cocked his head to the side. "I didn't realize your class let out early, Harry." He held out a hand to steady his young friend as Harry staggered a little under his pastry pile. "Unless you skived off for a late afternoon snack?" A corner of his mouth quirked upwards in humor.
"Actually, I'm looking for my friend Gwen," Harry replied, blushing a little.
"The Weapons Class teacher, right?"
Harry nodded. "She's never voluntarily missed a class before, and Snape's worried."
Blue eyes narrowed in contemplation. "Which worries you."
"Yeah. I don't know why, but there's something between those two…" Harry trailed off as his stomach grumbled.
"You might want to eat some of those, Harry. Wouldn't want those delicious tarts going to waste now," Remus almost chuckled.
The raven-haired teen grimaced before handing his friend a handful of the treats. "You could stand to eat more yourself."
Remus snorted and took a bite out of one of them. The two began walking again as they munched. "You're starting to sound like Molly there, my boy."
"Better than Madame Pomfrey," Harry mumbled around a mouthful of pumpkin pasty.
Remus merely smiled as they turned down another corridor. "So where are we headed, exactly?"
"Well," Harry said, "One of the house elves said she'd seen Gwen talking to Firenze not long ago. I figured I'd check out his classroom to see if they went there."
"Sounds like a plan," Remus replied, and they soon reached their destination. The door to the room was ajar, and the two heard faint voices coming from inside.
Harry pushed the door open a little wider and peeked his head inside. Gwendolyn was lying on her back in the middle of the magicked forest clearing, Firenze about a meter from her side sitting on his haunches and pointing at the simulated night sky high above them.
He couldn't make out what the two were discussing, but Harry knew it was serious by the grim expression on Gwendolyn's face. Firenze's deep voice rumbled through the room, occasionally interspersed with comments from the young witch. Suddenly she sat up and scrubbed at her face with both hands, then raked her long hair back before looking to the centaur and speaking. Her whole posture practically screamed that she was tense and quite upset.
Harry snuck a quick glance at Remus, who merely cocked an eyebrow questioningly at him. Harry shrugged and quietly walked into the room.
Gwendolyn and Firenze, their backs now to the newcomers, tensed before turning to see who was approaching. They relaxed when they recognized Harry, and the centaur nodded solemnly to Remus.
Out of the corner of Harry's eye, he noticed he werewolf tense just the slightest bit, and wondered why Remus would be uncomfortable around Firenze. 'Must ask him about that,' the teen thought absently.
Gwendolyn blinked at Harry and Remus. "Harry, what are you doing here?"
"You weren't at Weapon's class, and I was… well… concerned."
Her brows furrowed. "Why?" she asked simply. Beside and a little behind her, Firenze shifted on his haunches.
Harry felt the color rising in his cheeks, and checked himself from saying the ready answer that had popped up in his head: 'Because you look like hell lately, and you don't seem to be getting any better.'
"You… haven't seemed like yourself lately," he answered quietly.
Gwendolyn's expression became shuttered, and she glanced upwards. "With good reason," she murmured, and then shook herself before looking back at the human men in front of her. "I came across Firenze late this morning, and he'd told me that he had something he wanted to discuss, so we agreed to meet here now."
"But why didn't you teach any of your classes today?" Harry questioned gently.
The young witch closed her eyes briefly before taking a deep breath and looking back at her friend gravely. "Today was Eadoin's birthday, as well as our wedding anniversary."
Harry sucked in a startled breath through his teeth. "Damn, Gwen… I'm sorry."
She shook her head as Harry briefly touched her forearm in sympathy. "You had no idea, Harry. It's not like I've been very open with my past life."
An awkward silence descended upon the room for a moment, before Gwendolyn glanced at Remus questioningly. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid we haven't been introduced."
Harry felt like smacking his head for his thoughtlessness. "Gwen MacCollum, this is Remus Lupin," he introduced his friends.
Gwendolyn's eyes widened slightly, and a grin spread unexpectedly across her face like a ray of sunshine on a stormy day.
"'I've brought you something,'" she quoted with a distinct British accent, and the men frowned in puzzlement.
"For me?" Remus asked, cocking his head to the side.
"'Is it food? Medicine? Wood perhaps, for the fire?'" Gwendolyn continued, her grin widening mischievously.
"Gwen, what are you on about?" Harry said in utter confusion.
Suddenly, Remus' puzzled expression cleared as he placed what the young woman was saying. He chuckled. "Ah. It's been a while since I've been able to catch the Circus."
Harry looked between the two adults, completely flabbergasted and speechless.
Remus noticed, and explained through his grin. "She's quoting a comedy sketch done on Muggle television. It's from an old show called Monty Python's Flying Circus, Harry."
"Ah." Harry's face smoothed out with understanding. He remembered now how much Uncle Vernon hated that show, so Dudley had always ended up watching the series in his room. "My cousin thought it was hilarious."
Remus nodded, and turned back to the young woman and held out his hand. Gwendolyn shook it, her eyes twinkling with genuine mirth for the first time Harry had seen. He found himself wishing fervently that she would smile more like that, and decided that he would make sure to give her plenty of reason to do so in the future.
Firenze stood still through the entire odd exchange, tilting his head from one side to the other in confusion. 'Humans,' his expression seemed to say. 'Are the oddest creatures.' He cleared his throat, gaining the attention of the bipeds. "Good even," he rumbled, but Gwendolyn quickly placed a gentle hand on his forearm, stopping him.
"Please don't go," she said softly, immediately sobering. "It's a quirk of mine. I tend to free associate at times. Monsieur Lupin's name reminded me of a bit of humor I'd seen a few years ago."
The centaur lowered his head in acquiescence, even though he clearly didn't understand what she was talking about.
"Gwendolyn," Remus spoke up, and she turned to him with a questioning look. The werewolf's smile had vanished, to be replaced with a slightly woebegone expression. "I'm sorry about your husband," he said quietly.
Her eyes widened slightly, the old pain that always seemed to hover over her returning. "Did you…" she began, and Remus nodded.
"Yes, I'd worked with him a few times in the past," he replied sadly. "I knew his parents well."
"How…" Harry started, and his friend smiled gently.
"Albus Dumbledore has met all kinds of wizards in his line of work," he explained with a level look at the teen.
Harry blinked. 'They were members of the Order?'
"Eadoin's parents were experts in the study of the Dark Arts," Remus continued. "Eadoin was in the middle of his first year at Hogwarts when they were killed."
Harry felt his stomach plummet to his feet. Anyone who knew the Dark Arts back in the Seventies and were murdered could only mean one thing… Voldemort. "Shit," he muttered.
Remus nodded grimly, and Harry glanced at Gwendolyn. Her brows were furrowed in confusion.
"I'm not sure I understand," she said.
Remus cleared his throat, looking slightly ill at ease. "Voldemort was at the height of his power then," he began, but never finished as he watched the young woman's face drain of all color.
"No," she whispered, her sapphire eyes darkening with emotion. Suddenly she shook her head, her unbound hair whirling about her shoulders.
Harry stepped towards his friend, his hand raising to almost touch her now trembling shoulder.
She snapped her gaze back to a grim looking Remus. "What is it about this bastard?" she grated out. "He gets his jollies out of murdering people's parents?"
"Yes," Harry growled, and everyone's eyes turned to him. "Hell, he killed his dad and his grandparents at the same time. Why would he respect anyone else's family?"
Remus closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "Voldemort tried to recruit the MacCollums, but they refused. He couldn't allow them to stand against him. Their knowledge and mastery of the Dark Arts rivaled his."
Remus' words distracted Harry from his tormented anger. "But they weren't Dark Wizards," he asked.
"No," the werewolf shook his head. "They were scholars. Back then, there were many wizards and witches who made it a point to study the Dark Arts so that they could better protect the wizarding community."
"And Voldemort… he killed them all," Gwendolyn said, her voice harsh.
Remus merely nodded. "The ones he could find that wouldn't join him."
"Such is the nature of evil," Firenze rumbled.
"Who took care of Eadoin after his parents died?" Harry asked.
"Severus," Gwendolyn and Remus answered simultaneously.
The corner of Gwendolyn's mouth quirked up in a small yet mirthless smile. "Yes, Harry. Severus had just been hired to work at Hogwarts, and he took Eadoin 'under his wing', so to speak." Her eyes unfocused as she remembered. "They had so much in common, and Eadoin reminded Severus of his brother."
Harry blinked. "I didn't know he had a brother."
She closed her eyes briefly before reopening them and solemnly focusing on the raven-haired teen. "It's not something he wishes to remember… or discuss."
"What happened to him?"
"He died," she replied shortly. "Like so many have back then, I'm learning."
Firenze stepped up to the small knot of humans. "My lady, I must take my leave," he rumbled. "I ask you to consider what we have spoken of."
Gwendolyn turned to him with questioning eyes, and he continued.
"The stars have spoken of deep ties between you and the Dark Lord. If you do not take care, you shall be devoured by them."
Everyone froze as the import of the centaur's words sank in. He nodded gravely to the humans as if he didn't notice their reactions, and cantered out of the room.
Harry blinked a few times, stunned. What the hell was that all about? Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Remus intently watching Gwendolyn, and he turned his attention to her.
She stood completely rigid, her hands held loosely at her sides.
She just stood there, looking a bit stunned. "What the devil did he mean by that?"
Harry shook his head, but it was Remus who answered. "Centaurs are a strange folk. They tend to speak in riddles, even about the simplest of things. Although I must admit," the werewolf furrowed his brows slightly as he glanced at the doorway the centaur had just exited. "That was a bit strange, even for Firenze."
Gwendolyn turned away from them, hunching her shoulders as if against a cold wind. She stared at the far side of the magicked room with unfocused eyes as she rubbed at her arms. "I did not need to hear that," she murmured to herself. "What a way to celebrate today, my love." Her eyes squeezed shut as tears slowly began slipping down her cheeks. Remus stepped back before silently retreating from the room as an equally stunned Harry reached out to his friend and enveloped her in a gentle hug from behind.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into her dark hair.
She sighed as she leaned her head back against his shoulder, conveying a multitude of emotions in a brief exhalation of air. "For what? You didn't cause this."
Harry closed his eyes tightly. "For once."
She stiffened a little in his arms, and turned slightly to look at the profile of his face. She remained like that for a few long moments before softly replying, "You're not responsible for all of them."
Harry tilted his head back as he let her go and gazed with empty eyes at the simulated night sky. "Yes. I am. I'm the only one who can stop him, and he kills as many innocent people he can every chance he gets."
She shifted and pulled him down so that they both sat side by side on the soft grass, and leaned her head against his shoulder again. "Well, at least you know why."
"No. Not really. All because some batty woman has a vision, and this madman decides I'm the one she's talking about. So many have died, and I'm not even that special. Or talented. Or even smart."
"You survived the Killing Curse," she murmured, dashing the drying tears away from her face.
Harry grimaced. "Big deal. So did you."
"I was just plain lucky; the idiot that shot me must not be very talented. Either that or the stupid simpering rat is just that bad a shot," she gritted out between clenched teeth.
Harry couldn't help the grim snort. "You must be talking about Wormtail."
Gwendolyn nodded. "What a stupid name for such a coward. Though he seemed to do just fine in murdering my niece." Her voice practically dropped an octave. "Maybe he prefers killing children to adults. Less threatening."
Harry rested his cheek on the top of her head and wrapped his arm around her waist. "It wasn't your fault either."
"How can I know that?" she shot back, her voice strained with the effort of holding back the tears he knew were threatening to burst forth again. "You think you're not that special. Why's Voldemort so fucking interested in me? I didn't even know anything about the wizarding world until he came along."
"Two things: you're a metamorphmagus; and, you can speak any language."
She shrugged. "No one ever told me it was that rare. It wasn't like I was around people much, you know." As if sensing Harry's unspoken confusion, she elaborated. "I was mostly home schooled. At least when I had foster parents who bothered to care about my education."
"You went through a lot of them." It wasn't a question, but merely a statement of fact. Gwendolyn had mentioned to him and his friends before that she had been shifted around quite a few foster families until one couple had seemed to truly care about her welfare, and kept her until she was an adult.
"Marcus and Adele might be a bit… weird," Gwendolyn admitted wryly. "But not once did they treat me like a freak or some sort of abomination to be tolerated. The other so-called 'families' either didn't care about me other than the money they were getting paid, or at the first whiff of my… oddness, sent me packing to the next home. I was damned lucky to come across them. Most orphans aren't."
Harry nodded a little, his cheek sliding across her silky hair. "I know what you mean."
Silence reigned for a while, with both Harry and Gwendolyn content to just sit there leaning against each other, taking and giving comfort wordlessly.
Harry sighed and felt the weight of the entire world ease up from his shoulders for the first time since he found out he was a wizard. He was only just accepting how alone he truly felt; even though he had Ron, Hermione, and his other friends to lean on, they would never truly know what it was like to be in his shoes. Amazingly, here was a woman who not only understood, but who had lived a life similar to his. And while Harry would never wish that fate on another human being, he was also selfishly glad to have met someone he could unburden his soul to without fear of recrimination or misunderstanding. To Dumbledore, no matter how much he respected or even loved him, Harry would never be anything else other than The Savior of the Wizarding World. Even with Hermione, a Muggle-born who didn't grow up with the stories and the fear that wizard-born children like Ron did about Voldemort, Harry still had a tremendous reputation to uphold. At least with Gwendolyn, Harry could be himself, admitting all of his fears, doubts, and self-recriminations without slamming up against that wall of reputation and built-up hopes he did with everyone else.
He sighed deeply, realizing just how weary he was of it all, and in response Gwendolyn carefully took his free hand in hers and squeezed it.
"My friend," she began softly, and trailed off, as if unsure how to put her thoughts and feelings at that moment into words.
Harry closed his eyes once more and turned his head to bury his face in Gwendolyn's dark hair. Without realizing what he was doing, he deeply inhaled the sandlewood scent left from her shampoo as his right arm tightened around her waist.
Gwendolyn shifted in mild discomfort, and Harry leaned away to look at her face. Sapphire eyes wordlessly questioned him, and suddenly Harry couldn't control himself.
He quickly leaned in and kissed her lightly on the mouth.
Gwendolyn's entire body stiffened, then seemed to relax as Harry's right hand let go of her waist and trailed lightly up her spine. Her soft lips parted slightly, and his stomach twisted as his left hand gently cupped her face. He deepened the kiss as she leaned in closer to him, his fingertips tracing the line of her jaw.
But suddenly Gwendolyn wrenched away from Harry and scrambled to her feet, her eyes wide and horrified.
"Que fais-je ?" she whispered in shock. Harry blinked in confusion, but when he moved to stand, Gwendolyn quickly spun around and fled the room.
"Gwen!" Harry bolted after her, and ran down the corridor towards the inner courtyard he'd spent many hours over the years with Hedwig, sitting on the edge of the empty fountain as he watched his beloved owl soaring through the air.
But Harry skidded to a halt, chest heaving, when Remus stepped into his path.
"Let her go, Harry."
But the werewolf shook his head. "Whatever's happened between you two, she's gone."
Harry's eyes widened in horror. "Gone?! No! Remus, I have to…" He moved to dart around his friend, but the older man gripped his shoulder tightly with a firm shake of his head.
"She's really upset, Harry. She came tearing through here just a few moments ago, but there's no way you're going to catch up with her. Give her some time to calm down."
Harry stood there staring at the man in dismay. "You don't understand. I made a complete ass of myself. I have to…"
Remus crooked and eyebrow and looked meaningfully at the sky. After a moment's confusion, Harry looked up to see what his friend was looking at.
High above, rising on the warm thermals, a majestic eagle screamed.
"Gwen…" Harry breathed.
"Like I said, Harry, there's no way you're going to catch up with her," Remus said quietly.
The raven-haired young man deflated like a punctured balloon. He ran both hands through his hair in utter frustration, causing clumps of it to stick out at even odder angles than they usually did. After a few moments, he raised glittering emerald eyes to meet his friend's pale blue ones. "Remus, I'm an idiot."
The werewolf smiled in wry understanding, and led Harry over to sit beside him at the fountain's edge. "My dear boy, you're not the first man to make a fool out of himself because of a beautiful woman, and you're certainly not going to be the last." He paused as a sad smile crossed his face. "Your father was definitely not the suave gentleman he thought he was… well, at least not with your mother."
Unbidden, a snort of amusement was jolted out of Harry. "Like father, like son, you mean?"
Remus nodded, his grin widening. "Exactly. Actually, it's a little surprising this hasn't happened earlier."
Harry's eyes widened. "Don't tell me… you mean that…"
Remus patted him on the shoulder. "Harry, it's been obvious for some time now that you fancied Gwendolyn."
"Is this common knowledge?" the teenager asked with a distinct bite in his tone. The last thing he wanted was people gossiping about him behind his back. Especially if it was people he trusted.
The older man merely grinned. "Your friends are quite observant, you know. Anyway," he quickly changed the subject, as he saw how Harry was working himself up to quite a foul temper. "There was that other reason I came to visit you."
Harry frowned, but reluctantly allowed the topic change. "What?"
"Walk with me, Harry." And with no further explanation the werewolf rose, turned and led the young wizard around the castle and down towards Hagrid's hut.
"Remus, Hagrid's been gone most of the year," Harry pointed out, but his friend merely smiled and continued on his way.
Within a few minutes, they were standing at the front door to the modest dwelling of the half-giant.
"Que fais-je ?"
"What am I doing?"