I'm not too happy with this chapter, but I've been tinkering around with it for a while now, and I think it's past time I posted. The quote in italics is from Hamlet, and there are thematic overtones from it as well.
Chapter 8: Twist and Shout
James cleared out his study desk, and cast a containment ward before pulling out the Gaunt ring from his drawer, examining it speculatively. As Sirius had earlier noted, it was certainly heavier than its material constituents, and only very powerful magic would leave such a tangible trace. He muttered "incendio," starting a carefully contained fire that he nevertheless escalated to a white hot state at which ordinary gold, even if magically reinforced, would start to show signs of melting. The ring withstood this temperature, as James had half expected it would, given his friends' story of how they had acquired the object. He had hoped not to destroy the ring but to try and burn out whatever dark impurity was therein contained, but it seemed as though fire could have no effect on it. James examined the inscription on the ring again, wondering if that contained any clue. There were three coarsely carved sheaves of wheat inscribed on the ring – the Peverell crest, as Remus had identified it. Remus had done some further research on the subject after his return from the Gaunt shack, although he seemed to shirk from coming in contact with the ring itself. He had found that this was not the only crest the Peverells had adopted. The alternative crest bore a charging lion, much like the Gryffindor crest, and James had to wonder how such insignia could be associated with a family that was so deeply associated with the Slytherin line. Neither symbol gave James any guidance as to how he might unbind the enchantment on the ring, or even how he could get it to manifest itself.
A knock on the door interrupted James's reverie, and he looked up to see Sirius enter, carrying a rather fretful Harry.
"What's the matter?"
"Would you mind if I left the little fellow in here with you? I need to head out for a bit. He seems a bit restless, and I didn't want to leave him alone in this state, even with Lily watching."
"What about Remus? Is he out as well?"
"No, he's in his room, but he's already looking feverish and a bit restless. It's going to be a bad moon tonight."
"It's early, yet. He shouldn't be feeling much of anything. Are you sure it's not something else? Could he and Harry be getting sick, do you think?"
"I'm not sure about this one, but I don't think Remus is sick with any sort of Muggle illness. He's starting to get a bit delirious even, mumbling and muttering things. And he keeps rubbing that ear where he was bitten. If anything it's some sort of poisoning by that snake inferious."
"What was he muttering about?"
"I don't know. I cast a relaxing charm on him and told him to get a bit of rest. He was starting to doze off when I came up here."
"I'll have to look in on him a bit later."
"What about tonight? Are you planning on joining us?"
"Yes, I was planning on it. If you think it'll be a bad moon it's all the more necessary."
"And what about Harry?"
"I have that planned out. Althea's told me she's happy to look after the boys, and we've babysat for Dean a few times, so I don't feel too bad imposing on her."
"But you need a good story if you're leaving him there for the night."
"Yes, I'll tell her that a friend of mine got in an accident, and I'll need to be there at the emergency room to support him, since he hasn't any family. It'll look true enough if she comes by to visit tomorrow and gets a glimpse of Remus."
"That's not bad. Strictly a one time excuse, though."
"We'll worry about that when it comes to it. Who knows, we may even be able to tell her the truth some day. Muggles don't have the same prejudices that our kind do."
"It's not your secret to tell, James. Have you even told her about her own husband yet?"
"No, I haven't been able to. I feel like I should know something more about what happened to him before I do. It's strange under the best of circumstances, but I really know nothing about him."
"You could get her in touch with his family. At least she'd have support for the baby."
"And what if they're old fashioned purebloods? There had to be some reason he hadn't even told his parents about her."
"Regardless of which it's something for them to figure out, not you, James."
"Where are you off to, anyway?"
Sirius gave him a slightly sheepish look.
"I have some things I need to take care of."
"Would these things have to do with the ungodly racket I hear coming out of your room when you think no one's listening?"
"Well, whenever your sorry excuse for a band gets its act together, let us know. We'll come down to the pub to rag on you."
"Piss off, Potter."
"Language, Black. That's my son you're holding."
"Never thought James Potter's son would have such delicate ears. Heavy little blighter he is, too. Down you go, moppet. Go to Daddy, now."
Sirius put Harry down, and the boy stumbled towards his father, walking awkwardly. He seemed to have skipped the crawling stage altogether, which James took as a sign of stunning precocity. Of course, it did mean that the boy stumbled and tripped more than he might have otherwise. Today, he made it over to James with relatively little trouble, and allowed James to pick him up and perch him on the edge of the large desk, waving to Sirius as he headed out of the house. Once Sirius had left, Harry turned around, looking at what James was working on, reaching immediately for the large, shiny ring.
But Harry was an active child, and had grasped the ring before James could stop him. He fiddled with it slightly, but settled down with a look of intense concentration that James had seen before in those intense green eyes, but not in his little boy.
"Want to come out? Play with Harry, play with Moony? No, go away!"
James was growing increasingly alarmed; he wanted to grab the ring out of Harry's hands, but he didn't know if that would do more damage, and he didn't really understand how the enchantment was affecting his son. His alarm escalated into shock as Harry spoke again, this time in a sinister hiss quite different from his piping boyish voice. Suddenly, Harry looked up, meeting his eyes with a look of alarm, and flung the ring across the room. He tried to speak again, starting to hiss before James finally overcame his paralysis and picked up the boy, cuddling him in his lap.
"Are you alright, Harry?"
Harry hugged him, settling himself more closely against his father.
"Will you say something, poppet? Did that ring talk to you?"
Harry started speaking in a rapid stream, as James tried to figure out what the boy was talking about. Fortunately the boy had reverted to English after James picked him up, and James set aside the morning's great revelation, that Harry was a parselmouth, and focused on understanding what the boy was saying.
"Bad friend, bad ring. Wants to come out – magic genie, play with Harry, but take away Moony. Turn into Moony but not Moony. I said go away, no take away my friend. Tried to tell me good, but bad! Harry want Moony, don't want ring genie in Moony. Genie talking to Moony, always talking to Moony – inside Moony's head."
"Is the ring still talking to you, Harry?"
"Not Harry, Moony. Wants Moony."
"Can you still hear it, though?"
Harry looked up at James and shook his head violently.
"No want to hear voices! No want ring!"
"No, Harry, of course not. Let's get you out of this room."
He picked up the boy, relieved, and went down the hall. He certainly didn't want his son involved in a situation like this, especially since they still weren't quite sure what they were dealing with. Harry still seemed spooked by his encounter with the ring. He clung on to James far more tightly than he normally would, and while James was equally reluctant to let him go just yet, he did have to wonder how he would handle it if Harry's behavior did persist throughout the day. On this night, Remus's need was greater than Harry's, and he especially needed to find out what was going on with Remus before nightfall came. He and Sirius hadn't really probed Remus on what had happened since the night they had acquired the ring, and perhaps Remus hadn't really known either. Harry had cast quite a different light on the matter, but he was still a toddler, and his somewhat incoherent rambling was really more than James had expected. He could hardly tell them exactly what he was hearing, even if he was a well spoken child for his age; he barely understood what could be going on in a situation like this, and James would hardly want him to understand. He was suddenly glad that Remus had spent so much time reading Harry fairy tales, especially the Arabian Nights. James had privately been skeptical of how much the little boy had understood, but Harry seemed to enjoy Remus's reading and the exotic pictures, and because of it now he had something of a vocabulary to tell them what he was hearing.
He took Harry down to Remus's room, hoping that seeing him would make Harry feel a little better, and not unsettle him further. Remus was still in bed, as Sirius had said, and he seemed rather restless. Nevertheless, he sat up as saw James and Harry come in, and motioned for them to sit down on the foot of the bed. As they did so, Harry crawled out of James's arms, and went and gave Remus a tight hug.
"What's the matter, James?" Remus asked, situating Harry on his lap and ruffling his hair.
"How are you feeling, Remus?"
"Not terribly well, but that's not so unexpected, on a full moon morning."
"Are you hearing things?"
Remus frowned, tugging at his ear.
"Not exactly. My ear's starting to act up a bit, though. I thought I was hearing some whispers in my head when I was sleeping, and I didn't really get a lot of rest, but I'm not hearing voices in my head now. Why do you ask?"
"It's that ring. Harry said it's talking to you. I think it's trying to possess you."
"Harry?" Remus raised an eyebrow, skeptically, but he frowned, not able to altogether dismiss the notion. Harry squirmed a little in his lap, tugging at his shirt to get his attention.
"Ring genie wants Moony. Bad ring!" he piped up. He tried to say more, but stumbled over his words, and grew visibly frustrated until Remus nodded at him earnestly and ruffled his hair again. He cuddled the little boy, looking up inquisitively at James.
"It turns out Harry's a parselmouth."
"Anyway, that's not important. What's important right now is that when Harry picked up the ring, he could hear a voice talking to you in parseltongue. He says the voice is in your head; as near as I can tell, there's something in that ring that's trying to possess you. That's what Harry seems to be calling a genie."
"But I'm not a parselmouth; I can't understand anything it's saying."
"Apparently not, when you're awake, at least."
"But when I'm asleep…" Remus stared out of the window with a distant look on his face, as though he was trying to fit the pieces of some kind of puzzle together, "I haven't been sleeping very well for a few days now; I wake up with all these strange notions in my head. And it's getting worse; this morning especially. My ear is really starting to throb."
"It's that inferius; it poisoned your ear. I told you you should have had it looked at."
"This isn't the sort of thing the Healers would have checked for, anyway," Remus countered, then murmured, "In the porches of my ear did pour the leperous distilment, whose effect holds such an enmity with the blood of man."
"So when you're not in control of your rational faculties…"
Remus's eyes widened, "…like tonight. It's going to try to possess the wolf."
"We'll have to keep you away from that ring, of course. I'll find a place to keep it secure."
"I wonder if that's the best idea."
"What do you mean? We can't let it possess you!"
"One way or another, Moony's the one who's going to have to fight it off."
"Not alone. And not tonight."
"I'm not sure physical proximity will stop the ring. It's going to want to come after me regardless."
"We can experiment when we have more information. For tonight we'll play it safe."
"You and Harry have to be out of the house one way or another."
"Are you out of your mind? Of course I'll be there. It's even more urgent now."
"And what about Harry? I won't have him in the house, especially if he can hear any of this. Bad enough that's he's involved in it this far."
"That's planned out already. I'll take him over to Althea's once Sirius gets back. She's agreed to watch him for the night."
"Try and get some rest, mate. You'll need your energy tonight."
"I'm not sure what good that'll do. I'll try some occlumency exercises, see if I can clear my head a bit that way."
James clapped him on the shoulder, picked up Harry, and left, pulling Remus's door shut. Regardless of the impression he had tried to give Remus, he was apprehensive about the upcoming night. Grateful as he was for what advance notice Harry had managed to give him, he really didn't want his son involved in any of this, and he wondered whether the physical distance would be enough to insulate Harry from the effects of this. None of them had any clear idea about what they could do about this. Brute force was not a solution he wanted to try, at least not before he knew what the consequences of this might be. If they had more time, they might have been able to devise some subtler plan, but that would require Remus to think this through in a clearheaded manner, which he certainly would not be able to do today. For tonight, they would just have to ride it out, and hope for the best.
Moonrise that night was relatively early, and by the time James returned after dropping Harry off, Remus had already retired to the cellar. Sirius, fortunately, had been home to make sure Remus was alright. He had sat with Remus all afternoon after his return, and had helped him downstairs when Remus had gotten nervous for the impending night.
"About time you got here, Prongs!"
"Sorry, mate, I had to explain Harry's things to Althea. He's been feeling a bit restless after this morning, and it's not like she'll be able to call me if something goes wrong tonight."
"Fair enough, but we're cutting it a bit fine. Come on, let's go downstairs."
As he and Sirius entered the basement James shut the door and put up a slew of locking and soundproofing spells. He walked down the stairs to the cot where Remus sat, rickety already from the wolf's battering in the three moons they had spent in this house. Remus was shivering slightly and covered in a threadbare blanket. It should have been a familiar sight from all the moons they had spent together, as boys and men, but something was different tonight. Remus was looking distinctly more off-color than he had been that morning. He was muttering to himself distractedly, shaking his head and tugging absently at his left year. Apparently the poison had gotten strong enough that he could understand something of the parseltongue even while awake.
"No, stop that whispering, I won't let you, I'm not… keep it far away from me; it won't reach me."
"Has he told you what he's been hearing?"
"Not really. He's been like this most of the afternoon, very distracted. Every once in a while he tries to sit up and explain something important to me, but most of the time he's just mumbling back and forth. We should have had Pomfrey look at it."
"Remus would never have agreed. It looked just fine. I couldn't even find the bite marks the next morning."
"You know as well as I do that's not natural. There was some dangerous magic at play at that house. I'm sorry we went in there without scoping it out properly."
"Has he told you what he's hearing from the ring? Harry wasn't really able to tell us much, obviously."
"This doesn't make sense though. What sort of voice can that ring have? We're not hearing anything, and even Harry didn't when he wasn't touching it, right?"
"We weren't the ones who were bitten by that snake. You said yourself there was no way Remus could have known to retrieve the ring from the fire if the suggestion hadn't come from somewhere."
"But he said it was fine. It stopped right after he grabbed the ring out of the fire. He's been completely normal the last two weeks."
"Obviously, it's affected the wolf, somehow. I should have played around with that ring a bit more. There's something funny about it. It's just not supposed to be that heavy, and the fire didn't affect it at all. There are some strong magics bound up in there."
Remus convulsed, violently, still muttering. James sat down next to him, replacing the covers, and Sirius crouched by them. As he shifted, Remus looked up at James, distractedly.
"No, don't… Oh, James, it's you. I thought…"
"Remus, can you tell me what's happening? Are you hearing the voices now?"
"Not me, the wolf… it's getting closer. I… I think it's possessed, James. The voice is trying to talk to me through him, taunt me. You have to fight it, James. It wants something; you mustn't let it win. I'm so sorry."
"It's alright, Moony. We can handle the wolf."
"No, James. You don't understand. It won't just be Moony tonight. He's fighting this as much as I am, he's been fighting it all month, I think, but it's strong, and he'll be alone tonight. I… I won't be here, really, and it's trying to slip in through the cracks and tempt Moony or force him. You… have to help him, and if he's losing, you have to fight him."
"What are you saying, Remus?"
"I haven't much time, James." Remus was gasping now, and James recognized the last throes of humanity before the change set in, "It's all up to you and Sirius now. You have to fight this… I've trusted you with this for so long… I'm trusting you now, to put Moony out of his misery."
"No! It won't come to that."
"I… can't make any promises, James. It's in your hands."
And James knew better than to argue with that. As Remus went rigid, then started to shudder all the more violently, Sirius morphed into the large black dog that was Padfoot. James stood up, and fluidly transformed into the powerful stag, shaking out his antlers. He wasn't looking forward to putting them to use on his friend tonight.
A low howl that gradually gathered in strength alerted James that Remus's transformation had commenced. James and Sirius took their positions around the bed, ready to corral the wolf. A long moment later, it shook off the blankets and landed on the floor with a savage grace that belied the agony of only a few moments previous. The wolf growled, its hackles raised, unmistakably hostile to the animals it normally knew to recognize as friends. James stomped his hooves, issuing his warning to the werewolf, and preparing to be charged. It would be a long night tonight, and he wished he could be confident that they would all come out of it unscathed.