Light…light everywhere, the moon shining down nearly as bright as day. It gleamed off of Lavender's white nightrobe as she darted ahead; seeming to dance as she sprang into the air and spun around laughing. Morgana should have been telling her sister to settle down, but giggles were bubbling from her throat as well.
Everything hurt, but something was calling to her, setting her blood on fire. One eyelid cracked open, slitting at the ray of light coming through the boarded window.
The houses were silent; their owners away or asleep. Morgana glanced back once at her own house. It looked odd, dead, with the windows dark. Her parents were peacefully asleep; with the soundproofing deadening any noises from outside. So long as none of the neighbors spotted them, no one would ever know that Morgana and Lavender escaped to hunt for fairies whenever the moon was full enough to see by.
A dark shape slowly picked himself up off of the floor and whimpered softly before extending into a joint-popping stretch. A second, grey form joined him before they both turned to look her direction.
There was an odd bush with purple flowers in Mrs. Maddox's yard, right by the gate to the back yard. Lavender puckered her brow and went over to investigate, with Morgana following close behind. Her baby sister took a furtive look around before breaking off a branch and tucking it behind her ear. Morgana was about to scold her for stealing, when something in the shadows of the backyard moved.
Twin noses worked the air and the grey one took a cautious step forward. A snarl formed in her throat. Stay away from me!
Running…running…as hard as she could, Lavender a heartbeat ahead. Their house was right ahead, but her legs carried her agonizingly slowly. A howl filled the air and Morgana glanced back to realize that the werewolf had jumped over Mrs. Maddox's gate. The monster hurtled towards them with ground-devouring strides.
Both wolves took a startled step back at her growl. They both seemed uncertain what to make of her. The grey wolf lowered his front end and wagged his tail in a posture that she somehow recognized as an invitation to play.
Lavender took a flying leap for the tree that grew by their bedroom window, caught a branch and started swinging herself up. As though in a dream, Morganna saw the branch bend, pause, and suddenly snap. There was no sound save for Lavender's shocked gasp as she fell to the ground. Morgana hurled herself between the beast and her baby sister. There was a flash of pain and she looked down to see her arm caught in the monster's mouth.
A smaller figure stepped cautiously between the two wolves. A cat peered at her, and in the intoxicating light coming through the cracks of the hut, the werewolf found she knew exactly what to do. The cat ran for her life as Morgana charged.
Green eyes met brown and locked over the limb between them. Gasping for breath, Morgana tried to take a step back, but the werewolf tightened its grip and slowly started shaking its head back and forth, for all the world like a dog playing tug-of-war. A heavy branch slammed into the side of its head, bowling it over. Morgana looked up in bewilderment to meet the white face of Lavender. "What are you waiting for?" she shrieked. "GO!" The spell snapped and Morgana scrambled into the tree and climbed frantically for the window a story above. There was a breeze by her leg as the werewolf staggered to its feet and made one last dive for its escaping prey…and fell short.
Morgana howled in rage at the cat now sitting precariously on a shelf. Another leap failed to seize the cat, but it did connect with the shelf and knocked it to the floor. Getitgetitgetit… She made a rush for the cat and almost connected, only to be bowled over as the two forgotten werewolves both charged her. Fangs gleamed in the moonlight as they fought.
Morgana's eyes flew open to a world of pain and light. Something moved next to her and she screamed. It took a moment, but the monster finally melted into the anxious form of a very disheveled Professor McGonagall. The old woman gathered the girl into her arms, stroking her hair as Mummy had used to do when Morgana was a baby and had had a nightmare. Details slowly filtered in.
The Professor's rumpled robes looked as though they'd been slept in and this certainly wasn't the castle. Acute embarrassment set in as Morgana suddenly realized that she was naked. There was something twisted around her neck that felt as though it was shredded cloth, but that made no sense. Morgana was being offered a robe that looked like hers, but why wasn't she already wearing it? She was going to be in so much trouble after…after…what had happened last night? She tried to raise her arms as the Professor helped her into her robe, and had to bite back a cry. Belatedly she realized that she hurt all over, worse than anything she could ever remember.
Something moved over in the corner.
A naked blonde boy slowly raised himself from the floor, wincing as his joints popped. There was another boy over by the boarded window, naked as the first and already sitting up. Neither of them looked particularly surprised to find themselves there, and both were turning to look at her. Werewolves, her memory supplied. They were both werewolves and she needed to get away before…before… Memory flooded back and Morgana's gaze suddenly flashed down to her hands; the hands that looked deceptively normal, and not at all like the monster's claws they'd been last night…that they would be again next full moon…no, oh no…
Screams ripped her already raw throat and she fought desperately to wake up because this couldn't be happening, no; she had to still be dreaming…
They'd had one stroke of luck; Mummy and Dad hadn't woken. Morgana fought to keep from screaming from the pain as Lavender, tears pouring down her face, cleaned the wound on Morgana's arm. The harsh bathroom light stared down unforgivingly at the smell of witch hazel and later, bandages, as the bite slowly disappeared under a layer of gauze. An eternity later, they both inspected the somewhat sloppy dressing, before Morgana pulled her sleeve down to cover it.
There was no waking from this nightmare.
"You're saying that my daughter is a werewolf? Morgana…my Morgana?"
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Brown," Albus answered quietly. Minerva's eyes flickered from one man to the other. Albus' expression was sympathetic, but the way he sat hinted that he was braced for battle. Michael Brown, by contrast, was quickly losing the pleasant façade he'd worn when he walked into the Headmaster's Office.
"I know this must be difficult for you," Albus started, only to be interrupted.
"Difficult? We have had our differences of opinion, Dumbledore, but I sent Morgana here because despite all else, I understood that you ran a good school. A safe school! And now you sit here waffling and begging forgiveness for having somehow been stupid enough to permit a WEREWOLF onto SCHOOL GROUNDS!" He finished at a full shriek, enough to startle awake the narcoleptic portrait of former Headmaster Winksly.
"Mr. Brown, I assure you…"
"Oh, "I assure you"," Brown snarled viciously. "Rubbish! I did think that even if you lacked the good sense to want to associate with bloodthirsty monsters…yes, monsters!," his voice rising as Albus tried to cut in, "read your own damned Magical Creatures textbook!…even if you lacked any good sense whatsoever!, you would at least think twice about allowing Remus Lupin…"
"That is enough!" Minerva snapped. Both men jumped, having forgotten her presence. "Even if Lupin were to have decided to take a jaunt into Hogwarts grounds last night, you are forgetting one crucial fact!"
She leveled an icy stare as Brown tried to interupt. "Werewolves do not shapeshift the night they are bitten. For Morgana to have undergone the transformation last night, she must have been bitten at least a month previously! May I remind you that the school year has just started? This means that she was under your care when she was bitten, not ours! This also means that you failed to notify us of a potentially dangerous situation! Had Morgana transformed in the closet she was attempting and failing to lock herself into, she would have been free to attack anyone in the school!"
There was a deathly silence in the office as the blood drained from Brown's face. "A month ago," he whispered. "Last month, are you sure of that?"
"As you said to the Headmaster a minute ago, feel free to read the Care of Magical Creatures textbook," Minerva said mercilessly.
"A month! That's ridiculous, I would have…" His voice trailed off suddenly. "At the end of August, something did happen. Both of them stopped talking, but they insisted nothing was wrong. I thought it was the prospect of Hogwarts coming up. Both of them…both…LAVENDER!" He sprang from his chair and started for the door.
"Mr. Brown!" Minerva shouted after him. "Mr. Brown, if Lavender was bitten, you would have known last night! The transformation is not subtle!"
He clung to the doorframe as though it were the only thing keeping him standing. "Can you be sure of that?" he whimpered.
"Mr. Brown, I assure you that if Lavender didn't transform last night, then she was not infected along with her sister." At Albus' nod, Minerva rose and helped Brown back to his chair, where he sunk his head into trembling hands.
"Am I to understand that Miss Brown kept her condition a secret from you?" Albus enquired after a decent interval.
"Never said a thing," Brown moaned. He took a deep, sobbing breath, then lifted his head. "Is there anything that can be done?"
"Nothing medically at this point," Albus answered in a steadying voice, "but we can endeavor to make her transformations as painless and as comfortable as possible. Containment is not an issue, we have a room," shooting a warning glance at Minerva, "on the castle grounds where a werewolf can safely stay during his or her transformations. This room is where Mr. Lupin spent the full moon while he was a student here."
He paused, but Brown simply nodded. "Our Potions Master would be happy to brew up some painkilling potions that work well with the transformation, and obviously our nurse will be working closely with Morgana to help her adjust." He cleared his throat thoughtfully. "In light of recent changes in Wizarding law, you will need to stop by the Werewolf Containment Office to pick up the necessary registration paperwork…"
Both of them stared at Brown. The man seemed to have recovered from the initial shock and his jaw was set. "No?" Albus enquired. "According to the bill you helped convert to law, all werewolves…"
"I know what it says, damn it! I will not put Morgana through that! It's not her fault that she was bitten! My poor baby…" his voice came close to cracking once more.
"Well guess what, Dumbledore. Your wish has come true and you have me over a barrel." Contempt flickered across Brown's face, but it seemed to be directed internally. "You know perfectly well that I'm not going to permit Morgana to be held up as 'Brown's Downfall: as Portrayed by Rita Skeeter'. So what's your price, Dumbledore? A public apology to Lupin? A withdrawal from politics? I stay in the public eye, but undo everything I've worked towards for the past several years?"
"Damn it, Dumbledore, what price?" he shouted.
Albus peered sadly over his glasses at Brown before answering. "I admit to being disappointed. I remember a fourth-year student who requested I have him take a test a second time because he accidentally saw his neighbor's paper and was unable to forget the answers she'd put down. We disagree on many things, but I'd always thought that you'd maintained the integrity you had as a boy."
Brown actually hissed through his teeth. "This isn't about me, you old fart! If it was just my reputation, I'd face the consequences without a second thought! And you know what? I'd come back from it, see if I couldn't! But Morgana, she's done nothing wrong. I can't…I won't put her through that hell!" A bitter laugh escaped. "Mutually assured destruction. If you accept and I turn around and try to use this against you; I'm not only destroying myself, I'm destroying my daughter."
Albus pursed his lips. "For Morgana's sake, I will keep her condition a secret. I refuse to use her as leverage, however; not even if you continue to campaign against werewolf rights. Whatever course you choose to take, you have my oath that I will not bring Morgana into it."
Brown licked his lips; hinting at just how close to the breaking point the normally-composed politician was. Minerva glanced from one man to the other. Albus was playing a dangerous game. Students showing the body language Brown was were usually about one step away from going and doing something incredibly stupid. She decided to throw Brown a bone; some information he could feel he had squirreled away against them.
"Mr. Brown, as you may or may not be aware; I am not only the Transfiguration Mistress here, but a third-ranked member of the Wizarding Transmogrification Circle, and a registered Animagus. I had been considering teaching my grandsons the basics of the Animagus transformation, but I would like to extend the offer to Morgana as well."
The vertical crease between Brown's eyebrows deepened. He knew he was being offered something, but wasn't yet sure what. "I'm aware that the Animagus transformation gives immunity to werewolf infection, but I don't see how that would help…"
His voice trailed off. She could practically see his mind replaying her words, over and over again bumping into the seemingly innocent mention of the boys. "Is there a particular reason you were going to teach it to them? That isn't exactly the safest line of study, particularly for children at their level of schooling."
Out of the corner of her eye, Minerva saw Albus give her a small nod of approval. It was still hard to spit the words out. "There is. Becoming an Animagus involves, among other things, training the body to swap between forms. I had thought that this training might help ease…certain other transformations." She couldn't quite get the word 'werewolf' out. Brown's eyes widened nonetheless.
"I knew it! I knew Lupin faked that paternity…" reality caught up and he threw his hands in the air. "Of course. I finally get the information I need to nail Lupin, and I can't touch it! So. One or both of your 'grandsons'…"
"Both," Minerva put in.
"Both, then; are werewolves. I'm going to hazard a guess here and say that since the Animagus transformation reveals the inner self, there's a good chance that you were planning on them becoming unregistered Animagi since there's a damned good chance that their shapeshifts are going to be werewolves. Which you don't want widely known. Which means that Morgana will also be unregistered."
He studied her for a long moment. "So let me get this straight, Professor. You just took 'mutually assured destruction', and upped the ante to 'complete annihilation'. Either of us breaths a word about any of this, and we get to admire the beautiful scenery of Azkaban for the rest of our lives. Not to mention our children get handed off to an orphanage while in the middle of a media feeding frenzy."
"I believe that sums things up quite well." Her throat kept wanting to close on the escaping words.
He actually laughed, a hard and brittle sound that echoed unnaturally from the walls before dying a harsh death. "Very well. I accept on one condition: include Lavender in that training. It may be too late for Morgana, but at least I can try and protect one of my daughters." He stood abruptly.
"I'll take Lavender to Ollivander's immediately. Will Sunday afternoon at 2 work for the first lesson?" At Minerva's nod, he continued. "Very well, we shall be here at 2 sharp. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to see Morgana."
Albus finally broke the silence after Brown's departure. "That went rather well, considering. It wasn't quite the way I'd hoped to bring up the boys' lycanthropy, but it worked well regardless."
Minerva straightened back out of her relieved slump and fixed the Headmaster with a gimlet eye. "What were you playing at, telling him to go ahead and keep pushing anti-werewolf legislation through? Were you trying to push him away from a compromise?"
Albus just chuckled. "Never fear, he'll be withdrawing from that particular battlefield. If you blackmail a man, he'll always be looking for a way out. By allowing him to choose his course of action, you give him a stake in continuing that course."
His expression grew more serious. "His moral fiber has weakened since his student days. There was a time when he would have never considered making such an offer, no matter the consequences. I just can't decide if it's due to his family being threatened, or if it's the natural consequence of becoming a politician. It's a rather serious distinction," he added.
Minerva couldn't have cared less at the moment. "Either way, it works in our favor. Now before I leave, I wanted to talk with you about Morgana's behavior last night. I'm not sure I like the idea of putting her in with the twins, not after seeing how vicious…
The rain poured down as though it were running late for an appointment with the ground. He could feel it pushing against his skin, trying to bring him to the earth, but his broom kept him suspended between sky and ground. The water was forced to admit defeat and ran down his body, taking with it the mud that he'd tripped and fallen into earlier. Neville carefully let go of the broomstick and raised his arms until they were straight out.
His eyes slowly closed. With nothing but the rain surrounding him, it was easy to imagine that his arms were scaly wings and that a dragon soared hundreds of feet in the air. He could feel the warmth of flame inside him and the rain run off of his scales instead of soaking into clothing. The breeze shifted under him and he tilted his wings to catch it…
Neville blinked rapidly and picked himself up from the ground again. He was a little startled, but the grass had cushioned his fall. He carefully got back onto his broom and set it hovering where the grass was just out of reach if he pointed his bare toes.
He was flying, soaring higher than any other creature dared go…
A bell tinkled softly as Gran pushed the door to Ollivander's open and slipped inside. She glanced quickly around the dim, uninhabited room, then gave a sigh of relief and pushed the hood of her cloak back while waving him and Terry in. She was just opening her mouth to give them instructions, when a voice behind the counter spoke. "Why good morning, Professor!"
James sprang back and tripped over the spindly chair behind him. That man had not been there a second ago! A pale figure hastened from behind the counter as James tried to disentangle his legs from the chair's. "Dear dear, you haven't come to hurt, have you? That chair, it always seems to be in the way."
Standing again, and putting a little distance between himself and the strange man, James shot a quick glance at his family. Terry was fine, if wide-eyed, but Gran was wincing and gingerly rubbing her elbow. Mr. Ollivander was looking curiously from one face to another. "So these are Caroline's boys. They take more after their father, I suppose? I would have liked to have met him…though I suppose as a Muggle he wouldn't have been much interested in a wand. Gracious, I hadn't expected to see these two until this summer! Getting a head start on their education?"
"Yes indeed," Gran answered firmly. "Ten is not too early to start in on the basics. Besides," and her voice took on an edge, "with all the reporters we've had stalking us, I'd prefer the boys to know their basic hexes." The two adults shared tight smiles.
"Excellent point, Professor!" Ollivander agreed. "Shall we get started…oh, what's this?" His eyes widened at the sight of the wand Gran had just handed him. "I could swear…why, yes it is: oak and phoenix feather, ten and a quarter inches, pliable; an excellent wand for transfiguration! The feather came from a particularly fine phoenix, has given me eighteen feathers so far and all of them have made quite good wands. Yes yes, very good wands indeed, and this particular one I sold to Alec Martin when he started Hogwarts twenty-one years ago."
James shared a glance with Terry. Did the man ever stop talking?
"But how extraordinary!" the pale man was exclaiming in response to Gran's explanation. "Yes, I would be surprised indeed if this wand had not taken a new owner. Who did the actual disarming?"
Terry gulped and slowly raised his hand. Ollivander immediately scurried over and patted him on the back while simultaneously pressing the wand on him. "Now which is your wand arm…good, good. Now, give it a try!" He backed off a few paces and watched in anticipation.
Terry looked uncertainly to Gran, who nodded encouragingly, then he shrugged and gave it a sharp swish and flick. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Ollivander all but squealed in delight and hurried over to rescue the wand box that was drifting dangerously close to a towering stack of empty boxes. "Excellent! Here, let me just take it and check for damage…no, it's fine; you've been keeping it well-maintained. There now!" and somehow the wand was suddenly in a box and being presented to Terry with a bow.
"There now," he said again, and James had to fight the urge to jump back as Ollivander descended on him. "Which is your wand arm…oh really, your left?" He stopped and looked up in surprise, then shrugged it off. "Left, then. Let's restart those measurements," he instructed the tape measure circling James' ankle. Then he was off, darting here and there among the dusty shelves.
"Let's see, perhaps this one. Holly and dragon heartstring, ten inches, springy. Go on, give it a wave…no, no; here, try this one. Hazel and unicorn hair, twelve and three-quarter inches…perhaps not. Give this a swish: vinewood and phoenix feather, eight and a quarter inches…"
James quickly lost track of how many wands he'd tried. A pile of boxes was mounting on the counter and everything was starting to blur together. Ebony…oak…yew…hazel again… Terry, who was sitting in the chair and starting to look bored, had been lucky. He'd gotten his wand handed to him; he didn't have to worry about having to borrow Gran's wand. It might help if Ollivander didn't seem so delighted about the whole thing.
"A tricky customer, but don't worry, we'll find your wand…here, give this one a wave…no, let's try this one…hmm, perhaps…" and he seemed to have taken the wrong box down, "oh dear, this one was not…well…" and he actually paused for a moment to consider, "yes, why not. Not what I would have picked for Caroline's son, but your measurements seem to contradict…here, holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple; an unusual combination, but…"
James suddenly lost all track of what Ollivander was saying. The wand felt alive somehow, almost as though it were an old friend that had been waiting for him. He raised it to eye level and swished, and a shower of red and gold sparks poured from its tip.
Gran had tears of pride in her eyes, while Terry gave an exaggerated yawn and pretended to be waking up, which made James stick his tongue out at his brother. Ollivander didn't seem quite so happy now, and he kept repeating, "curious, curious," while he wrapped up the box.
James finally had to ask. "Sorry, but what's curious?" He saw Gran try to wave him off, but Ollivander was already answering.
"I remember every single wand I've ever sold, Mr. Evans. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand gave another feather, just one other. That wand did many great things before it and its owner were defeated by the Boy Who Lived. Terrible, yes, but great. Curious indeed that your measurements are very like his." His head tilted to one side as he studied James. "Yes, thirteen and a half inches. Yew. Curious how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember… I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Evans."
James swallowed. For a moment he wanted to drop the wand, then the warmth against his palm reminded him of the moment he'd first closed his hand around it. A wand that felt that friendly couldn't be evil…could it? Terry was eyeing the wand with the same unease James felt inside.
"I'm sure it can't help who its brother belonged to," Gran said abruptly. "I don't believe even Chelsea Mooncalf has proposed a link between corruption and wands." Having made up her mind, she briskly pulled out her bag. "Now, I owe you how much?"
James' spirits rose once they were back outside in the warm sunlight. None of this had gone the way he'd imagined, but it was over and he had a wand of his own. Gran was right: no wand that felt like that could be Dark. He lost himself daydreaming of Hexing Peeves until the poltergeist turned tail and fled.
Albus Dumbledore was hardly a stranger to sleepless nights, but he had been hoping that this particular milestone would pass uneventfully. Harry might not have had a usual upbringing, but it was hardly one to be sneezed at. He had a brother, a loving mother-figure, respectable role models, and seemingly a fair grasp of right and wrong. And yet, that wand had been the one to pick him, and not for lack of other choices. A fascinated Ollivander and a perturbed Minerva had both stressed just how many wands he'd tried.
Albus studied his pensieve for a long moment before carefully adding two more silver threads to the swirling mass. A tall, handsome boy rose up and stood rotating atop a silver floor. Albus rested his hands on the edge of the Pensieve and sighed heavily. It was looking more and more as though he had been correct about the nature of the link between Tom Riddle and Harry Potter, and that was one guess he would have preferred to be wrong.
Speaking of peace of mind, granted that wand was a rather unusual combination, but he must make sure that neither Minerva nor Harry ever found out that that wand had waited nearly thirty years for its owner to claim it.
As Stephy-Lou Clark-Weasley and Quacked Lurker reminded me in the comments for the last chapter, I stuck a segment (specifically: Percy becoming a prefect) in a summer too soon. Whoops! I'll be removing that section and putting it in chapter 49 or 50 where it belongs. Thanks for the sharp eyes!
Also, you've probably noticed that we're coming up very quickly on age 11 for the twins. Yes, this story will be ending there. However, there will be a sequel (or two, depending on how many chapters the school years take up) By the Dark of the Moon that covers Hogwarts. So if anyone's interested in what happens after this story is complete, check my profile for the sequel. I may also put in a link to the next one at the bottom of the last chapter. I apologize in advance for my glacial updates. *sigh* Isn't procrastination wonderful? Happy Spring to you all!
P.S. I don't know how many of you are music fans, much less listen to music while reading, much less are interested in what goes through a writer's head while s/he's writing; but music and stories are closely intertwined in my head. One is rarely there without the other. If anyone (because of insanity or anything else) is at all interested in what I had on loop while I was writing this chapter, try playing Two Steps From Hell 's song/soundtrack "Freedom Fighters" while reading the first and last sections of this chapter.