Chapter Fifty-One: Lions and Wolves
Relieved without really knowing why, Shadow streaked as fast as his paws could carry him toward Gryffindor Tower. Something important had just happened, he fully realized, but the significance of it escaped him. But if the Man In Black was happy, well…
As he trotted along, he could sense Mrs. Norris' discreet but persistent presence behind him, and he smiled to himself. The breathing that had terrified him so much, once upon a time, was now comforting, just like the clanking of the armor he brushed against along the way.
As had become her habit, the Fat Lady's portrait slid graciously open to let him pass, and it was as a conquering feline that the cat made his entrance info the Gryffindor common room.
To his great satisfaction, he saw Ron and Hermione seated near the fire, distractedly watching over the youngest students scribbling away on their parchments. The cat's arrival made them look up, and smiles appeared on their faces.
"Back already?" Ron asked.
Shadow contemplated the notion of jumping onto the table and leaving paw prints on their homework, but he decided not to. What he wanted most was to talk.
"Don't ask me why, but for some reason I'm Kreacher's new idol!"
"Oh Harry, that's great!" Hermione gushed. "What happened?"
"It's a long story, but it turned out rather well. I think I have a second Dobby at my service now."
"And that's good news?" Ron asked. "I mean, last I heard, you weren't a big fan of Kreacher's."
"That's true," Harry admitted. "I don't know. I talked about it a bit with Severus, and…I suppose you were right, Hermione. It's hard to believe he's changed his mind so quickly, that said. One moment he hated me, and a second later, he threw himself at me, thanking me."
"Kreacher is old," Hermione pointed out. "Maybe he's not entirely right in the head."
Harry couldn't help but laugh. "He ended up saying what a great wizard I am, so he certainly is!"
"I'm curious to hear this story," Ron said. "I have a feeling it's a good one!"
"Yes and no. But I'll tell you later. Right now, I have something else to ask you," Harry answered, sitting down with them. "What happened with Malfoy in Potions class?"
Ron and Hermione exchanged a knowing look, which made Harry even more curious.
"What? What did he do?"
"Well, it seems Draco is really in a touchy situation, and it's getting on his nerves," Hermione began. "I don't know if you knew, but he's been getting threats from other Slytherins."
"But I thought most of the Death Eaters' children had gone off to Durmstrang?"
"Makes no difference," Ron said. "It's not like Malfoy was particularly popular."
"I would've thought the opposite to be true, though."
"Well, I suppose his influence, his money and his family worked to his advantage up until now," Hermione explained. "But he used them to lead his house by the wand, and most of his housemates resented that."
"And now he finds himself with no family, fortune, or ally," Harry murmured.
"Exactly. And the result is he can't hang with the others anymore, and he has to sleep in a place that's kept secret. It seems the others are making a point of complicating his life all the time, especially during classes. There've been a few dangerous episodes."
"And then, there's a rumor," Ron went on. "You Know Who would offer a reward to whoever could bring him Malfoy…or part of his person."
"Pardon?" Harry choked out.
"Yeah, a finger or an arm, that sort of thing."
Harry felt his eyes bulging in their sockets. "Has to be a joke."
"A rumor," Hermione said cautiously. "But it's enough to tempt some people. And Potions class, well…that's potentially the most dangerous place."
"Ask Neville," Harry murmured. "I really want to believe you."
"Right at the start, Snape had Malfoy working at his desk, while he himself did a potions demonstration in his own cauldron off to the side."
"In fact," Hermione stated, "the professor was working on several potions at the same time. I suppose he must've got a bit behind lately."
"Probably," Harry said, without understanding where his friends were taking this.
"The class was going rather well, actually. Slughorn was walking the aisles, checking our potions, while Snape was showing how to do them."
"It was really a good idea," Hermione added. "Very interesting. But…"
She glanced quickly at Harry. "Well, it was obvious the professor was having a spot of trouble managing all his potions at once."
"Snape having trouble with potions?" Harry laughed.
"Yes. It wasn't really noticeable if you weren't watching, but he had to recast his spells several times on certain cauldrons and…"
"He was rather irritated," Ron finished. "It was clear he was frustrated. And the more irritated he got, the more bothered Malfoy got in own corner. In the end, that imbecile of a ferret stepped over and cast a spell himself on a cauldron, while Snape was working at another."
Harry had paled, but he motioned for them to go on.
"And at that, Snape got outright furious. I've never seen him attack Malfoy, but this time made up for all the others. He shouted at him to mind his own business and stay at his place, and a few other choice bits from Snape's Book of Insults."
"Actually, it wasn't as bad as all that," Hermione corrected, "it was more the look on his face. Anyway, Draco didn't take it well at all. I suppose it was the first time the professor talked to him that way, and…then, instead of obeying, Draco started to shout as well, how Professor Snape was ungrateful, that he needed Draco, and given he didn't have much of his own powers anymore…"
"He said 'hardly anymore powers than a Squib'," Ron clarified, earning himself a dark look from Hermione.
"…Draco told him he'd better get used to accepting help from more powerful wizards. No need to say that didn't go over very well."
"Seeing how it ended, him saying that was rather funny," Ron concluded. "Because being so angry must've brought Snape's strength back, or something like that; he didn't say anything, be he made a move with his wand and the door opened, and Draco found himself outside, head over heels, before he had time to say, 'Ummf!'"
"It was rather impressive," Hermione said with a slight smile. "As it was the end of the hour anyway, everyone left shortly afterward, and Draco had disappeared. I doubt he appreciated it. But Snape was really beside himself. I suppose not many knew about his powers."
"That said, after what he did to Draco, I doubt many took his so-called handicap seriously," Ron added.
"The situation is complicated enough as it is without that imbecile adding to it," Harry grumbled. "Malfoy is a pretentious moron, and a pretentious moron I'm going to have to deal with, apparently."
"How so?" Ron asked curiously.
"Severus told me to make an effort. That it was hard for precious Draco to turn his back on his family, and…Him. But it's not only Severus, I mean…that prat can be totally unbearable at times; he even found a way to ask Severus to adopt him too! But on the other hand, I don't know. I suppose we can't let him fail. Severus is right; if he's pushed to go back to Voldemort, nothing's been gained."
"As a line of reasoning, that seems a bit silly," Ron said. "The prat's just a nasty boy with a father who's spoilt him. Let him fend for himself."
"It's more complicated than that, Ron. Harry's right," Hermione sighed. "But I'll admit I'm in no hurry to ponder the matter."
"Still, tell me you're not going to get all buddy-buddy with Malfoy?"
"Ron, we're at war, and Malfoy… Draco is on our side."
"Apparently. For now," Ron corrected.
"Yeah, well, we're going to have to work it out so it stays that way," Harry sighed. "Severus is right. We can't discount anyone."
"I think he's got a lot of nerve, with all his lofty principles," Ron said indignantly. "I don't recall him being particularly nice to Sirius or Remus. 'Do as I say, not as I do', right?"
"I don't think Sirius did much to help matters," Hermione pointed out. "As for Remus…" She hesitated.
"I actually think they made a sort of non-aggression pact," Harry said. "I haven't heard them insulting each other lately."
"Boys," Hermione sighed. "But someone really has to take the first step. I…" She took a deep breath. "I'm going to see if Draco needs help with his homework."
Her two friends looked at her as if she'd suddenly sprouted a new head alongside the other.
"Hermione, are you feeling all right?" Harry asked, worried.
"Perfectly. I'm just going to class and asking him if he needs anything. That shouldn't be so complicated. Like you said, a non-aggression pact."
"Hermione, you don't even know where Draco is," Harry patiently pointed out.
"That's right. But with your map, that'll be child's play."
"I don't have it on me, and I really don't want to go back to the dungeons just now, but…I suppose you could ask McGonagall. She's sure to be glad to help."
"Super idea! That way I can ask her for details on his class schedule today; I'm sure there's another way of…" She stopped when she noticed their unfocused eyes. "No matter. Ron, you're coming with me."
"Excuse me?" he asked with a jump. "No way! Homework, Quidditch! Not a chance!"
"Your idea, your problem." The boy hurriedly extricated himself. "Us two, we have a planning meeting on the Quidditch pitch to, uh, talk over strategies with the team. Right, Harry?"
"Ahhhh…absolutely. Right. Good of you to remind me. Quidditch. Yeah."
Hermione rolled her eyes and got up, seeming stiff and starchy.
"Very well, as usual, I'll do all the work on my own. But I'm warning you, when Dumbledore has Draco play on a different Quidditch team to promote inter-house harmony, don't count on me to support you. I'm curious to see what Malfoy will look like in burgundy on a broom."
And, lifting her chin, she left the room, leaving the two boys horrified.
"She was joking, right?" Ron asked.
"I…think so," Harry replied. "I mean, Dumbledore would never do such a thing, eh?"
A heavy silence fell between them.
"Maybe we'd best have this meeting while we still can, don't you think?" Ron suggested.
"Hmm. I'll go get the team…and two or three others along the way. Substitutes. You never know."
"Right," Ron agreed. "Get Ginny. Even Neville if you have to."
"Let's not go overboard," Harry murmured, heading off for the dormitories.
From behind the portrait, Hermione smiled with satisfaction before going on her way.
Not far from there, unaware of Gryffindor maneuvering, Severus was headed for Hagrid's hut, trying to remain as discreet as possible. Lupin himself was probably hiding out somewhere, and it wouldn't do to attract Hagrid's attention. Whatever others might think of the half-giant, Hagrid's ears were particularly sharp, and not much escaped his notice in his own territory.
So a detour through the copse of trees was in order, and Snape quickly congratulated himself for his caution when he heard the sounds of a dispute down below. Lupin's voice, he realized; so the werewolf had changed his observation point. But it was the second voice that make his ears perk up. Not Loki, even less Hagrid: this voice was female and familiar. Politeness would've certainly required him to do an about-face, but curiosity and his spy reflexes won out, and he stealthily crept forward, careful to stay under cover.
"How do you want me to take it?" the young woman was asking bitterly. "You didn't even make an effort to tell me to my face!"
"Nymphadora, it's not exactly as if…"
"And it took me coming here on the sly, pretending to go to the library like a first year! You didn't even invite me to come and see you!"
"I'm truly sorry," Remus sighed, "everything happened so quickly. I wanted to talk to you, but I didn't know where to start and…"
"You've known since this summer," Tonks raged on, "and you didn't say a thing to me! Not a word!"
Vaguely amused, Severus settled himself more comfortably against a tree to take in the spectacle. Well then, Lupin was going out with the young Auror, and hadn't seen fit to alert her of his new state of paternity. Interesting.
"I didn't know myself until I found myself face to face with him," Remus replied wearily. "I was on a spying mission among them. I didn't have the slightest idea who Loki might be, nor that he existed."
"But you ended up learning of it. And you didn't think to come and talk to me about it. What sort of couple does that make us?"
Lupin let out a long sigh, and put his hands on the young woman's shoulders. "I told you. I knew it wasn't a good idea, we never should have…"
"You're not going to go off on that again!" Tonks flew into another rage. "That has nothing to do with it, and you know it very well!"
"My son is almost the same age as you!" Remus shouted. "And he's dangerous, uncontrollable, and probably in service to Voldemort! That's already enough…I refuse to put it on your shoulders as well."
"Oh, how noble and heroic you are," Tonks lashed out. "And my opinion in all this? Simply talking to me—would that've been so complicated?"
"Yes, it would've! It was too much all at once; this concerned only me, the war, Loki. He needs me, and…I have to do something. I have to make him understand what's good and what's bad."
But the Auror shook her head, clearly disappointed. "That doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't answer my question. I thought there was more than that between us. I thought that you…" She made a face, refusing to finish her sentence.
Gently, the werewolf pulled her to him. "It's true. I swear it. But I'm much too dangerous for you, even without my son. And with him, it's a risk I simply can't take."
"So I don't have any choice?"
Remus hesitated. "I thought the choice was obvious."
"And it was so much easier not to talk to me about it?"
"I wanted to," Lupin assured her. "I just didn't have the time…or the courage."
"That's too easy," Tonks growled. "You don't have the right to quit without trying!"
"I have to give all my attention to Loki," Remus sighed.
"I thought Hagrid was taking care of him?"
"That doesn't make him any less my son. No matter what Dumbledore says, I won't leave him."
"You love him, don't you?" Tonks murmured.
"He's my son," Remus repeated stubbornly. "And Loba's. I can't desert him."
"Loba…is that his mother? You were…friends?"
"We were close, yes. But Loki's birth was in no way planned."
"You've never spoken of it," Tonks pointed out.
"I didn't think there was anything to say on the subject. Our relationship was short, she simply disappeared into the wild. All because of an experiment gone bad. I never thought to hear of her again."
Behind his tree, Severus clenched his teeth. It was Lupin's fault, and his fault alone! He shouldn't try to claim otherwise!
"You should've told me," Tonks repeated bitterly. "You should've talked to me. About Loba, and Loki. You should've come to me. If you had even a bit of consideration for me…"
"I do!" Remus defended himself. "This doesn't change anything about how I feel!"
"But you're letting me down."
"No, I… Merlin, I don't know," Lupin sighed. "Nothing's been easy lately. Harry was in danger, and often because of Loki, and Dumbledore…"
"In short, you have every excuse in the world," Tonks spat out. "You didn't even have the decency to tell me to my face, and now you're looking for excuses. But if you want to leave me, Remus, you're going to have to say it outright, and look me in the eye!"
The werewolf slowly lifted his amber eyes. "I don't want to force you to go."
"No! No phony excuses! I forbid you to make this sort of decision for me. If you leave me, do it for convenience's sake, or because you no longer care for me, but not because of anything else!" Tonks cried out.
"That's not the case," Lupin murmured, defeated. "But…"
"Could you…give me some time? Time for Loki to adjust, for things…to work out, one way or another."
"Time," the young woman said icily. "I see."
"I want to explain all this to you, I really do," Remus went on. "But this isn't the right time. Maybe we could see each other this weekend? Hogsmeade is close by…"
"Not the right time, hmm?" Tonks said frostily. "Maybe I need time to think too."
"I understand," Remus sighed.
The young woman shot him an exasperated look. "I don't have the impression you understand much. I'll let you know if I'm available Saturday. Until then, try to figure out something intelligent to say."
Snape could barely hold back a snigger, before noticing that the Auror had turned on heel and was now heading straight in his direction. He quickly cast an invisibility spell, then swore softly when it failed. The woman almost ran into him, and stopped short, seeming surprised.
"Oh, Severus. I didn't see you."
Snape muttered a vague greeting, taking care not to meet her eyes.
"I'm glad to be able to talk to you alone," she continued cheerfully. "How did your inquiry turn out?"
"Well. We found the painting at your mother's, actually."
The woman's mouth dropped open. "At Mother's? But…"
"Your mother and Regulus were cousins. The painting is safe at Hogwarts now. Our case has been resolved."
"I can't believe it! Congratulations! Dumbledore must be happy. You're truly the hero of the hour."
Ill-at ease, Severus shrugged. "It's just a small step forward. The most important remains to be done."
"But thanks to you, it will be much easier," Tonks went on. "Harry owes you a great deal. I'm really happy he's finally found a family."
"Well, I suppose that's a two-way street," Snape said, glancing at Remus, who was standing motionless not far away. The expression on his face didn't bode well.
"All you did this summer and since then, the way you saved Harry…I hope you'll get a medal for that. It was truly heroic. We all owe you a lot."
"Miss Tonks, I only did what I had to do; there's nothing especially heroic in that. You do the same every day."
"Face Voldemort and then escape him?" the young woman laughed. "No, I don't think so! Fortunately for me. I'm really sorry about what happened this summer, when you were being held by that psychopath. We should've come to the rescue sooner."
Severus took a moment to remember the incident in question, and was only more perplexed when he did. Where the devil was she going with this rambling conversation?
"That would've hardly been good strategy. But perhaps you should get back to Hogwarts—the Headmaster wanted to speak with you," he said, hoping to cut the encounter short.
"I suppose; I had to get away from it all for a bit," Tonks smiled. "Anyway, thanks for everything. And today was really interesting. See you later, I hope?"
And with a cajoling smile, she quickly stroked the sleeve of his robe before taking off in the direction of the castle, leaving Snape completely dumbfounded. But as he turned back to Lupin, he suddenly understood what had just happened. Arms crossed, the werewolf was stormily watching his girlfriend as she walked off, clearly hesitating over whether to run after her or hex her.
Snape paused a moment before stepping forward. "I don't claim to have a precise idea of what was going through Miss Tonks' head, but I'm fairly certain she doesn't have the least intention of creating a fan club in my honor," he said hesitantly.
To his great relief, Lupin's eyes, when he turned to him, were weary but devoid of animosity. "I suppose you heard everything."
"A good part of it."
Remus ran a hand through his hair as he let out a sigh. "I know what you're thinking. I'm a coward."
Feeling the earth seem to shift again, Snape lifted his hands in a conciliatory gesture, inwardly cursing his defective magic. Why did that invisibility curse have to fail just then?
"I think nothing at all. Your affairs are your own business."
"Apparently, you're her new hero," Remus said bitterly, ignoring Snape's remark.
"Don't be stupid," Severus grumbled. "I don't know much about romantic relationships, but it's clear that little scenario was meant to irritate you more than to flatter me."
"I don't know. I've done everything wrong. Dora's looking for someone brave; she's not an Auror for nothing…"
"For heaven's sake!" Snape exclaimed, exasperated. "Go after her and explain yourself; she can't have gone far!"
"No, not today. Better to give her time to think about all this. I've always thought our relationship was a bad idea; she's so much younger than I…and I'm…." Remus searched Severus' eyes, but all he found there was an intense perplexity mixed with annoyance. No, the Potions master probably wasn't the best person to confide in with this sort of problem. Remus held back a smile. "I apologize. You must find me rather stupid."
Snape let out a groan that communicated more than words could. "That's probably true," he said, "but if Miss Tonks has no objections, then I don't see why you should do anything but thank god and pray that it lasts."
"Because it's not fair to her," Remus sighed. "Anyway…did you want to talk to me?"
Severus shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly. "I was coming to see if there was anything new with your offspring."
"I just missed him," Remus groaned. "Hagrid took him into the Forbidden Forest. If anything happens to him…"
"A wolf and a half-giant?" Snape asked skeptically. "I doubt it." He hesitated for an instant. It wasn't the right time to discuss his exploits of the day with the werewolf. No matter—best to keep it to himself anyway. He was about to turn away when Lupin's hesitant eyes stopped him.
"If you don't have anything to do, I plan on drowning this day in a butterbeer in Hogsmeade," the werewolf said, clearly expecting to be firmly turned down, probably with bloodshed in the bargain.
Severus thought for a moment of not disappointing him, and offering him a selection of insults and appropriate sarcasm, but the thought that Harry would be upset by it held him back. On the other hand, he had a pact with the man to honor, and he wouldn't turn down a whiskey after the day he'd just experienced.
"Why not?" he drawled, his tone conveying his actual enthusiasm.
When Remus smiled and turned to start for the village, Severus fell into step behind him.
Several hundred meters away, on the other side of the castle, the Gryffindor Quiddtich practice was coming to a close, leaving the players rather exhausted. Even the substitutes, usually less stressed by the practices, groaned as they touched down and felt gravity take hold again.
"Merlin, are you trying to kill us?" Ron moaned, groping at his back.
"Oliver would be proud of you," one of the Beaters told him spitefully.
"Maybe, but we've gone over most of our tactics and moves," Harry sighed. "That'll give us a head start in case our practice opportunities fall short in the future."
"What're you talking about?" growled another player. "We're starting up again on Monday, right?"
The entire team let out a collective sigh of painful anticipation, but all of them sported big smiles.
"In principal, yes, I reserved the pitch," Harry confirmed. "But if we have visitors…act like you've forgotten our strategies, okay?"
"A visitor like Professor Snape?" Alicia, one of the Keepers, asked cuttingly.
Harry tensed immediately. "I was thinking more like Malfoy. If the professor comes to watch, it'd only be to keep an eye on me."
"You're so naïve!" a girl exclaimed. "No way is the Head of Slytherin attending our practices!"
"My father will come to see me play as often as he likes," Harry replied icily.
No one dared to respond, but the boy couldn't help but see the dark looks his teammates exchanged with each other. It was Ginny who broke the silence.
"Of course he'll come to see you play; it'd be idiotic not to make use of his protection. With everything that's happened this year, I'll admit I'd feel better knowing he's there to ward off another catastrophe!" she said cheerfully.
Harry thanked her with a smile.
"Right," Katie said as she stretched, "I think there's only one thing left for us to do: dive headfirst in a good hot bath so we're not stiff and aching tomorrow."
The others agreed, and the team dispersed. Harry, though, hardly seemed in a hurry to go up to the Tower, and Ginny appeared very busy at carefully packing up her protective gear. Ron seemed determined to wait for his friend, but Hermione pulled him along firmly.
"Come on, hurry up, slacker. We have to monitor the first year study group."
"It's not that urgent," he started to protest, but a dark look from his friend made him change his mind. "Oh. Right. Okay, study group."
Glancing hesitantly in the direction of his sister and his friend, he finally decided to go off.
"The hard life of a prefect," Ginny said happily. "I sincerely hope Ron will be the last of the line!"
Harry smiled, before taking a deep breath and schooling his features to a more serious expression. "I'm sorry about the Seeker position," he said at last. "It's only a substitute one, and you're an excellent player."
"Don't be stupid," Ginny replied, waving his words away with a hand. "You're the youngest Seeker in a century, remember! Of course you have to be the official player, no one has any doubt about it. Substituting suits me fine; knowing you, you'll manage to miss half of the matches, being in the infirmary!"
The boy smiled again, but Ginny clapped a hand over her mouth, the words scarcely out.
"Harry, I'm sorry; that was a horrible thing to say."
"Not at all; it was very realistic," he laughed. "And thanks for what you said earlier. About my father. I know everybody's having trouble getting used to the idea."
"That's only normal," the girl said gently. "And I definitely wouldn't be happy if he attends our practices, but I'd understand. I'd like my parents to be there as well, but…if your father would stick to just the matches, I think that'd satisfy everyone."
"I suppose," Harry admitted. They were silent again, and he desperately searched for something to say…anything…this shouldn't have been so hard, bloody hell! But Ginny didn't seem to have the same problem.
"I saw a black cat wandering in the corridors earlier," she said. "Was that you?"
"Possible, but I'm not the only black cat in the place. It's insane, the number of cats prowling through the castle!"
"This one seemed in a hurry…and he had a collar."
"That's a bit vague," Harry laughed. Then, seized by impulse, he transformed into Shadow.
"Oh! No, it wasn't you; I forgot about your lightning bolt!"
Ginny seemed amused. The opportunity had been too good to miss. Shadow leapt up to snatch one of the Quidditch protective pads and began to run circles around the girl, who tried to chase him as she laughed. He finally let himself be caught, and Ginny leant over to stroke his head. The cat's eyes definitely had a dramatic effect, but she'd hardly touched him when she sneezed and withdrew her hand.
"Oh no, I'm allergic to Animagus cats as well. What rotten luck!"
Harry quickly transformed again, and worriedly came closer. "Are you all right?"
"I've got to go see Madam Pomfrey," she sighed, showing him her already reddened hand. "I'm allergic to cat hair. I just didn't think that…"
The two of them looked at each other silently for an instant.
"I'm sorry," Harry offered.
"No, it's me. I don't know what got into me; it wasn't very polite of me."
"No, I…it wasn't…well, I…" Harry took a deep breath. How was he supposed to say this?
Ginny gave him a small smile. "I really have to go," she said. "See you later, maybe?"
"Take care of yourself," Harry agreed, defeated. Defeated by cat hair. Disconcerted, he watched her walk away. Ginny, allergic to cat hair. It was probably what one might call an irony of fate.
It really shouldn't have been so important. No more than the fact that Dean met up with Ginny and delicately took her hand, stroking it as if to make the pain go away.
And yet…it was simpler to change back into Shadow and take off again for the dungeons. Shadow was less complicated and felt things differently. And at that precise moment, that was a good thing.
Not enough of a good thing, though, that he didn't glance behind him and see Dean put an arm around Ginny's shoulders. And of course, this wasn't something that should be done, but what good was having a cat Animagus form if one didn't make use of it? And still, the best way of making use of it was to be discreet and meddle in other's affairs without them knowing it.
Pushing away the memory of the Man In Black reminding him that spying was a highly risky business, the cat took off after the couple, nose down in the closely cropped ferns. This was unnecessary, though; neither of the teenagers seemed to pay any particular attention to their surroundings.
"What did he want?" Dean asked, his tone artificially light.
"To tell me he was sorry I was only a substitute."
"He should be; you're as good as he is. But Dumbledore wasn't going to pass up such a good chance, I suppose, even if Angelina's not happy about it."
"She really thought she'd be Captain; I'm sorry for her," Ginny agreed. "But Harry needs something positive to focus on this year."
"Almost all of us are in the same boat," Dean grumbled. "Potter's always been Dumbledore's little pet, and that's not about to change. You only have to look at the party he threw for the adoption."
"That was perfectly in order," Ginny protested. "That wasn't just anything!"
"Mike Earnshaw, in Hufflepuff, you know, the big blond? He was adopted by a new family too, last year. His grandmother was raising him, and she died. No family. Did Dumbledore say a word about it? No…"
"But…this was different," the girl said. "Harry was adopted by a professor. And after all that happened this summer, he deserved a bit of attention."
"Attention? Because you think he doesn't get enough?" Dean laughed. "And adopted by a Slytherin, by Snape in particular… Don't you think he might've talked to us about it beforehand? Nothing at all. We've hardly seen him since the start of term."
"Well, I'm happy for him," Ginny stated. Shadow couldn't help but sigh with relief, but a relief that was short-lived. "Even if I think he made a mistake," the girl went on.
"I thought you said it was a great idea," Dean grumbled.
"Oh, I think Professor Snape will be a good father to Harry, as much as possible. Or a good friend. Anyway, they'll get on well together, whatever the relationship they've developed."
"What Harry needs is a mother," Ginny said. "A woman to coddle him, console him, coax him, protect him. Snape protects him in a magical way, but I don't think he's the sort to coddle him…"
Dean let out a guffaw. "Whatever, the professor's going to play big brother to Harry, who's probably too grown up to settle for such a strict father. But he won't have a mother—it's not like Snape's going to get married one day."
Dean laughed again, holding Ginny against him. "Merlin, no, not a chance. No sensible woman would want someone so ugly and bitter! Maybe Harry should find himself a girlfriend like everyone else. This adoption is really weird. He's really a bit old for all this hoopla…"
"Oh, but he'll find a girlfriend," Ginny said confidently. "And she'll be the one to mother him. That's obvious."
"Poor girl," Dean murmured, clearly amused. "One can't have everything, I suppose, a boy who's a celebrity, and stable. I'm not a celebrity, but at least I don't need a second mother, I don't!"
"No, that's for sure," Ginny murmured regretfully, before stroking his cheek. "Go take your shower. I'll meet you at supper."
"Deal." And with an idiotic smile, the boy ran to catch up with the rest of the team, while his girlfriend went on her way.
Behind them, Shadow was literally flabbergasted. So this was how Ginny saw him? And Dean? Dean had always had a tendency to run him down and turn against him, but if the rest of Gryffindor felt the same way? And Angelina was cross with him? Dumbledore had given him the position just to make him happy?
And Ginny…something told him that Molly Weasley's daughter didn't look so unfavorably on the notion of mothering her boyfriend. Was what she'd said true? Was that what he was looking for? He didn't feel like he was, though…
What she'd said about Snape had been totally unfair! They didn't know the professor…obviously. The cat stretched out in the grass, feeling lost and noticeably depressed. Ginny had been right about one thing: he'd seriously neglected communicating with the Gryffindors. He'd trusted them just to be happy for him, and it'd looked like that was what'd happened. But it'd only looked that way.
He sighed. He'd go back to the Tower more often, and talk with them. But not now. No, he needed to be with his Man In Black, safe at home. Without another thought, he trotted off in the direction where his instincts told him he'd find the professor: towards Hagrid's hut.
No Mrs. Norris to follow him here, no clanking armor either, just the wind in his fur and the smell of fresh grass, and…a green shield suddenly surrounding him as he started into a particularly tight curve.
So did the Protego work even if he was putting himself in danger? But it was as he saw a sleek form narrowly miss him that he understood—no, there was indeed something or someone who'd missed crashing into him…and apparently on purpose.
Scarcely had it registered that he was now alone and far from the castle, when the hair on his back stood on end as he realized who the intruder was. A gray wolf, so light it appeared white, and so large and imposing, it seemed enormous, and also seemed to find the situation especially comical.
Stopping to face him, the animal transformed into a physically disturbing young man. His hair was much lighter than Remus', Shadow noted; only his eyes really resembled the professor's. His face was almost devoid of expression, his intense manner completely concentrated in his eyes.
"So, then, your shield works for minor threats as well. I should've expected as much."
Calmed by this statement, the cat changed into the teenager again. In this form, he could see that he was almost a head shorter than the man standing opposite him, who was, however, only slightly older than he. Life was definitely not fair.
"If you suspected, why did you try? And what are you doing here all alone? I thought you were supposed to stay locked up somewhere in one of the Headmaster's closets," Harry said, his hand on his wand.
The man's slight smiled hardly changed. "I'm taking some time off. I have people to see."
"You took advantage of Hagrid's naivety, eh? You're going to cause him trouble again; you're really nothing but a nasty cheat!"
"Hagrid isn't naïve; he's just overly loyal. He knew he had nothing to fear!"
"The proof says otherwise!"
"You're really an irritating little boy, aren't you?" Loki said with a throaty laugh.
"I don't like being attacked everywhere in the castle," Harry said shortly, keeping him in his sights.
"Poor little kitty…but you've nothing to be afraid of, with your precious protection spell. I wonder, though, how close does your master have to be for it stay in effect," the young man mused.
"He's my father, and the spell's effective wherever he is," Harry bluffed. "A shame, isn't it?"
This time, Loki smiled, showing all his teeth, making Harry shiver. There wasn't a doubt that the man had spent too much time in his wolf form.
"Annoying, I'd say. But that won't keep us from being good friends, will it, Harry Potter?"
"Friends? You're dreaming," Harry spat. "You make fun of everyone—Remus, Hagrid! You're a Death Eater like the others; I don't know what you're up to in the castle, but I'll be sure to find out. And even Hagrid won't be able to do anything more for you."
"Hmmm, but my dear father would be upset. And because of that, you would too, wouldn't you?"
Harry clenched his teeth. "Remus will be more upset if I let you kill someone."
"Humans are strangely touchy about that sort of thing," Loki murmured. "Ah well, let's agree I won't kill anyone. My father will be happy and we'll be…good friends, little cat."
Harry tried to size up his adversary, but couldn't read anything on his face but a certain amusement.
"You serve Voldemort," he reminded him. "He killed my parents. No one in service to him can be…my friend."
"But you're forgetting the leader of your own pack. No, I should say adoptive father; the leader of your pack would be Albus Dumbledore instead, wouldn't it? Hmmm, I wonder if your protector is himself protected by a magic shield as well? I have the feeling he isn't."
"Don't even think of it!" Harry roared, again brandishing his wand threateningly.
But the gesture only made Loki laugh softly.
"Come to think of it, it's a bit too late. But that doesn't mean I'll tempt my luck, does it? So long as we're good friends, I don't see any reason to do it."
"You'd better remember the last time you tried to attack him, when you ended up in another dimension," Harry sneered, recalling their outing to Diagon Alley a month earlier. Now, the wolf's smile faltered slightly.
"Yes, that was my way of going out in style," he admitted. "He must've been a formidable wizard when he had all of his magic. Too bad that's no longer the case."
Again, Harry felt himself begin to seethe. Loki was right, and they both knew it.
"In your place, I wouldn't push it," he said, all the same. "You'd be surprised."
"But I like to be surprised!"
Once more, that frightening smile. "Well now, little cat, as much as I regret it, I don't have anymore time for you just now. I mustn't get my friend in trouble."
And without further ado, nor with any fear of Harry's outstretched wand, Loki transformed into the wolf again, tail in the air, and headed for Hagrid's hut.
The animal could say what he liked, Harry didn't trust him, and wasn't about to let him out of his sight. Changing himself into the cat, he took off after the white wolf. True to his word, the wolf did indeed seem to be heading for Hagrid's hut. Shadow saw him slow down, though, head lifted in the air as if he'd spotted something in front of him. Giving in to curiosity, the cat also drew near without being noticed.
Hagrid was there, he noted, but he wasn't alone. Dumbledore was with him, or, rather, was shouting at him. Shouting was perhaps too strong of a word, but Harry had rarely seen the Headmaster in such a temper.
"I trusted you, Hagrid! And this is the second time in just as many days that you've disappointed me! Do you have any idea of how important all of this is? I entrusted the boy to you, a mission of the greatest importance, and now he's disappeared again!"
"He said he'd come back, Professor, he promised," Hagrid whined. "I know he'll keep his word, he just needed to talk to his pack, because he's the leader, you understand, and without him his family is lost!"
"Rubeus, never before have I seen you demonstrate such a lack of common sense," Dumbledore said, in a voice that chilled Shadow. The disappointment was clear in his tone, as well as his piercing eyes. "Loki's gone back to his own to fight against us, and we've lost a tremendous opportunity to keep him from doing harm. Now…"
Loki didn't wait for the rest before leaping to Hagrid's side and sitting at his feet, staring defiantly at the Headmaster. Dumbledore, Harry saw, hid his surprise well, but his meditative demeanor as he stroked his beard spoke volumes. As for Hagrid, he beamed as he stroked the wolf's head.
"Ah well, here he is, eh? I told you so. He promised me. He kept his word, he came back! That's what I was telling you, Professor. He's not bad, he just needs to understand!"
"This certainly changes matters," the Headmaster said solemnly.
It was at that instant that Shadow realized that he'd not been the only one to watch the scene from afar. At some distance to his right, two wizards had witnessed the meeting as well. Remus Lupin seemed both resigned and relieved, a smile on his face as he headed towards his son, but Severus, who was obviously coming with him, was now staring at Shadow, seeming downright unhappy.
The cat flattened itself against the ground, sensing problems to come. He probably shouldn't have been out walking on his own like that, no. Nor followed Loki. Hmm. Assuming his most innocent demeanor, he ran to meet the professor.
"Might I know what you're doing alone, this far from the castle?" Snape asked immediately.
The cat blinked, purring as he rubbed against the Man In Black's legs. A cat didn't need speech, after all, but judging by Snape's unchanged expression, this wasn't the time for a demonstration of his charm. Snape was still staring at him darkly, with an eyebrow raised and his arms crossed.
Shadow transformed back into a noticeably embarrassed teenager. "Um, I was coming to look for you."
"Look for me, really?"
"Yes, I thought you were over there, I don't know just why. And then Loki ran into me… Oh, the shield worked great, by the way!"
He saw Severus pale slightly.
"And we talked a bit. Loki and I."
"You talked? So that thing remembers how to be human?"
"He talks, anyway. As for seeming human, that's another matter."
"He threatened you, I presume?" Severus asked.
"Yes and no. He seems to understand that the shield protects me; he was just trying to rattle me. I'm not even sure it was intentional. And he claimed to wants to be friends with me, before more or less threatening to rip your throat out. That must be a wolf thing."
"Nice animal," Snape murmured. "I've always detested canines."
"Even so, he came back to Hagrid."
"Even so, Hagrid let him roam free in the middle of a school full of children," Snape mimicked, shooting him a murderous sideways look.
Which wasn't untrue, Harry realized. And hadn't Loki himself promised not to harm anyone?
"We'd best leave these amateur mutts to themselves," Severus grumbled. Harry nodded, and they'd both taken a few steps in the direction of the castle when a voice stopped them.
"Severus!" Remus called out to him. "Over here!"
The professor sighed. The werewolf was really overacting his part, if anyone asked Severus' opinion. Setting a hand on Harry's shoulder, he guided him off to the side to meet up with the little group.
"I see we've found the stray dog," he said, with a condescending look for the wolf.
"It would appear Loki's come back to us on his own, rather than meet up with…well, someone else," the Headmaster agreed.
As for Lupin, he seemed ecstatic. Which was really an exaggerated reaction, in Snape's opinion. He himself had willingly returned to the Dark Lord's fold, and it certainly hadn't been out of devotion. The wolf's return more than likely just meant they now had a spy in their ranks. Charming.
"And where do you plan on having this fleabag sleep now?" he asked slowly.
"I don't see a reason to change anything in the near future," Dumbledore said to his great relief.
"I'm proud of you, Loki," Remus announced, his voice brimming with paternal pride that made Severus roll his eyes. The mutt seemed to think the same, and cast an amused and scornful look at Lupin. A moment afterward, he transformed into human form again, surprising the gathering.
"Thanks for trusting me, Rub," he said to Hagrid. "I wanted to tell you I'm sorry for what my companions did to your friend Fang."
Hagrid's eyes misted over at the memory of his watchdog, and he nodded, unable to speak.
"I know you miss him, and even if you can't replace him with another one…" Loki whistled sharply, and something moved in the bushes. As they watched, intrigued, a wolf cub trotted toward them, nose to the ground, obviously frightened but summoning all its courage to come and cower between Loki's legs.
"I'm presenting you with a new friend. She'll keep you company from here on out," he announced. "She's still young, but she'll grow and be strong and beautiful." He tenderly stroked the creature's light-colored fur. Hagrid, more overcome than ever, had knelt to take his turn to pet the beast, which was sniffing him shyly.
Then Loki turned to Remus with a slight smile. "And while we're at it, I'd like you to meet your granddaughter."
Shocked, everyone stared from Loki to the young wolf. She was undeniably light, like Loki in his wolf form.
"You knew very well that the leader of the pack had to do his job, right?" he said to Remus scornfully. "There's a whole litter of them. Not just one, actually, but I suppose that doesn't matter. For anyone interested, none of them are able to transform into a wizard. I checked. Their mother, after all, is a pureblood wolf."
With these words, the satisfaction and pride could be read in the Animagus' eyes. Finally looking away from him, Remus' eyes rested on the young cub playing with one of Hagrid's shoes. His hand shook when he reached out to the animal, before letting it fall to his side. Then, without a word, he turned on heel and strode off quickly for the castle, without turning back.
Lupin was nothing like a friend, hardly a colleague or ally, but still, Snape was struck by the sudden desire to cast a well-placed hex at the pseudo-wolf who, with a disturbing smile, was watching his father flee.
And from the way Dumbledore was regarding the young man, he wasn't far from thinking the same thing, Harry noted.
"You're going to come with me now," the Headmaster ordered curtly. "I think this educational outing has lasted long enough."
Loki gave him a smile full of teeth, then changed into the wolf again. With a lick of the tongue filled with tenderness for the young cub, he dutifully followed the Headmaster, leaving behind a Hagrid who was too overcome to react.
Harry joined him near the cub, who was whining as she watched her father walk off.
"That doesn't change anything, Hagrid," he said. "She'll be fine with you."
The half-giant nodded, and a big tear rolled down his cheek as he stroked the animal.
"So much wasted," he said at last. "So much wasted. And I don't even know her name."
"I don't think she has a name," Severus said gently. "At least not in human language."
"Then, I'm going to call her Fanny," Hagrid sniffed. "If it's all right with her father."
"Fanny, that's a very beautiful name," Harry agreed.
"I always told myself that if I had a daughter, that'd be what I'd call her," he said shyly, carefully taking the cub in his arms.
Severus and Harry exchanged a look. The emotion was palpable, and a heavy melancholy surrounded them.
"We're leaving, Hagrid," Snape finally said, resting a hand on Harry's shoulder. "I think Fanny wants to get to know her new home."
The half-giant nodded, smiling weakly. "See you later, Professor, Harry. Thanks for stopping by."
The two wizards left for the castle, their steps heavy, Loki's words still ringing in their heads.
"Say," Harry finally said, "it's Friday. You said we could spend the weekend at the Manor, now and then."
"I hadn't planned for us to return there so early, but I must admit a few hours away from the castle wouldn't seem amiss to me," Severus replied. "And Horace will be there to take care of the Slytherins."
"It's all right, then?"
"Yes. I need a bit of space as well. So, get your things, we'll leave after mealtime."
"Or before?" Harry asked hopefully.
Snape laughed softly. "It's been a long week, hasn't it?"
Harry nodded. He didn't really want to have supper with the other Gryffindors.
"I'm going to alert Albus. I suppose he'll get over it."
The boy smiled. Sometimes his new father could actually be flexible…but he was probably in a hurry to get home too. Home…without really realizing it, Harry had taken his other form and jumped to the professor's shoulder.
Yes, they were going to spend a peaceful weekend with each other—at home. For the first time officially as father and son. The melancholy that Loki's words had evoked in him evaporated, and Shadow started to purr in spite of himself, rubbing his head against the professor's. Severus didn't say anything, but almost imperceptibly leant his head against the cat's.
Somewhere off to their right, Shadow's sharp ears heard the little click, and the cat felt himself smile. McGonagall had just struck again…
Merry christmas everybody! A lot of purrs, cat hair and chocolate! How are you doing with this hellish weather? I personally have been stuck in London one more day because the train wouldn't work (how weird is that?), but nothing to complain about. I mean, it's London, had I been stuck in Paris, that would have been a reason to whine... talking about that, I was thinking this week end that I had been to London more often than to Paris this yeah, which is a bit weird considering I work 15mn from Paris by train. I really don't make any effort to enjoy this city. And so, on this idea and as this is my last year here, if any of you guys need a tourist guide in Paris when you come to visit us, just tell me, I'll be glad to take you to the nice places I know and to defend you against our horrible waiters and shopkeepers! (I truly believe that they are required to graduate in 'how to be rude to people' to get the jobs...)
On another note, I'm so very late on my writting planing... I'm going back to it! A lot of hugs to you all and especially to RaeWhit who translated this chapter! Have a nice christmas everyone, don't forget to give some turkey to the cat! Spoil them rotten, let them redecorate the tree and play with the shinny stuffs! This was a message from the Shadow Comittee!