Lake Victoria, located high in the mountains, was a very pleasant spot to work in. Despite its fame as one of the sources of the Nile, they had managed to find a very secluded area for their Tent City. The lake itself was beautiful, the climate pleasant, and the isolation was wonderful.
In the two years since the birth of his youngest children, Harry had come to realise that being all you could be only got you more paperwork, and an apprentice. He was glad that the Welsh's had already chosen the spot that the team was to take their two year vacation in, because if they hadn't had a secure place to go, Harry was sure he'd have gone spare.
Much to his surprise, the inhabitants of the Tent City had insisted on coming with them. Apparently, the protection offered by an anonymous location that could relocate at a whim was highly conducive to the work of several of the Guild masters that had joined them, not to mention the craftsmen, masons, smiths and artistes. There were twenty families now in residence, and not all of them Human. Three more Goblin's had arrived with spouses and children in tow, all of them in various fields of endeavour. The external commerce and trade was apparently booming, according to the reports that Ray supplied him with.
Evan Rubeus and Abigail Ginerva had thrived well after their early arrival. Harry had been worried that the intermittent severe bouts of morning sickness, plus the premature delivery would harm his children, but the mid-wife had assured him that the twins were early because they were ready to be born, and the one most affected by the morning sickness had been himself. He'd been badly underweight coming out of his last pregnancy and Armando still pestered him about it two years later. The ritual had apparently done more than lower his fertility level, it had sped up his metabolism to the point that he burned through body fat a lot more quickly than he had before.
They had been in camp for three entire months, and most of that time had been split between his children and his writing. As a Master in two Guilds, Harry had quite a few responsibilities to the field, and publishing was something he'd let slide whilst working actively on the tombs. When he and the team had announced their decision to take their accumulated leave in one block, he'd lost the defence that he was too busy to publish and in Ray's words, 'his chickens were coming home to roost'.
Brightfeather's flight had also settled into the surrounding area, and it wasn't uncommon to see the younger members engage in aerial displays above the water. The Hippogriff continued to seek Harry out when it had spotted something that he needed to deal with, and they had acquired a werecat cub in that manner when Harry and Brightfeather had killed its parent, which was busy trying to eat its way through a camp of Muggle tourists. Unlike the werewolf, werecats were not changed according to the cycles of the moon. Instead, the cat went from its furry, playful self to the leathery ruthless predator when it was threatened or hunting. Surprisingly, if a werecat was hand raised from a very young age, they became excellent guardians. Beth and the werecat, whom she named Spot, bonded almost immediately, and Spot was often found shadowing his young mistress, or curled purring on her bed at night.
Harry's pleasant musings were interrupted when the wards sounded an alert. As Master Wardsman, it made sense that he hold the wards for the Tent City that he now found himself unofficial Mayor of, and he'd taken the lessons learned from Anacosta into consideration when setting them up. It was a moment of work to touch the wards lightly and discover that they were warning him of the approach of a werewolf.
"Werewolf," Trinket grunted from behind him, and Harry turned, nodding in agreement. Trinket was co-holder, and took the responsibility seriously.
"Maybe its Sally's cousin?" Harry offered the thought as he got up, moving with Trinket towards the carpet that Harry had bought the Goblin for his honeymoon. Sally Morgan was seven years old, and had been bitten just over a year ago by a cousin that had hidden his status as a werewolf from the family. Her parents were breeders of mail birds, for domestic and commercial use. The midwife that had delivered Harry's twins had requested that her son's family be accepted into the Tent City, and Harry had accepted the child at once. They had of course put in some very hefty wards to protect Sally and the rest of the camp during the full moon, but one of the Potions Masters currently living with them was happy to brew the Wolfs Bane potion, which helped ease many worries. Sally's cousin had disappeared after infecting her, and Harry hoped he never came across the coward. Sally was a sweet girl, and good friends with May.
"It better not be," Trinket growled, "I can't conceive of a more cowardly creature."
Harry nodded in agreement, and leaned forward for a better view of the man walking nervously along the lakeshore. He snorted when he spotted the reason for the nerves.
"Brightfeather has him," Harry pointed and Trinket grunted approval when he spotted the Hippogriff that was shepherding the newcomer along. For a free beast, Brightfeather was very protective of Harry and his children, something that extended to the safety of those in the camp by proxy. Harry was as protective of the flight in return, and had headed off several poachers and more than one opportunistic hunter on the flight's behalf.
Trinket let the carpet sink lower, and Harry squinted to get a better look at the approaching man. Moments later, he was gasping in shock and urging Trinket to land. The moment the carpet was low enough, Harry leapt to the ground.
"Moony!" the cry was of a son, reunited with a father at last, and Remus Lupin gasped in shock before holding his arms out, urgency written on his face. Harry stumbled into them, holding onto the last of the Marauders tightly, tears burning his eyes. He'd never thought he'd see Moony again, and the chance to do so now, to introduce the man to his children, was an overwhelming gift for the green-eyed man.
"Oh Harry," Moony almost moaned, "Oh, you're looking so well!"
"I missed you Moony," Harry forced himself to pull back, "How are you?"
"Harry, I'm not here of my own volition, as much as I'd like to be. I'm under a Compulsion," Moony's voice was urgent and Trinket growled behind his Elder, shifting in anger.
"Trickery," he spat, "I should have known."
"Come up to the camp," Harry tugged Moony forward to the carpet, "We'll figure something out."
Brightfeather insisted on carrying Harry back to the camp, which Harry thought was a good idea. The longer they were apart, the more time he had to break the Compulsion on Moony. The Hippogriff obligingly passed over the carpet several times, and by the time Trinket landed next to the communal table where Harry had been working, Harry had the counter spell figured out and ready to go. He hit Remus without warning, knowing it was kinder that way than to put the werewolf through the strain of trying to resist the Compulsion while Harry worked his magic.
Then it was over and Harry had his arms full of shaken werewolf, guiding his old friend to a seat. Trinket made him step back while the Goblin ran several of his speciality spells over Remus, grunting when he got the results.
"Empty your pockets, Wolf," the Goblin's wand didn't waver and Harry watched as Remus pulled out his wand, a handkerchief and a lump of stone from his faded robes. From his reaction, he was as shocked as Harry to see the bit of stone, dropping it to the tabletop in shock.
"What is that?" Trinket demanded and Remus stammered, still not fully recovered from having the Compulsion broken. Harry knew the answer though, the lump of stone singing to him with the seductive call of home.
"It's a piece of the lintel to the Great Hall of Hogwarts," he murmured and picked it up, cradling it between both hands. Familiar and welcoming magic washed over him and he smiled involuntarily. He'd never thought he'd see Hogwarts again, and this little bit of stone was like a piece of his home made real. Brightfeather made a curious noise and Harry turned to show it to the Hippogriff, who sniffed at it delicately and then reached over to nibble at his wrist. He gave his friend a crooked smile and rubbed his own face against the razor sharp beak before they both straightened.
"Harry, I didn't put that it my pocket!" Remus said urgently, "I didn't know it was there."
"It's alright, Remus," Harry said gently and walked around the end of the table to sit in his own chair again. Brightfeather paced with him, and Trinket sighed in aggravation before plonking himself down a couple of seats away from Remus. He folded his hands in his lap, with the wand still visible. Harry took it as a personal favour that the wand was not pointed directly at Remus and shot a brief closed mouth smile at his friend.
"Who put the Compulsion on you? You had to deliver a message to me, yes?" Harry asked calmly, and Remus shook his head, despair in his eyes.
"Don't make me do what they wanted, Harry. Please, you've broken the Compulsion, I couldn't bear it if you made me do it now," Remus' voice shook and Harry nodded, thinking quickly beneath the calm façade that he was presenting to his father's last friend.
"Ok, Remus," he took a breath and gave the werewolf a soft smile, "You're looking well, if a bit faded at the edges there. How have you been?"
"Fine," Remus relaxed, smiling in relief, "I've been growing potions ingredients for Severus… um…"
"So you and Snape finally did something about all that unrequited lust that was sloshing around Headquarters?" Harry snickered, "Relax, Moony. As long as you're happy, right?"
"You're not… disgusted?" the last word was almost too low to hear and Harry let go of Hogwarts long enough to reach out a hand and take Remus' in his. He squeezed the sun-browned hand and rubbed scarred knuckles with the pad of his thumb.
"Moony, you're a grown man. You and Snape were either going to kill each other or kiss each other. It's not for me to tell you how to live your life," Harry grinned mischeiviously, knowing the perfect way to ease the tension in the man opposite, "When you get back, give Uncle Sevvy a hug from me, ok?"
"You're not going to keep me here?" Remus couldn't disguise his relief, confirming Harry's suspicion that someone was being held hostage at the very least, possibly Snape. He shook his head and met Moony's eyes.
"I wouldn't want your hostages harmed. Please, tell me what's going on, Remus," Harry knew his tone was faintly pleading, but didn't care, "I promise that any actions I take will be on my own behalf, not theirs."
"Some Gryffindor I turned out to be," Remus sighed, "They should have sent a Slytherin."
Harry snorted and sat back as Remus sat up. A tea service sparkled into being on the tabletop and Harry poured for all three of them, giving the werewolf time to gather his thoughts.
"I'm living a much proscribed life, Harry. As a Dark Creature, my movements are strictly controlled by the Ministry. I have a better life than most, Severus' potions are popular enough for the two of us to live well, and it was my idea to grow the ingredients for him. It keeps us on an even footing."
Snape would not have accepted a lover that couldn't contribute equally to their living, and it was a sign of how well Remus could manipulate people, setting himself up as a supplier for Snape's beloved potions.
"The fact that he is a potions master and he can brew the Wolf's Bane for me is another link in my short chain of freedom," Remus sipped again, his shoulders visibly relaxing as the mild calming potion Winky had put in his cup took hold, "Things at home have gotten very grim, though. After … Voldemort … things were peaceful enough for a while, though there were a lot of laws passed that have restricted some of the basic freedoms for people like me. Those that could leave the country have, with the Ministry's implicit blessing and indirect help. I… couldn't. I…"
"Stayed with your lover," Harry smiled gently and sipped at his own, unadulterated tea, "Remus, there is no question of blame or recrimination in your actions. I could not have respected you if you had left him."
Remus looked away, his eyes a little over bright and Harry gave him the time to recover, topping up Trinket's cup and his own and looking at the beautiful view calmly. His heart was aching though, at the thought of his father's friend living such a small life, even if it was made more palatable by the small freedoms he had contrived. Harry's exile was still a bitter pill to swallow, but he had built a life wholly on his own terms.
"Lately, the last four years or so, there has been a rise in Dark activity," Remus said finally, "A new Dark Lord. A new Dark Regime. The Ministry denounced him at once, but… they are completely ineffective at fighting him. Dumbledore is no longer a threat to the man, though he's still respected he's far too old to fight and … the Order disbanded. He tried to recall us of course, but none of us answered. We couldn't, not after the way he betrayed you Harry."
"I understand," Harry sighed, "So the Ministry set up a situation whereby they got you into their control, put the Compulsion on you and sent you to find me to ask me to what… fight for them again?"
Remus paled and Trinket leaned over to steady him in his seat, supporting a wavering hand to take another gulp of the tea. Harry cursed himself inwardly. His team were used to him pulling the facts out of the air, or another orifice as Trinket cheerfully accused him on a regular basis, but it wasn't something he'd done often in front of the Order, and the first time could come as a shock to people.
"Yes," Remus looked as if he was about to go to the executioner, "Yes Harry, they want you back to save them again."
Once upon a time, Harry would have considered it. Now, there was no way that he would do that. He wasn't stupid enough to believe that the Ministry would accept him back and end his exile if he succeeded in ridding them of their latest Dark Lord, provided of course that he survived the attempt in the first place. As much as he missed home, and wanted to ensure the safety of the people he'd left behind, the risks could not be justified. Even if he'd been slightly tempted, there was a herd of very good reasons that he couldn't.
The watch in Harry's pocket chimed, and he pulled it out. It had been a gift from Hagrid on his first Christmas in exile and he never went anywhere without it. It was a proper Wizards watch, which told you where you should be or what you should be doing instead of the actual time. Currently it read 'time to be invaded'.
Sure enough, the school tent flaps flung themselves back, and the few parents waiting outside it straightened out of their slouches. Children emerged, sorting themselves out into groups quickly and going home. The day-care tent's flap also burst open and an ungainly tiger cub leapt out, followed by two stripy haired children. The cub bounded across the camp clearing and threw itself into his lap, shivering and resolving into his son with a soft pop. Remus' eyes were out on stalks as seven other children swarmed over, hugging Harry and saying hello. Kit wrapped his arm around his dad, buried his face in Harry's chest and refused to come out.
"Oh dear," Harry sighed, "What's up, love?"
"Kit has sore ear!" Abby piped from where Davy was helping her up on the bench, "He sad!"
"Poor Kit," Evan chimed in and Davy helped him up as well while Jim reached over and ruffled striped hair. Madge scolded from Davy's shoulder.
"Harry," Remus breathed, "You had puppies!"
"Not puppies!" Beth piped up, her hair a lurid green and purple combination. Spot stood twining around her legs, purring in support of his mistress's assertion.
"Yeah, we're a herd," Lily agreed. Brightfeather snorted his agreement, rustling his wings when she slanted a cheeky smile at him.
"A horde," May corrected with a grin, Pretty draped around her neck.
The look on Remus' face was priceless. Harry burst into laughter.
To Be Continued in the sequel – 'The City of Tents' – coming soon… ish…
A/N – Now you know why I couldn't name a pairing!
For those that are curious to know, the extracts of Harry's biography were written by his namesake, Tinker.