Here y'all go. Enjoy. (I have strep, right after summer classes are over. Awesome.)
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, nor am I making any profit from writing this. It's actually pulling me away from the non-fanfiction writing that I'm supposed to be doing, so take that for what it is.
Hunting and Preparations
When he looked around, Harry saw no one in the hall, though there was a large portrait of an old woman staring down at him in poorly concealed interest. "Are you the one-"
"You're not one of them," she said, interrupting him.
Harry frowned, shaking his head.
"How are you related to the Dark Lord?" she asked, this time in a much quieter voice.
Harry looked up and down the halls for anyone again before looking back at the portrait. "Why would you ask something like that?" he asked. "What makes you think that I'm related to him?"
"The few that are here are on the second floor," the woman said. "The rest of them are in Diagon Alley, preparing for a last minute Ministry event tonight," she said. "And no one has ever come into my house with a basilisk draped around his neck," she added.
"But why would that make you think that I'm related to the Dark Lord?" Harry asked.
The woman stared at him suspiciously for a long moment. "Who are you?" she asked in a cold tone, leaving no room for argument.
"I used to work in a snake shop," he said quietly, hoping that she wouldn't press too much further. "Who are you?"
"I am merely a portrait, young man," she replied. "Though when I was alive I was privileged enough to know the Dark Lord when we were both in school together."
"What's your name, then?" Harry asked.
She smiled down at him. "We will both agree to keep our names a secret, but when you return to the Dark Lord, I would request that you inform him that the matriarchal head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black remains loyal to the beliefs she held as a young woman still in school," she said.
Harry paused for a moment before nodding. "I will," he said
"Thank you," she said. "I won't alert anyone else in the house as to your presence," she added.
Harry nodded his thanks and took a few steps further into the house. Just before he rounded the corner, Aviva tightened herself around his shoulders a bit. "Aviva?" he asked cautiously.
"I will not stray far from you, child," she said. "But it has been far too long since I have had the opportunity to hunt something other than a house elf."
Harry grinned and kissed the top of her head. "Don't kill anyone without me," he said quietly. "Happy hunting."
"And the same to you, child," Aviva said as she slid down his body and around the corner, moving quicker than he'd seen her move for quite some time.
He watched the corner for a brief moment before taking a deep breath and shifting into his Animagus form. He took a moment to adjust to the new perspective and heightened senses before padding forward, looking for anyone on the level, and a staircase.
A good ten minutes later, after a thorough search of the main floor and a quick hunt of a suspiciously scented rat, Harry made his way up the stairs to the second floor.
There was an almost comfortable silence surrounding him, and the familiar smell of a non-human entity soon reached his nose. It wasn't quite demonic, though, so he kept his guard up while he cautiously made his way up the stairs.
When he reached the landing on the second floor, he heard two male voices talking quietly. The more prominent voice seemed to be pleading with his reluctant partner, but Harry couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He took hesitant steps down the hall, trying to decipher what was being said. When he was just outside the room, he made sure that he was out of sight before he sat down and listened to the conversation.
"Siri, please, it'll be safer there," one said.
After a moment of hesitation, a deeper voice grunted. "He'll kill me," he said.
"He gave me his word that he won't harm you at all," the first man said. "Please, Siri, you haven't left this house in nearly ten -" He fell silent abruptly, and Harry shifted out of his sitting position, quickly preparing himself to defend against an attack. "Whoever you are, stop hiding," the man said loudly. "It will be easier for you if you come out willingly."
Harry hesitated only a moment before taking a few steps to stand just inside the room.
Two men were sitting on the bed together: one a lean brunette with scars on his face and arms, and the other a black haired man who held an almost eery resemblance to a corpse, though there was an odd glint in his eyes that warned of insanity.
"A tiger?" the black haired man asked, and Harry growled lowly in protest.
"It looks like a black jaguar, actually," the brunette said. His eyes narrowed at Harry and he said nothing for a moment, though his brow furrowed a bit.
"Well how the fuck did it get in here?" he asked, glaring at Harry. "If I still had my wand, I'd make sure that the wards wouldn't allow anyone here that I didn't want to be here," he snapped. "Not this bullshit that's been set up."
Harry bared his teeth and hissed at the man, flicking his tail back and forth in a mix of amusement and annoyance at the two.
"I am well aware of that," the brunette said. "As is everyone else in this house."
"If they didn't keep me locked the fuck up in this fucking house, it wouldn't be a problem," the man snapped. "How the fuck did this big fucking cat get inside my fucking house?" he growled.
Harry bit back a grin. If this man didn't end up killing him, and if they didn't end up on opposite sides of the battlefield during some war, he and the man might almost be able to get along. At the very least, the man could be a new source of entertainment for him.
The brunette laughed bitterly, and Harry just caught the glimmer of sharpened canines. Werewolf, he thought with near absolute certainty. "You know Dumbledore and his tendency to trust anyone," he said irritably. "When the Molly and her family stayed here over Yule that first time, the Headmaster shared with all of them how to get to the house," he said. "And after he brought Miss Granger here, Ronald thought that it would be a bright idea to bring her into the circle of people who knew where Grimmauld Place was, how to get here, and how to share it with other people," he said, looking over at his companion. "And it turns out that she was a bit less than enamored with him."
"Uh huh. Who would have guessed?" the black haired man muttered, still staring at the jaguar sitting just inside the room, watching them.
The brunette sniffed the air again and sent a sudden, pointed glare in Harry's direction. "I can smell that you're an Animagus. Make this easier for all of us and change back," he said coolly, producing a wand from inside his sleeve and pointing it at Harry.
Harry paused for a moment, thinking about it, before backing up a few steps and quickly shifting back into his human form. He brushed a bit of dirt off of the sleeve of his dark green sweater, deliberately ignoring the little voice in his head that told him he was acting too much like Tom. When he looked back at the two men, he found that both men were wearing nearly identical expressions of complete and utter shock.
"This shouldn't be possible," the slighter man breathed out, barely audible. "This can't be possible."
The black haired man stood up and approached Harry, very slowly. His expression bespoke complete disbelief, almost as though he didn't believe that Harry was standing there.
Harry watched him cautiously, one hand straying absently to the switchblade he'd slipped into the back pocket of his jeans earlier that day. "What are you doing?" he asked, watching the man warily.
"Please," the man said quietly, tears in his eyes. "Please," he whispered.
Harry said nothing, and he took a half step back when the man raised his hands suddenly. He was unable to suppress the sudden flinch when the man took hold of his face.
Despite the almost mad look in his eyes, the man's hold was surprisingly gentle. "This can't be real," he whispered. He grasped Harry's chin with one hand and, with his other hand, he brushed Harry's hair away from his face to reveal the scar on his forehead. When his eyes locked onto the scar, he let out a loud sob and closed his eyes.
The young man jumped in surprise when he was pulled into a tight hug, and his grip tightened on his switchblade, but he said nothing while he was in the embrace. Tobias had always told him not to antagonize those who were afflicted with insanity, and he wasn't going to test the validity of that advice right now.
"He told me that you were dead," the man whispered, resting his chin on the top of Harry's head and pulling him closer to him, making it difficult for Harry to breathe properly.
The brunette man stood up and approached the two with caution. "Sirius, what are you talking about?" he asked gently, resting a hand on the man's shoulder.
"He's alive," the man - Sirius, apparently - said, and it sounded oddly like he was crying. "He fucking lied to me, Remy. He told me he was dead, but he lied," he said quietly.
"Sirius?" the werewolf asked.
This time Sirius didn't say anything. Instead, he loosened his hold enough for the brunette to see Harry, and he lifted a hand to brush Harry's hair out of his face again.
The other man's eyes widened and he reached out a hand as though to touch Harry, but at the last minute, he dropped it to rest on Sirius' forearm.
Harry decided that he'd had enough of being manhandled by slightly insane strangers and let out a guttural growl. He pulled himself out of Sirius' hold and backed away a few steps, this time pulling out his switchblade and brandishing it at the men. "I don't know who the fuck you are or who you think I am, but you keep your hands the fuck off of me," he said coldly.
Sirius took a step forward and opened his mouth as though to protest, but the brunette kept a hold on the man's forearm and stopped him from getting any closer.
"You are aware of the significance behind your scar?" the brunette asked.
"I've got a number of scars, actually," Harry said. "Each of them has a particular meaning, and none of them are insignificant. And don't come any closer to me," he said when he noticed that Sirius had taken a step forward.
"The lightning bolt scar," Sirius said quietly. "The one on your forehead. The curse scar that is living proof that you are the only one in the world who has managed to survive the Killing Curse. It's proof that you are Harry Potter, alive and breathing."
"I want your names," Harry said coldly.
The brunette man nodded. "I am Remus Lupin, and this is Sirius Black," he said. "When you were born, Harry, your parents named Sirius your godfather," he said.
"So?" Harry asked, though he put his knife back in his pocket. "Is that supposed to mean anything to me?"
Sirius offered Harry a humorless smile. "When your parents were alive, it was going to mean that Remus and I were going to be a permanent part of your life," he said. "But then your parents were killed and I was sent to Azkaban and Remus ended up essentially a fugitive," he said.
Remus frowned. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Harry said nothing.
"You're not here for a reunion," Remus said, more a statement than a question.
Harry shook his head.
Before anyone else said anything, Aviva moved into the room and wrapped herself around Harry's chest, settling her head on Harry's shoulder and under his ear. "I found the boy you're looking for," she hissed.
"How can you be sure?" Harry asked, not looking away from the two men in the room. He bit back a smirk at the gobsmacked looks on the men's faces, but he kept his attention focused on the basilisk.
"Because apart from the wolf and his mate, the boy is the only other person in the house," she hissed. "He is alive, but unconscious, in his bedroom on the third floor."
Harry nodded and kissed her on the top of her head. "Go keep an eye on him for me, would you?" he asked.
"If I bite him a few times -"
"Not right now," Harry said. "Once we get back on safe ground, you've got free reign with the boy, but I don't want to risk any unnecessary complications while we're here," he added.
She hissed happily - her way of laughing - and butted her head affectionately against his cheek before dislodging herself from him and leaving the room again.
Harry glanced over his shoulder as Aviva moved out of the room and turned around a corner.
"You speak the snake language," Sirius said, sounding almost disappointed.
"Since I was a child," Harry said. "As much as I enjoy this reunion, I came here for a single purpose, and I have something of a deadline to follow," he said, looking over at Remus. "There's a full moon tonight, isn't there?" he asked.
The man's eyes flashed amber briefly before he nodded. "You know?"
"Cats have an increased sense of smell than humans," Harry said. "And I have a serpentine ally," he added.
"It was a basilisk," Sirius said coolly.
"She is, yes," Harry said. "I have a deadline, and I'm not willing to leave liabilities like you around to help my enemies."
Sirius scowled. "You're working for them, then," he said.
"Not for them," Harry said. He paused and said nothing for a moment. "Depending on who you're calling 'them,' I'm working with them, rather," he added.
"So what are you planning on doing today?" Remus asked gently.
Harry smirked. "I'm going to collect what I came here for, and I'm going to leave. If you get in my way, I will be forced to forcibly remove you from my way," he said. He glanced between Remus and Sirius to look out the window behind them. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't let anyone know about this," he added.
"And if we do?" Sirius asked, an almost mutinous look on his face.
"Then I'd have to consider the both of you my enemy from this point forward," he said. "Regardless of who you once may have been to me."
A brief silence came over the three of them before Remus nodded slightly.
"I won't wish you well," the man said. "But we will keep our silence. For today only."
Harry quirked an eyebrow at him and made an odd gesture with his hand, as though he was flourishing a bow at them. "I appreciate that," he said. "And if we meet in better circumstances, I'll buy the first round," he added before leaving the room.
Aviva was waiting for him at the top of the staircase to the third floor. "Why did you abstain from using your magic against them?" she asked. "Your conversation with the wolf and his human was completely unnecessary."
Harry shrugged. "I don't know what wards are in place in this house, and there was no reason to risk setting them off with a few spells that could achieve the same thing as a quick poke in the throat, if that's what the situation came down to," he said, gesturing at the pocket of his jeans where his knife was concealed.
She hissed quietly, not saying anything, and started moving back from the staircase. She headed into the only room with an open door, hissing for Harry to keep up with her.
When he walked into the room, Harry saw a chubby brunette boy about his age, lying unconscious on the floor at the foot of his bed. "Did you find him like this?" he asked, walking further into the room and nudging the boy's head with his foot, doing his best to ensure that the boy was out.
"He was just getting out of bed when he saw me come into his room," she hissed. "His screams were painful to just listen to, and I saw that as reason enough to ensure that he wasn't kept awake," she said. "I'm rather surprised that you didn't hear him, child," she added.
Harry nodded and picked up the young man with ease, almost as though the dead weight of the body wasn't an issue for him. "Once we're back with Tom, the boy's death belongs to you," he said, carrying the body over his shoulder. "I would just request that you leave his face identifiable," he added as Aviva moved up his waist to wrap part of her body around the body to help carry the weight.
"I appreciate this, child," she said as Harry started making his way down the staircase.
On his way out of the house, he stopped at the portrait in the front hall.
The woman looked particularly amused when she noticed the unconscious body over Harry's shoulder. "You are an odd one, young associate of the Dark Lord," she said. "I will be seeing you again, won't I?"
"I won't make any promises," Harry said, shifting the body a bit. "In any case, it was nice to meet you."
"And you as well," she said.
Harry nodded to her and said nothing before making his way out of the house. When he stood on the doorstep, he cast a silent Disillusionment Charm on himself and headed down the street. When he felt he was a safe distance away from the house, he gave Aviva a quick warning before Apparating back to the Dark Lord's Manor.
Mixie was waiting for Harry in the front hall of the Manor, and there was an oddly gleeful look on her face.
"Is everything alright, Mixie?" he asked.
"Master is being gone to speak with Master Minister of Magic, and he is saying that he is going to be being gone for at least two hours," she said, almost bouncing in her spot with happiness. "So we is going to be having hours to wrap his bleeding gift in the office," she said. Mixie looked over at the body that he was carrying. "Is Master's guest not having the chance to be killing the boy before it is being gift wrapped for Master?" she asked.
"I thought I'd give Aviva a chance to hunt down something other than you and the other house elves," Harry said.
Mixie smiled, looking almost relieved. "Master's guest is being very kind to Mixie," she said. "Is Master's guest's prisoner being set loose in the sunroom?"
"What do you think, Aviva?" he asked. "The sunroom for a quick hunt with you and Nagini?" he asked.
"That sounds like fun," she hissed. "We will be allowed to bite the brat this time?" she asked.
"As much as you like," he said, kissing her on the head as he headed toward the sunroom, Mixie following him cautiously.
The hunt lasted longer than Harry thought it would.
As soon as he walked into the room, and after Aviva told Nagini what the situation with their new captive was, Nagini had instructed Harry to get into a sturdy branch in the tree and out of their way so he didn't accidentally get in the way of the hunt.
When he was safely sequestered away in a tree, he cast a spell that woke Longbottom up, and the second that he noticed the large snakes watching him like he was their next meal (which, technically, he was), he bolted.
Nagini had taken the time to make sure that Aviva had adapted well to hunting something other than a house elf, and she had even given Aviva the privilege of taking the first strike.
So, an hour and a half after he'd returned from the Grimmauld house in London, Harry had managed to recover the dead body of what was once the Longbottom boy and took it to Tom's office.
Mixie helped him wrap the body in almost obnoxiously bright red wrapping paper, and they finished the wrapping with a large gold bow covering the boy's face. "Is Master's guest going to be going with Master to the party that Master Minister of Magic is hosting tonight?" she asked.
Harry nodded. "I don't think I have a choice," he said with a grin. He stretched his arms a bit, wincing when he pulled uncomfortably on one of the deepest wounds on his back. "Shit," he muttered, scowling. "Mixie, could you help me with something else?" he asked.
"Mixie is pleased to being helping Master's guest with anything he is being needing," she said.
"I need to clean my wounds and change my bandages, but I can't reach all the way around without help," he said.
Mixie nodded. She followed Harry out of the study and up to the bedroom that Harry shared with Tom.
"Mixie?" Harry asked as they were both heading up the stairs. "Why do you only call me Master's guest?" he asked.
"Because Mixie isn't knowing what else to be calling Master's guest," she said.
Harry smirked a bit. "You could just try Harry, maybe?" he suggested.
"Mixie isn't being allowed to use names. She has to use titles like Master's guest for the people who is being living in the Manor, or who is being visiting the Manor with frequency, like Master Minister of Magic," she said.
After Harry's wounds had been inspected and re-dressed, Mixie disappeared to help some of the house elves that Nagini was chasing on her way out to the Manor gardens. To his pleasant surprise, Harry found that he only had two lash lines left to heal - and while they were both still rather deep, they were healing quickly and didn't hurt unless he directly aggravated them.
He headed out of the bedroom, wondering when, exactly, Tom would be returning to find his gift. He pulled on a fresh shirt - this time a dark blue button down shirt - so he wouldn't be dealing with the smell of blood and whatever cologne the Longbottom boy had been drenched in.
When he walked past the sitting room, though, he noticed someone sitting rather uncomfortably on one of the couches. He paused and walked into the room, only growing more confused when he recognized Draco Malfoy.
"Are you here for Tom?" Harry asked.
Draco stood up when he noticed Harry walked inside the room. "Not this time," he said. "I'm actually here to speak with you."
Harry frowned. "Why?"
"I received an Owl from the Dark Lord a few hours ago, informing me that I was to come here so that I could assist you in choosing something for the ball," he said.
"He sent you to help me find dress robes?" Harry asked curiously.
Draco smirked. "No, and that's the interesting part," he said. "He informed me that I was to help you find something to properly outfit a leopard for the ball," he said.
Harry laughed quietly. "Why did he seek your assistance for that?" he asked.
"My father has a menagerie that contains two tigers and a snow leopard," Draco said. "And I know where he goes to find collars for the felines," he added. "Why would he ask that you come along with me on this errand?"
Harry scowled. "Something of an inside joke, rather," he said. "Where are we going to go?" he asked.
"There's a small shop in Nepal that my father has been going to for years, and if you didn't have any objections, I thought we'd start there."
Harry shrugged. "Sure, I guess," he said. "How will we be getting there?" he asked.
"A side-long Apparation would be the quickest," Draco said.
"Sure," Harry said. "But we're going to have to leave this Manor to do that," he said.
Draco nodded. "We can return to my home and leave from there, if you'd like," he suggested.
Harry nodded. "Cool."
After about an hour - due to complications with the wards at Malfoy Manor - Harry and Draco arrived outside a small cabin in the middle of nowhere.
"Are you sure that this is the right place?" Harry asked, looking over at Draco.
The blonde nodded. "The owner actually owns the land surrounding his shop, and there are a number of big cats roaming around the forest," he said. He ran a hand through his hair and walked forward to get into the shop.
Once inside, Harry was only barely able to keep his surprise hidden.
The shop was completely different on the inside. On the outside, it looked like a plain log cabin. On the inside, however, it was enormous. There was a huge fireplace along one wall while the other walls were made of huge windows. There was a large couch facing the fireplace, and a small white tiger was asleep on the couch.
"Charlie?" Draco called.
"Just a minute!" came a voice from around a corner. A few seconds later, a man walked around the corner, followed closely by what looked like a lynx. He was tall, with bleach blonde hair and gold eyes, and he looked remarkably comfortable with the warmth given off by the fireplace. "Young Mister Draco," he said, smiling when he recognized the young man. "How are you?"
"I've been well," Draco said. "I don't mean to be rude," he said. "But my friend and I are looking for a collar on a short notice."
The man nodded. "How short notice?"
"An hour at the most," Draco said, and Charlie nodded.
"I love it when you bring me a challenge. Come on into the kitchen and we can get started," the man said. "Do you remember the questions?" he asked as Harry and Draco followed him into the kitchen and took seats at the kitchen table.
"It's been almost a year since I last saw you," Draco said. "And my friend has never been to see you before."
Charlie nodded. "We're working on a basis of anonymity with green eyes, then?" he asked.
Harry smirked. "Something like that," he said.
The older man grinned wickedly. "I've missed that bit of fun," he said. "Now, the questions. First of all, what kind of cat is this?"
"A black leopard," Harry said. "Just about fully grown."
"Age doesn't concern me," Charlie said.
At Harry's confused look, Draco cleared his throat. "His collars are spelled to adjust to the proper size of the cat's neck as it grows," he said before looking over at Charlie. "And this is for a ball at the Ministry tonight, so it needs to be formal."
"That answers the second question, kid," Charlie said. "Now, for the last two questions, what stones do you want featured in the collar and what material do you want this thing to be made of?" he asked.
Harry was at a complete loss, so he leaned back and looked over at Draco for assistance.
"The collar should be made of dragon-hide, and there should be a diamond overlay with green opals on the thing," Draco said. "The rest is completely up to you," he said.
Charlie frowned a bit. "That's not going to be cheap, kid," he said.
Draco nodded. "I'm aware of that," he said. "And it's to be added to my father's bill," he added.
Charlie nodded and stood up. "Awesome," he said, smiling a bit. "If you two want to hang around here for an hour, I'll have it done and you can take it back with you," he said.
Draco nodded again. "Thanks," he said.