DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and all other characters and locations belong to J. K. Rowling.
Chapter Twelve - The Moon's Shadow
Fire burned in his chest, his lungs fighting desperately for air as the boot slammed into his ribs repeatedly. Fearing for their life, the wolf scrambled to the surface, snapping its loosened leash. The spell that bound him fell away, no match for their brute strength and need for survival. His hand shot out, catching the descending boot in mid air. Lifting eyes shimmering emerald, he met the panicky blue orbs of Ron Weasley and smiled. With a jerk of his wrist, he broke the redhead's fragile ankle bone and sent him crashing to the ground. He was on top of the other wizard before he could crawl away, long fingers curling around Ron's neck even as the redhead screamed and shoved desperately at his chest. A quick flick of his wrist silenced the redhead forever.
Hands grabbed at his shoulders, trying to tug him away from Ron's lifeless body, but he twisted easily, sinuously arching his back and sinking razor sharp fangs into the throat of Seamus. Before the Irish wizard could hit the floor, Harry had ripped Dean's jugular wide with a swing of his arm. Leaping to his feet, he shoved a gaping Neville aside, sending him slamming into the corridor wall. The crunch of bone was satisfying, the absence of a heartbeat even more so. The others attempted to flee, but their terrified screams drove him on. He crushed Michael's throat and left him twitching on the floor. Justin tripped and fell, dragging Ernie with him. Eyes locked on the fleeing backs of Colin and Terry, Harry tore Ernie's throat wide and gutted Justin ruthlessly.
His left hand was stretched out, blood dripping from his fingers as he snagged Terry by the robes and yanked him back into his arms, sinking teeth into his throat and snarling wildly. He dropped the Ravenclaw's body and turned to chase down Colin but halted at the sound of his name. Turning slowly, he met glowing gray orbs and growled in greeting. The blond replied in kind, flashing teeth as he opened his arms wide. Shoulders hunched, he leaped toward Draco, fangs bared and fingers curled.
Harry's eyes flew open and he rocketed into a sitting position, nearly slamming his forehead into Draco's nose. He frowned groggily at the blond, sleepily pondering his unexpected proximity and unusual silence. Only when the other male lifted a hand and placed it lightly upon his wrist did he realize his fingers were locked tightly around Draco's throat, his nails creating dainty crescents in the delicate flesh of the blond's neck. Immediately he released his grip, wincing sympathetically when blood began to slide from two of the deeper indentations. "Sorry, Draco," he whispered hoarsely.
"I should have expected it," the blond replied, matching Harry's soft tone. He sank back on his haunches and absently swiped the blood from his throat, studying the dark-haired male closely. "You were dreaming again . . . of the hall at Hogwarts, weren't you?" He rolled his eyes when Harry's gaze slipped from his and rose fluidly to his feet, returning to his own bed with nary a floorboard creak.
"Remembering," Harry corrected, focusing on the sheet draped window. Beyond the ragged curtain the sky was still dark, the sun nowhere close to beginning its ascent. With a sigh, he sank back upon the uncomfortable mattress and returned his attention to Malfoy, watching the blond bury his length beneath the thick mound of blankets upon his bed. Chewing his bottom lip, he considered the bloody scenes he'd been reliving for the past few nights, trying to determine what it was about them that was bothering him. "Draco? Do you remember Colin Creevey?"
Rolling onto his side, Draco stared at Harry, one brow slowly lifting. "Who?" He asked finally, giving a one shoulder shrug at the disbelieving look on the raven-haired male's face.
"He was a year below us . . . a Gryffindor . . . had a camera permanently attached to his face . . ."
The blond's brow furrowed slightly before he gave a small shake of his head. "Doesn't really ring any bells," he replied in a murmur. Sliding an arm beneath his pillow, Draco waited patiently for Harry to explain the reason for his sudden interest in an insignificant junior Gryffindor.
"He was in the hall that day," Harry began slowly, unconsciously mirroring Draco's position. Brow crinkling, he toyed absently with the maroon thread dangling from the sleeve of his too big top, searching his memories for anything of significance. He finally gave a wag of his head, meeting the blond's tired eyes. "I don't think I killed him."
"Sweet Merlin, Harry, does it really matter?" Draco asked in exasperation. The blond dragged his pillow over his head and rolled over, giving the dark-haired male his back. "You're never going to see him again. And even if you did, he'd piss himself and run in the opposite direction."
"Colin had pictures of us, Draco. An entire stack . . ." His voice trailed off when the blond flipped back over and stared at him, delicate brows lifted in a why-should-I-care expression. Sighing, Harry repeated his half-shrug and returned to wrapping the maroon thread around his middle finger. Something about Creevey and those pictures was making him uneasy; simply the very knowledge that there was tangible proof of his connection with Draco was enough to cause a knot in his stomach.
Giving a huff of annoyance, Draco tugged his pillow back over his head and resumed his elegant sprawl. "Well, obviously you should have killed him when you had the chance," the blond mumbled from under his pillow, the words muffled. "Just go back to sleep, Harry. Everything will sort itself out in due time." The last was said in a much softer voice, the words sounding like a whispered promise.
Knowing Draco was correct, Harry slid onto his side and dragged the thick blanket up to his chin, snuggling back down upon the thin mattress. He didn't really want to go back to sleep; past experience had taught him he'd slip right back into the nightmares as soon as he drifted off. But it was much too early to get up. Steve would kick his arse if he woke Fenrir or Jaime with his late night wanderings. Even as he fought against it, his mind still worrying over Colin, sleep dragged him ruthlessly under.
He was lost. Lost in a tangle of shadowed hallways that seemed to have no discernible ending. His hands groped along the cold stone walls, searching for an exit, but when he pulled them away they were sticky with blood. He turned and stumbled back down the long corridor, desperately calling for help, but hearing only his own voice bouncing back at him. Careening down another deserted hallway, he stumbled and fell to his knees, his hands landing in an ever growing puddle of blood. When he clambered to his feet, shaking blood from his fingers, it was to find himself face to face with Ron. The redhead held a crossbow, the silver-tipped bolt aimed at Harry's chest. He swung wildly at the laughing wizard, knocking the weapon from his hands, sending him flying back into the arms of Seamus and Dean. The Gryffindor wizards glared at him accusingly, blood dripping from the gaping wounds in their necks.
"You've killed us, Harry," the trio whispered, pointing at him.
"I'm sorry. So sorry, Ron." Harry said, backing away from his former friends.
Others appeared around him - Ernie, Michael, Terry, Justin, Neville - surrounding him as they lifted their fingers and joined the haunting chant. He spun away from the group and blinked as a bright flash momentarily blinded him, lifting a bloodstained hand to protect his sensitive eyes. When he lowered his arm, it was to find himself face to face with Colin, the younger Gryffindor holding his camera in front of his white face. Someone called his name and Colin turned and ran, vanishing like a ghost down a darkened tunnel. "Harry!"
Emerald orbs flying open, he sat up with a gasp, once again surprised to find Draco kneeling beside his bedside. He panted for breath and stared into the blond's face, slowly realizing the other male was holding him tightly by the shoulders. Lifting a shaking hand, he placed it upon Draco's sternum, giving him a gentle pat.
"Thank you, Merlin," the blond muttered, abruptly releasing Harry and rising. "If you'd gasped the Weasel's name one more time, I was going to smother you." He shook his robes out and stalked toward the window, pushing the sheet tacked over the window back, letting the early morning sunshine fill the small chamber. He snorted in disgust when the moth-eaten material disintegrated in his hand, flicking the remnants off his fingers and wiping the dust onto the leg of his trousers.
Swiping a hand across his face, Harry flopped back onto the mattress. "What time is it?" He asked, surprised that the blond was up before him. Generally, it was he who crept from the darkened chamber, leaving Draco to rest for another hour or two before sending Jaime up to wake him.
"A little after seven," the blond replied, turning around and studying him thoughtfully. Angling his chin, he pressed his lips together, the barest beginnings of a frown touching his pale features. "Again, Harry?"
Harry's eyes closed at the mention of his earlier dream, gritting his teeth together as memories of the nightmare resurfaced. Giving his head a rough shake, he forced himself to look up at the blond and nod slowly. "I see all of them. Over and over again. All of their bloody faces." He gave his head another shake and cleared his throat, sitting up and wrapping his arms around his upraised knees. "Is there a reason you woke me up?" His brows arched when the blond continued to study him silently, his lips pursing when the frown Draco wore deepened.
"It's breakfast time," the blond said abruptly, turning away from Harry. He strode briskly across the bedroom, boot heels tapping loudly on the bare floor as he swung around the doorframe, pausing with one hand on the rotting wood. "The whelp needs fed and Andrej's still on bed rest." Giving Harry no time to respond, he whipped around the edge of the portal and disappeared.
Eyes drifting closed, Harry sighed, trying to ignore the wolf stirring at the back of his mind. He didn't need the beast to tell him what day it was, though it insisted on reminding him with every breath he drew, that tonight was the night of the full moon. He could already feel the heaviness in his bones, the ache in his jaw. When he finally managed to force his eyes back open, it was to study the hands he held inches away from his face. Dotted with small scars and unremarkable burns, they looked exactly as they always had, unstained by the blood he dreamed of. That he remembered.
Deciding he'd wallowed in bad memories long enough, he flung the blankets back and rolled to his feet, taking a moment to stretch his arms above his head until his shoulders cracked appreciatively. He patted the blankets into some semblance of neatness, a habit that he'd developed at Hogwarts, before yanking a sweater over his dark hair and heading downstairs. Despite feeling groggy, the tableau unfolding in the kitchen still managed to bring a smile to his face.
Jaime, Steve, and Draco were sitting at the old table, silently staring at each other. Or glaring, in Draco's case. The blond was holding a dripping potion's book by the corner of the front cover, an empty glass lay rocking back and forth on its side in front of Jaime. Between the pair, Steve was looking very entertained, his blue eyes locked on the blond, doubtlessly waiting for the imminent explosion.
"I told you to be careful," Draco snapped, pushing his chair back and standing up before the river of juice could find its way into his lap. Eyes flashing silver, he carried the book over to the counter and began to dab carefully at the pages, muttering angrily under his breath the entire time.
Giving his head an amused wag, Harry wandered into the kitchen, returning Jaime's chipper greeting with a smile. "Good morning," he responded, dragging a ragged towel out of one of the drawers and mopping up the orange lake forming on the table. Ignoring the dirty look Draco aimed at him, he draped the soaking cloth over the faucet and moved to the old stove, wrenching the door open and checking the fire crackling merrily within its belly. Satisfied with its height, he dropped a pot filled with water onto its top and turned back to the trio behind him, all of them watching him expectantly. "Oatmeal will have to do. It's all we have."
"You were talking in your sleep again," Jaime informed him, folding his skinny arms on the top of the table. His hazel eyes followed Harry innocently around the kitchen, a little frown twisting his delicate features.
"I was dreaming," Harry explained, flushing as Draco glared knowingly over his shoulder at him. His hands shook just the smallest bit as he collected bowls and spoons from their respective places about the kitchen, pretending not to notice the interested lifting of Steve's eyebrows. "Brown sugar?" He asked almost desperately, trying to distract Jaime from his current course of conversation.
Frown still in place, Jaime observed Harry closely, unfazed by the dark-haired wizard's attempt at distraction. "Who's Ron?" The little boy asked innocently, tracing a finger in circles on the top of the table.
Harry couldn't hide his minute flinch at the innocently asked question, choosing instead to peer hopefully at the slowly warming contents in the pot, shifting it restlessly about atop the hot stove. He could feel the curious eyes upon his back, the intangible pressure causing him to hunch his shoulders reactively. It was a simple enough question, one which shouldn't have given him a moment's pause, but for some reason he found himself scrambling for an answer to the query.
Curiousity growing at the lengthy pause, the little boy shifted in his chair, scooting closer to the table. "Is he a friend of yours?" Jaime asked insistently, sticking a finger into the small pot of brown sugar Harry had placed in the center of the table. He withdrew the digit quickly when Steve shot him a look of warning and popped it into his mouth, licking the sugar from it with a sweet smile.
Exhaling slowly, the raven-haired male stared into the pot of lightly frothing water and tried to erase the image of Ron sprawled in a pool of thickening blood. "He was," he replied quietly. He tugged a small sack of oats from its place on one of the sagging shelves, testing its weight with a creased brow. Frown in place, he checked the pot again before upending the bag over the steaming water, watching the oats darken gradually. Harry reached for the wooden spoon sitting on the counter but snatched his hand back when Draco aimed a slap at his encroaching fingers.
"That one is mine." The blond warned, drawing the spoon closer to the section of counter he'd claimed. Small jars and vials stood in a neat line against the wall, their contents marked in a bold scrawl. The heavy tome the blond had mopped dry moments ago lay open next to a much-used cauldron, the black iron marked with scratches and dings of questionable origin. Shooting the dark-haired male a warning look, Draco turned his attention back to his brewing, flipping an hourglass after adding a dash of something and giving the brew a quick stir.
Attention diverted from the warming oatmeal, Harry attempted to study the array of ingredients unobtrusively, wondering if perhaps Draco was brewing the infamous WolfsBane Potion. He lifted his chin a little higher, trying to read part of the dainty script over the blond's shoulder and frowning when the taller male shifted his position. Idly checking the consistency of the thickening oatmeal, Harry deemed it ready and quickly dished it into five chipped bowls, his gaze sliding back to Draco. "Is that the Wolfsbane Potion?" He asked the question quietly, unable to resist any longer. He couldn't even have begun to imagine the reaction the innocently asked query garnered.
Draco whipped around and leveled the wooden spoon at Harry's chest while shushing him loudly. Steve shot to his feet and grabbed Jaime under the arms, hoisting the little boy to his feet and thrusting the bowl of oatmeal into his hands. "To Andrej," the tall blond rasped, jamming another bowl into the child's hands. Neither Draco nor Steve gave the boy a chance to protest, practically tossing him out into the dark hallway and pushing the door closed on his heels. "What the hell are you thinking?" Steve snapped, whirling around and flashing fangs angrily.
Harry, who had stood watching Jaime's impromptu exit with a gaping mouth, looked back and forth between the pair and shook his head. He didn't understand where he had erred. "What-"
"Wolfsbane is poison. Fuckin' poison, Potter!" Draco practically bellowed, slamming the wooden spoon down on the counter and stepping forward aggressively. Silver eyes blazing, the blond curled fingers into Harry's sweater and lifted him onto his toes, rumbling unhappily. "It'll kill you."
"Draco," Steve warned, settling a placating hand on the other male's shoulder. "Release him." His grip tightened in warning when the other wolf glanced back at him and curled a lip. "You yourself said Potter was shit at brewing. He probably has no clue what he's been ingesting." It took another rough shake before Draco willingly released Harry, allowing him to sink back onto his heels and draw a full breath.
Inhaling greedily, Harry warily pushed away from Draco and eyed the duo suspiciously. "Lupin's been taking-"
"And it's killing him." Draco replied in a growl. Forcing his curled lip back into place, he whirled around and returned to his corner of the kitchen, hastily tipping two vials into the cauldron and stirring it clockwise.
"We don't take the Wolfsbane Potion, Harry." Steve said in a much calmer voice, resuming his relaxed slouch at the table. He dipped the tip of a spoon into his oatmeal, molding it thoughtlessly into a mountain in the center of the bowl. "It goes against everything we stand for . . . and it will kill you over time. Your friend, Remus Lupin, won't last much longer if he continues to drink it. Besides, the negative effects greatly outweigh the benefits. Temporary relief from the wolf, or eventual death - it seems like an easy choice to me."
Harry dragged in a deep breath and leaned back against the counter, mind racing as he attempted to take in everything. Giving a shake of his head, he straightened and mumbled an apology, leaving the room and house abruptly. He stood shakily on the crumbling front porch, eyes staring unseeing across the snow-covered meadow. He was shit at brewing . . . and he'd had no idea the Wolfsbane Potion could kill. Slowly, he sank onto the top stair, ignoring the chilly bite of the wind and the snow beneath his butt. Snape had practically poured the brew down his throat, and Remus had allowed it. He couldn't understand it. There were faster ways to die, less painful ones for certain. A movement turned his head, emerald orbs meeting hazel.
"Are you going to leave?" Jaime asked in a whisper, darting a quick glance toward the closed door. He clambered onto the porch and plopped down alongside Harry, tucking his bare hands into the dangling sleeves of the sweater he was wearing.
"And where would I go?" Harry asked the top of the boy's head, dropping an arm around the frail shoulders and tugging him closer. Heaving a deep sigh, Harry gazed across the slowly lightening meadow, and silently repeated the question in his head. Where would he go?
Harry stood at the end of the path that led into the Glen, staring silently into the thick woods while birds called cheerfully overhead. He ignored the squirrel angrily berating him from a nearby oak tree, choosing instead to tuck his hands into his pockets and tip his chin toward the naked canopy. Night was almost upon them; the sun was setting ever so slowly, painting the clouds a fiery orange and leaving fingers of pink in its wake.
It was almost time. Inside his pockets his hands fisted, clenching around the burning that was already beginning to seep into the tips of his fingers. This was his last chance to decide exactly what he was going to do. To decide whether he'd stay with Greyback, or return to Hogwarts and the cage that undoubtedly awaited him. It was a dire thought and a life-altering decision. He'd truly intended to stay with the pack, but without the collar that was the Wolfsbane Potion, he was beginning to regret that choice.
The cage represented safety, not necessarily for himself, but for all those unfortunate individuals who might cross his path. His body count for this month was already nearing the double digits, and he'd prefer to keep it well below that. Without the Wolfsbane Potion, the beast would be at the helm, making all their important decisions . . .
A stealthy tread brought his chin down and closed his eyes, his nostril flaring just the slightest as he inhaled. He held the familiar scent in his nose a moment before exhaling, turning to glance at the blond meandering down the trail toward him. The eyes that met his flashed silver and shimmered unnaturally, the blond's wolf peering out at the world it would soon join. Beneath his robes his skin tingled, the sensation raising the hair on his arms as his own wolf tested its ever lengthening leash.
"I can only begin to imagine what you're thinking of . . . standing all by yourself in the middle of the forest," Draco drawled quietly. The blond halted alongside Harry, gazing into the forest with a small smile on his face. He mirrored the dark-haired wizard's position, sliding his hands into his pockets and raising his face to the sky.
"I can't even begin to imagine how bored you must have been feeling to come out here and look for me," Harry replied, watching the blond out of the corner of his eye. He bit down roughly on his bottom lip when the wolf shifted again, a long stretch that began a pounding in his jawbone.
Giving the dark-haired wizard a toothy smile, Draco paced forward a few more strides, extending a bare hand to brush snow off a drooping branch. "You're supposed to be playing hide and seek with Jaime. The little mongrel's been looking for you for the past fifteen minutes." He peered over his shoulder at Harry, shrewdly gauging his expression.
"He said I wasn't trying hard enough the last time he found me," Harry murmured, a smug little smirk playing across his features. The expression faded slowly, replaced by a grim frown. Dropping his gaze to the toes of his boots, he kicked at the snow, internally considering sharing his doubts with Draco. "I don't know if I can do this," he said in a whisper, raising emerald spheres' that glittered with worry. The confession surprised him, but perhaps not quite as much as it did the blond.
Eyes widening, Draco swung around to face Harry, snow crunching softly beneath his boots. For a moment, he simply stared at the dark-haired male, unsure of how to respond. Finally, he gave a small shake of his head and smiled, closing the distance between them. "You've done it before, Harry." He said in a murmur, tipping his head to the right. "Besides, you don't really have a lot of choice."
"I can go back to Hogwarts," Harry said weakly. He slid his gaze away from Draco's, afraid of what he might see there, not even certain he wanted to have this conversation with the blond.
Draco scoffed at the pitiful response, his upper lip curling in disgust. "Why even bother going to Hogwarts? You may as well just show up in front of Azkaban and request a room for the night," the blond muttered, the reply scathingly sarcastic. He gave a slow wag of his head and spun away from Harry, beginning a long-legged pace back and forth in front of the other male. "Don't martyr yourself for them, Harry, they're not worth it."
Harry watched Draco stalk back and forth upon the well worn trail, not at all surprised by the blond's attitude. Inside his skull, the wolf agreed completely with Draco, reminding him of exactly why and how they even came to be in this situation, having this particular discussion. That didn't really change things, though, it simply made them a little more difficult. "To someone out there, their lives were priceless," he whispered.
"They attacked you, Harry!" Draco snarled, whirling around with such force that his cloak arced out behind him before settling against his legs in a soft hiss. He leveled a finger at the dark-haired wizard's chest, his eyes glowing fiercely. "They would have killed you! And do you know what would've happened once they did? Nothing! Absolutely Nothing! Because you're a werewolf." The last was said in a bitter growl, the words ringing clearly through the forest for everyone to hear.
Harry's eyes snapped closed and he drew a sharp breath, the reality of what the blond was saying slamming home. It took him a moment to recover, to calm the beast so he could speak rationally. "That doesn't make it right," he said quietly after muzzling the wolf. He raised his head and opened emerald orbs to stare in silent entreaty at the blond. In the trees overhead, the squirrel took up its angry rant, skipping spastically through the bare branches.
"Perhaps not," the blond replied, "but that doesn't mean you should give up the life you fought for. You're worth just as much as any of them were." Truer words had he never spoken, especially given the fact that Harry was supposed to be the Saviour of the Wizarding World. The one who would, singlehandedly, defeat Voldemort. Lips pressed together, he regarded the raven-haired male, reading the indecision written clearly upon his face.
Unable to meet Draco's knowing gaze, Harry turned away and raised his chin under the pretense of scanning the branches above for the little black squirrel that was creating all the racket. He knew the blond was right, but that didn't make his decision any easier. "Does your wolf whisper of death, Draco? Of how quickly and easily it could take down a man seconds after meeting him?" He drew a sharp breath when fire raced down his arm, his left hand automatically clamping around the muscle spasm. "I don't want to kill anymore. I can't kill anymore," he said forcefully, though even he could hear the desperation in his voice. As they spoke, night was creeping down upon them, the sun slinking from the sky in deference to the moon.
Draco's jaw cracked, the sharp sound causing him to wince. Around them, the forest began to quiet, the birds and squirrels seeking shelter deep within the heavily boughed pine trees. Realizing they had run out of time, he held up a placating hand to Harry and closed the short distance between them, halting when they were no more than a foot apart. "I'll make you a deal, Harry. Tonight, you run with the pack - with me - and promise to stay so long as we don't kill any humans." Doubt flared on the dark-haired male's face and Draco quickly continued, knowing he had mere minutes left to close the deal. "If, however, anything happens that you don't like - we'll leave. We'll go somewhere else . . . and I personally will brew the Wolfsbane Potion for you every full moon for the rest of your life - as long as it's not spent in Azkaban. Do you agree?"
Harry blinked in surprise, staring at the hand the blond had thrust toward him. It was an interesting offer, intriguing to say the least. He considered that hand, uncertain of Draco's true intentions. It was what he needed, though, a little more time to decide and the opportunity to truly experience the wolf. Draco had given him what he was secretly looking for. Slowly, he reached out and slid his hand into the blond's, emerald orbs locking with silver spheres that glittered triumphantly. "Agreed," he whispered, feeling his fingers begin to tingle and burn. The satisfied smile the blond wore vanished as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by a pained grimace.
Still clasping Draco's hand, Harry collapsed to his knees, his mouth opening on a wordless scream as fire ravaged his body. Bones snapped and cracked, dragging groans from deep within him. Pain traced fingers down his spine, his body bowing in turn. The wolf was racing to the surface, digging its way to freedom through his flesh. As he fell forward onto his stomach, he clung to the hand caught within his own, desperately fighting to hold on as the wolf for control . . . and won.
The black wolf staggered to its feet, shaking snow and shredded pieces of clothing from its fur. It flicked an ear in annoyance when a band of material remained dangling around its back leg, twisting around to tug angrily at the encumbrance before straightening. His nose twitched as he carefully tested the low wind, searching for danger upon the breeze. He tipped his muzzle toward the moon, eyeing the golden sphere respectfully. The full moon was the mother of all wolves, and he was simply a Shadow of her creation. A whisper of movement had him whipping around, a snarl of warning falling from his muzzle.
Standing several feet away, a lean wolf curled back his gums and growled, flashing sharp fangs in a deadly smile. The animal was tall and leggy, his thick coat the colour of snow with a touch of pale gold brushed into his ruff. Slitted eyes of liquid silver regarded him cautiously, watching his every more, trying to determine if he was a threat. Slowly, the pale wolf lifted his head, glistening teeth disappearing as he cocked his head.
Still uncertain, the dark wolf growled lightly, nose twitching as he ducked his head and peered warily at the blond. But he recognized the scent that clung to the other male; it was as familiar as his own, in fact, the blond's scent was strong upon his own fur. His ears flicked forward and back as he lifted his head, stretching his muzzle toward the other wolf.
Draco, murmured a voice deep within his skull. The black beast snarled savagely, snapping fangs back at its own shoulder. No! It was his time to be free. The boy had no business trying to leash him tonight. Giving his head a hard shake, he turned back to the white wolf, resuming his careful study of the other male. They were of equal strength perhaps, but every wolf in the pack had its place; its position determined not by simple strength but sheer dominance. And there was really only one method of securing one's place within the pack . . .
With a curled lip and a raspy growl, Silver initiated the viscously graceful dance. Accompanied by fierce snarls and the snap of pearly fangs, the pair slammed bodily together, desperately seeking to force the other into submission. Snow flew and fur floated to the ground as they reared and lunged about the small clearing. It was a wild ballet performed by two young males in their prime, their endurance unparalleled and their strength untried.
Glowing emeralds searched for weakness as Shadow pranced nimbly beyond Silver's snapping fangs, his entire body quivering with the adrenaline thrumming through his muscles. He sidestepped a wild lunge and spun around, launching himself at the other male's exposed back, and feeling a moment's panic at the realization the white animal was already twisting liquidly beneath him. Fangs raked lightly along the side of his face before snagging in the soft flesh of his jowl, the firm bite dragging him from the air and bringing him crashing down atop the hard ground. Before he had a chance to wiggle loose, Silver slid wickedly curving teeth into the thick fur of his throat and clamped down ruthlessly. He stilled immediately, feeling the deadly promise in the uncompromising hold. They remained that way for several seconds, the victor and the vanquished, both breathing heavily as they fought to regain their breath.
Slowly, Silver eased his grip, gently releasing Shadow's throat. He backed warily away from the dark wolf, watching as the other male clambered to his feet and gave himself a rough shake. The numerous scratches upon his muzzle and flanks stung, the small wounds staining his light coat pink in places. His gaze flitted about the clearing, nostrils flaring as he tipped his head and inhaled the cool night air. Tongue flicking over his nose, he turned his attention back to Shadow, watching the black wolf lick one of the scrapes on his front leg.
A cool wind whipped between the trees, ruffling their fur and carrying the sounds of the forest to their ears. An owl shrieked somewhere above them, the high-pitched call followed by the dying scream of some unlucky rodent. Giving the nasty scratch one final lap, Shadow turned his face into the wind and inhaled deeply, eyes narrowing as he picked through the various smells carried upon the low breeze. His head whipped up and around at a loud bay in the distance, ears tipping forward as he listened to the call.
Beside him, Silver tossed back his head and answered loudly, the sound carrying easily in the silence of the night. With a sideways glance in the direction of his companion, the white animal plunged into the forest, disappearing silently. The black wolf was hard on his heels, closing the distance between them in a matter of strides. Side by side, the two wolves plunged through the forest, snow flying up in their wake.
The haunting howl was repeated again; the call urging them on. Together, they darted between the trees in an unspoken challenge, snapping playfully at each other whenever they drew close. Their play ended when they tumbled into a thicket, sliding to a halt before a quartet of wolves. Two of the animals were tall and silver, their orbs a shimmering blue. Both growled at the intrusion, quieting when the large grizzled wolf snarled in their direction.
Each of the wolves was easily recognizable, not in appearance but in scent. Shadow would be able to identify the lupine forms of Andrej and Steve on a moonless night, their individual scents strong within his memory. The grizzled gray wolf with old scars tracing white fingers through his coat was the obvious alpha: Greyback. Dipping his muzzle submissively, the dark wolf crept toward the older animal, tail swinging slowly back and forth. He touched noses with the alpha before slinking nervously toward the other three wolves, whining when the larger gray wolf curled a lip at him. A sharp snarl whipped him around, emerald eyes taking in the sight of Silver standing challengingly in front of the old gray wolf.
The battle for leadership was over quickly. Silver ended up sprawled upon the snow, the old gray wolf standing over him with dripping fangs bared in warning. The pack shifted anxiously behind the pair, whimpering worriedly. With a final raspy growl, the alpha stalked away from the groveling wolf and headed deeper into the thick woods, leaving the pack to follow in his wake.
As they traveled through the forest, others appeared, silently joining the small pack until they numbered in the twenties. They ranged apart in small groups, rejoining the pack only to break off again with other wolves. They followed no visible path, but rather the wisps of scent that hung upon the air, the intangible memory of prey that had passed through the area recently.
The scent of smoke tickled Shadow's nose, the smell turning his muzzle into the wind. Silver shifted alongside him, nose working as he too honed in on the smell of wood burning. Exchanging hungry looks, the duo loped toward the source of the scent, several other wolves falling in behind them. They tracked the scent deeper into the forest, winding between sleeping oaks and snow burdened pines, finally coming across a small cottage with softly glowing windows. Whining amongst themselves, they circled the quaint cabin, noses twitching eagerly, eyes searching for movement within the building.
A flicker of movement brought Shadow to a standstill, shining emeralds reflecting the light as he watched a young witch pass by one of the windows. Tongue lolling from his mouth, he stalked the girl from window to window, sliding ever closer to the cabin, slightly wary of the open space between the edge of the trees and the cottage itself. Licking his lips, the black wolf eyed the witch hungrily, whining quietly as Silver appeared at his shoulder. The white wolf echoed the sound, taking several slinking steps toward the building but freezing at an excited howl in the distance.
In seconds the small pack of prowling wolves was flying through the forest, the little cabin in the woods forgotten. More howls joined the first, the call to the hunt spurring them on. As a group they tore through the night, plunging through banks of heavy snow and the tired trickle of a stream. More howls ripped through the night, urgency turning the normally mournful wails into whoops of excitement. And then, a hind plunged out of the brush ahead of them, its panting breaths inaudible beneath the growls and snarls from the pack of wolves dogging its heels.
Chest heaving, Shadow leapt forward, acutely aware of Silver mirroring him. With nowhere to go but forward, the doe attempted to spring between them, its desperate bid for escape failing as the duo locked fangs into delicate legs and clung. The defeated animal was dragged ruthlessly to the ground, its legs churning snow as it flopped helplessly beneath the weight of the pack. In a matter of seconds, the deer was dead, its throat torn by someone's eager fangs. Snow and fur became stained scarlet as the wolves fed, tearing the carcass apart and greedily devouring the warm flesh.
Collapsing a short distance away from the carnage, Shadow ran his tongue over his nose, lapping away clinging droplets of blood. Heaving in a deep breath, he observed the pack, contentment creeping through his weary muscles. This was freedom, the wolf thought, regarding the ragtag group sprawled across the snowy clearing. He glanced at the white wolf stretched out in the snow beside him, the animal licking blood from between his toes. As if reading his mind, the great grey wolf hauled himself into a sitting position and tipped his muzzle to the sky, singing sweetly to the moon. Around the clearing silence fell, only to be broken as others tipped their faces to the sky and sang. Carried upon the wind, the howls rang long and haunting into the night.
A/n: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read!