Minerva McGonagall was a woman of stout heart and constitution, only in middle-age for a Witch, especially one of her power. Still, even though she did not show it much, the scene she found in the Dursley's unsettled her. She stood in the hallway that connected the front door, stairs, kitchen, and living room of the Number 4, Privet Drive, or more accurately, what was left of it. A large portion of the wall was smashed in, and Minerva's sharp mind easily reconstructed the origins of the damaged wall, the chalk outline of a man, and the many bloodstains about the house.
"Merlin," She said quietly under her breath, drawing the attention of Albus Dumbledore from where he was crouched in front of the cupboard under the stairs, which had apparently had its door ripped off of its hinges.
"Indeed," Dumbledore said, a tiredness coloring his voice that Minerva was unaccustomed to hearing in the usually vital man, "This is far more serious than I had thought."
Minerva frowned, an expression which had intimidated many a first year, and moved over the yellow police tape to Dumbledore's side, the man shifting slightly to allow her to see within. Minerva found, for the first time since Voldemort's defeat, nausea rising within her throat.
The inside of the cupboard was, literally, painted with blood, a progression of increasingly intricate finger-paintings, all of which had the earmarks of the work of a child she was so familiar with, though escalating from one end of the cupboard to the other in complexity and quality to something surprisingly compelling. Minerva's agile mind trembled beneath the escalating horror of the realization that a child had cause to become skilled in finger-painting with what was almost certainly his own blood.
On the floor of the cupboard, carved out in a dried pool of blood, was a message.
Your failure as a guardian for Harry disappoints me, Albus, the message read, I have arranged new guardians for him. Do not attempt to retake custody of him.
Minerva certainly did not know what to make of that.
Later that night, the various members of the suddenly-reactivated Order of the Phoenix had assembled in the Headmaster's office of Hogwarts, and Minerva was slightly surprised and unnerved by how quickly Dumbledore had been able to gather so many widely separated people.
"I've called you all here," Dumbledore said gravely, drawing his gaze across every member present briefly before he continued, "Because last night, Harry Potter was abducted from his aunt's house by persons unknown."
Kingsley Shacklebot started slightly at the announcement, drawing Minerva's attention, as well as several of the other more observant members.
"You know something about this, Kingsley?" Dumbledore asked, gazing intently at Shacklebolt.
"It's not been released to the press yet," Shacklebolt said, grimacing, "But yesterday morning, Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban."
Deathly silence met that announcement, and Minerva's heart quailed within her. That man, free. Worse, he had escaped from Azkaban, something that had never been accomplished before. This meant that a man, both terrifying, and terrifyingly capable, was loose, at far too coincidental a time in relation to Harry being abducted.
"That certainly casts a grim light upon matters," Dumbledore said gravely, "Are there any clues as to how he escaped?"
Shacklebolt frowned, and many of the watching members did as well.
"Nothing," He said, frustration evident in his tone, "He simply disappeared."
Dumbledore also frowned at this, and for several seconds, there was silence as the Order contemplated this revelation.
"Did anyone see a large black dog, that perhaps looked like a Grim?" Remus Lupin asked tersely, with a clenched jaw.
Kingsley looked at him sharply for a moment before speaking.
"Some of the other prisoners were gibbering about a Grim walking the corridors," Kingsley said, "It is hardly unusual for the prisoners to have hallucinations, it was only notable that more than one seemed to have seen it."
Remus scowled deeply.
"Black is an Animagus," He said curtly, "A large black dog that looks like a Grim. All the Marauders had an alternate form."
"Why was I never told of this?" Dumbledore asked with a slightly stern, reproving tone.
"They developed the ability during their fifth year at Hogwarts," Remus said reluctantly, "It never seemed quite appropriate to inform your former headmaster that you had been learning restricted magic behind his back."
"Black would have been Padfoot then," Alastor Moody cut in, "Which was Prongs and which was Wormtail?"
"James was Prongs," Remus said, "He was a Stag. Pettigrew was Wormtail, a Rat."
Something suddenly warped its way through Minerva's mind in a wave of fear, and she lost track of what was spoken of after those words, turning her thoughts inward to identify the fear. It did not take long for her agile mind to grasp the thought that had struck her firmly.
"Molly," She said abruptly, an unusual edge in her stern voice, as she stared at the red-headed woman, "Your son, Percival, has a rat, one of unusual longevity, doesn't he?"
The conversation surrounding her shuddered to a halt, as Molly, Arthur, Dumbledore, and Lupin's faces all paled as they realized what McGonagall was implying.
"Yes," Molly said, voice trembling, "He found it in the garden, nine years ago. It's missing a toe on one of it's fore-paws."
"I told you to put th' man to trial, Albus," Moody growled out, as he stumped up out of his seat, and lurched towards the fireplace.
"Where are you going, Alastor?" Dumbledore asked.
"To the Weasleys," Moody growled, "To catch a rat."
Thirty seconds later, the meeting was short two Weasleys, Moody, and Lupin.
"Well," Dumbledore said with a hint or irony, "It seems that this meeting will cover more ground than I expected, though events do make a great deal more sense now."
"What do you mean by that?" Andromeda Tonks asked, and Minerva could see by the glint in the woman's eye, that she was taking a vested interest in the disposition of her possibly-innocent cousin.
"There were signs," Dumbledore said sadly, "That the Dursley's had been mistreating Harry. It would appear that Black left a message chastising me for my poor quality of care for Harry; if Black is indeed innocent, and has Harry's best interests at heart, this matter becomes less a kidnapping, and more a mis-guided rescue attempt."
"But still!" Dedalus Diggle cut in, "After nine years in Azkaban, the man can hardly be competent to care for a child!"
"The message also claimed that Harry was being placed in the custody of a new set of guardians," Albus continued calmly, "And warned me against attempting to retake custody of him. It did not, however" Dumbledore said, forestalling objections, "Warn against attempting to find young Harry, which will most certainly be attempting to do, whether Sirius approves of this or not."
Nymphadora Tonks, age sixteen, was desperately fighting off a smirk. Being raised in the muggle world had definite advantages; she had found Harry Potter with relative ease. Watching the news, and being as up-to-date on muggle detective measures and law-enforcement practices as she was on Auror practices was all it had taken. Combine this with with her Metamorphmagus abilities and her very respectable O.W.L. Results, and she was sure to get into the Aurors! Maybe she would even be able to skip out on Snape's NEWT potion course.
Either way, she'd better make sure she had, in fact, found Harry Potter first. Walking up the front steps of the modest country home, she knocked on the door.
It opened and a girl, not much older than Tonks, smiled at her, then looked her up and down carefully.
"Hello," She said after a moment, "You must be Tonks, the changeling. We weren't expecting you first."
Tonks goggled at the young woman, confusion nearly bowling her over. The other young woman smiled.
"I'm Catherine Gates," She said, "Come on in!"
Tonks, still staring in confusion, did not move. Laughing, the Gates girl pulled her into the house, and directed her into the kitchen, seating her at a bar-stool around the large counter.
"We had expected a member of the Order of the Phoenix," Catherine said in a friendly tone as she turned away from the still-shocked Tonks to her task immediately at hand, apparently making lunch, or possibly breakfast by what she was cooking, "But the Boss-man listed a few other people that he said might show up. Mostly Fudge's lackeys or the Death Eaters that wormed their way out of Azkaban, you were one of the few friendly names on the list, along with Amelia Bones, or the Flamels."
"Uhhh," Tonks finally managed articulately, and Catherine turned to smile at her while the young Metamorph struggled for words.
"How do you know all this?" She finally managed to ask.
"The Boss-man knows lots of things," Catherine said, then turned back to her meal preparations, flipping several pieces of french toast, "Of course, he also doesn't know lots of things, sometimes its funny what he does and doesn't know."
"Like what?" Tonks asked, trying to find her way back onto more stable ground.
"Like sometimes he thinks he's actually in charge," Catherine said, voice full of laughter, and just confusing Tonks all the more.
"Why do you call him Boss-man then?" She asked.
"Because it tweaks him," Catherine said, "And we do usually listen to him, he is right a lot of the time after all."
"Is he Sirius Black?" Tonks asked, some hesitation in her voice.
"That would be telling," She said tauntingly.
Tonks groaned, and let her head fall onto the counter-top in front of her. Catherine laughed again, and for a time, there was an amiable silence between the two. Eventually though, Catherine finished her meal preparations, and then turned to regard Tonks seriously.
"I am about to call Harry," She said, "He is very delicate right now. Do not attempt to physically approach him, raise your voice, or speak in anger around him. Do you understand?"
Tonks nodded solemnly
"Harry, lunch time!" Catherine called, then turned back to Tonks, "Also," She said, "He doesn't speak."
Tonks, again, found herself battling shock. A distant part of her mind told her this would be good experience for dealing with high pressure situations once she became an Auror. Her shock reached new highs as a small, painfully thin boy rode into the kitchen on the largest dog Tonks had ever seen. It was huge, and the boy rode it like a horse, save for the lack of reigns... Harry himself rapidly caught Tonks attention. He was bruised across almost half his face, and every visible part of his skin was scarred, to the point where the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead didn't really stand out anymore. When he entered, he had the happy, playful look, of a healthy child, but as soon as he saw her, he became wary, and hunkered down over the dog's body.
"Harry, this is Tonks," Catherine said gently, "She's a little clumsy, but she won't hurt you on purpose, do you understand."
Harry eyed Tonks up and down warily, then nodded slowly. Tonks gazed back in surprise and confusion, a part of her chilled by how much Harry's new guardians seemed to know about her.
"Now Tonks," Catherine said, laying three plates of food on the table, and one on the floor, "Could we persuade you to teach Harry how to master his Metamorph abilities?"
It was all Tonks could do not to spit out the eggs she had just put in her mouth.
It took Dedalus Diggle, Mundungus Fletcher, Arthur Weasley, and Alastor Moody all combined to hold the frothing Remus Lupin in place.
"YOU BASTARD!" He screamed in insensate rage, staring down at the cowering and pinned form of Peter Pettigrew, "HOW COULD YOU?"
Pettigrew stuttered and gibbered, utterly terrified by the raging werewolf. It didn't take Lupin's more sensitive nose to notice when the small, balding man lost control of his bowels.
"That's an easy question t' answer," Moody growled, "Like any coward, he went to beg at the heels of the strongest bully around. Voldemort."
Then the grizzled auror stunned Pettigrew and Lupin both.
"You lot take care of Lupin," he growled as he levitated Pettigrew's unconscious body, "I'm off to have a chat with Amelia."
Moody stumped off through the Floo, heading to the ministry of magic.
Lucius Malfoy felt the tingle as one of the wards he was linked to in his manor was tripped. It was a very particular ward, one that demanded his immediate, personal attention. Striding steadily through the manor house, in an efficient, but unhurried gate, Malfoy found that something had smashed a hole into the floor of his house in a place he very muchly did not want a hole, for fear of what would be revealed beneath.
As he stood over the hole, frowning down into its recesses, an impossibly strong arm snaked around his neck, and Lucius suddenly found himself held in an iron-clad choke-hold.
"Lucius old boy!" A cheery voice said jovially, "How wonderful to see you!"
Malfoy's jaw clenched as Sirius Black walked out into view in front of him.
"Black," he hissed, pouring as much venom into both his voice and his gaze as he could.
"Indeed!" The incredibly scruffy and disheveled man said with a broad grin and blinding cheer, "Fresh from my extended vacation at the lovely island of Azkaban, here to ask you incriminating questions and mock you relentlessly. How is my dear cousin Narcissa these days?"
Malfoy just glared at Sirius, unrelenting.
"Oh right!" Sirius said brightly, "Pure-blood pride and all that, wouldn't do for you to discuss family matters with a blood-traitor like me," Black's grin and eyes turned malicious, "Funny how that works, did you ever realize that should I be exonerated of what I didn't do, and you convicted of what you did, Due to proximity of blood-lines and etc, I would gain custody of your son?"
Malfoy went for his wand, but the iron grip on him slammed him to the cold marble floor face-first, and twisted both his arms behind his back, locking his joints.
"Now now," Sirius said reprovingly, "We wouldn't want any premature bloodshed here, would we?"
Lucius snarled, and tried to reach his wand again. Whoever was holding him snorted in derision, handling the blond Death-Eater like a child.
"So now," Sirius said amiably, sitting down in front of Malfoy, "It's time for the questions! First off, once I've managed to de-mushify poor Draco from your pureblooded nonsense, would you like me to bring him by to see you in Azkaban immediately, or wait until he's found a nice Muggleborn wife?"
Lucius thrashed in wild, ineffectual rage. A very real fear was beginning to grow within him, between the ease with which his home had been invaded, he had been incapacitated, and his son's future was being threatened. Like any bully, he responded by this fear by attempting to lash out.
"You muggle-loving fool!" He screamed, "When the Dark Lord returns, you'll suffer!"
Sirius snorted derisively.
"You Death Eaters are all the same," Sirius said derisively, "Dark Lord this, dork lord that. Never helped any of you lot when I dueled you ten years ago, won't help you now. I mean seriously, the half-blood horror was beaten by an infant."
Lucius screamed in inarticulate fear-fueled rage, desperately struggling against the relentless grip of his captor.
"Tsk tsk Lucius," Sirius chided, "No need for tantrums. You know, I think that's why I was never invited to join your little club of bullies, Voldedum knew I'd have edged him out for the top spot within a week."
"You were never asked to join because you're a blood-traitor!" Lucius screamed in rage, "Just like those bastard Weasleys, and Andromeda, and-"
He was cut off by a forceful hand clamping down on his mouth.
"I'd be careful if I were you, cousin," Black said with mock seriousness, "It's awfully close to the full moon, and you wouldn't like my friend here's control to slip."
Lucius suddenly became deathly still as a whole new fear suddenly coursed icily through his veins. A werewolf. Inhuman. Worse, something that could make him inhuman. To Malfoy's blood-supremacist world-view, the thought was unconscionably horrifying, and his earlier enraged thoughts were overtaken by a stark terror that screamed at him to flee, to escape, by any means possible. Never let it be said that Malfoy was completely without backbone; as soon as the hand was removed from his mouth, he spoke flatly.
"What do you want, Black?" He asked coldly.
"Just for you to answer a few questions," Sirius said merrily, "Honestly and straightforwardly. I'd love for you to answer them before the Wizengamot, but seeing as how I'm person non-grata, that'd be rather hard."
"Ask." Malfoy said icily.
"First off," Sirius said, his continued high spirits driving Malfoy further and further into irritation, "Were you really under the Imperius?"
"Did you know I wasn't a Death Eater when they sent me to Azkaban?"
"Were Crabbe, Goyle, Macnair, Rookwood, Nott, or Flint under the Imperius?"
"Was Narcissa under the Curse or some other form of coercion?"
"No Imperius," Malfoy said coolly, "She was, however informed that keeping her sister Andromeda off of the priority target list was dependent upon her good behavior."
"Have you been bribing people in the ministry?"
"Fudge, Umbridge. No others were even neccessary," Malfoy added with some satisfaction.
"Have you used the Unforgivables of your own free will?"
"How many of Riddle's Horcruxes do you know the location of."
Malfoy started violently at that question, under the forceful grip of his captor, his body barely twitched.
"How did you know-"
"Where." Sirius forcefully cut him off.
Malfoy was quiet for a long time before answering that question.
"I don't know," Malfoy finally said.
"Really," Sirius growled, glaring down at him, and Lucius could see the full madness of Azkaban behind the man's eyes.
"Really," he whispered, trembling.
Sirius looked up past Malfoy, at the man holding him down.
"Partial truth," A gruff voice growled, the first time the man had spoken since he had first taken hold of Malfoy, "He's telling the truth, but he knows more."
"The rest," Sirius growled, all light-heartedness gone, and the man above him's grip tightened painfully.
"Diary," Malfoy gasped, "In the artifact chamber, it's probably a Horcrux!"
A vicious, chilling smile worked its way across Sirius face.
"Such a lovely chat, Lucius," Sirius said, "Maybe I'll come by and visit you in Azkaban. Aurors?"
To Lucius utter horror, a pair of Aurors dropped disillusionment charms, and moved forward, and took him from the arms of his black-skinned captor.
"You know Lucius," Black said mockingly as the aurors dragged the unresisting Malfoy away, "It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to outsmart Slytherins."
Minerva McGonagall decided it would be best to leave off finishing her breakfast until she had finished reading the Daily Prophet. Pettigrew convicted of murder, being a death eater, resisting arrest, conspiracy to murder, using unforgiveables, being an unregistered animagus. Sirius Black exonerated, awarded massive damages for wrongful imprisonment. Those she had expected, it would have been hard not to expect them after the Order meeting a week ago. Harry Potter rescued from abusive muggles by Sirius Black. That she had also expected, for similar reasons.
Lucius Malfoy convicted of murder, conspiracy to murder, torture, perjury, bribery, hoarding dark artifacts, blackmail. Macnair, Crabbe, Goyle, Flint, Nott, many, many more names, under similar charges, including a number of Wizengamot members. Cornelius Fudge and Delores Umbridge convicted on charges of graft. Many other ministry employees fired for failing to report such. Somebody had lit a fire under Amelia Bones, and McGonagall strongly suspected Alastor Moody was the culprit.
In a way, it was reassuring to her that her contemporaries could still be such movers and shakers in the world; between Dumbledore overshadowing, so many of her generation dying in the wars against Grindlewald and Voldemort, and the fire of the younger generations, it often seemed as though there was nothing left for her own generation to accomplish. Shifting mental gears and setting aside the newspaper, Minerva resumed eating her breakfast, and turned to the list of Muggle-borns she would be visiting this month.
At the top of the list was a young girl's name; Hermione Granger.
Harry Potter and Catherine Gates stood outside of an unusually normal-looking grade school, an hour before the school was to begin, waiting. With them was a massive black and gray dog; Harry seemed to be attempting to hide behind the dog, which was laying down on his right, and Catherine, on his left. Considering the sheer size of the dog, and Harry's short stature, he was fairly effective in this attempt. Catherine was singing a soft song to the silent boy. After a few minutes, their waiting was at an end, as a well-maintained sedan drove up to the school's entrance, and dropped off a young bushy-haired girl.
The girl exchanged some words with someone in the car, then arms crossed the window for a hug between the girl and what had to be her mother, then the car departed, and the girl made a cursory glance around the schoolyard, before doing a double-take and staring at the odd trio. Catherine smiled warmly and waved at the young girl, while Harry ducked down until only his eyes and above were visible over the dog's back, while the dog gazed placidly at the girl. The girl hesitated for a moment, then eagerly trotted over to them, smiling tentatively as she approached.
"Hello," Catherine said warmly, "You must be Hermione Granger. Mrs. Green said good things about you when I spoke with her last week."
Hermione nodded respectfully before speaking.
"Yes Ma'am," She said, "Who are you?"
"I'm Catherine Gates," Catherine said, then lay her hand on Harry's half-hidden head, "This is Harry, and this lummox," She bumped the massive dog with her foot, "Is Black. Harry will be starting school here today, according to Mrs. Green, he'll be in your class."
Hermione's eyes light up with a tentatively excited smile.
"Hello Harry," She said, excitement coloring her voice as she extended her hand over Black, towards Harry, "I'm Hermione, I'm pleased to meet you."
Catherine nudged Harry gently, and he cautiously reached his hand over Black to meet hers, and shook it warily.
"Harry doesn't talk," Catherine said gently, "And he's terribly shy. Do you think you could show him around the school?"
Hermione looked at Harry, then Catherine in surprise, uncertainty clear in her features.
"Harry could really use a friend," Catherine said softly, crouching down so that she was on a more even level with Hermione.
Hermione looked her in the eye, and was surprised to see no condescension in the older girl's eyes. Hesitantly, she nodded, and then smiled reflexively when a broad grin washed across Catherine's beautiful face. Part of Hermione was very happy at the prospect of a friend, part of her was intimidated by the older girl's self-confidence and looks, certain that she could never be that beautiful. Her thoughts were interrupeted when a massive, rough tongue smeared a wet lick across her face.
"Ewww!" She said, squealing slightly, and glared accusingly at the dog.
Black's tongue lolled out of his jaw as he stared back at the girl, and Hermione could see the laughter in the dog's eyes. She furiously wiped the dog drool from her face with one hand, while reaching into her schoolbag for a tissue with the other, and was slightly perturbed at Catherine's light laughter. She looked away from the dog to stare accusingly up at the much older girl, but stopped when she caught the smile in Harry's eyes, peeking over the dog's back. She smiled hesitantly back, and Harry responded by moving upward slightly, so that his whole face was visible, and Hermione was startled by the scars that marred the young boy's face.
"Harry," Catherine said gently but firmly, drawing both of the children's attention, "Stay with Hermione today, she may accidentally do something hurtful, but I believe you can trust her not to do it on purpose."
Harry nodded, and Catherine continued.
"Remember Harry, friends look out for each other," She said solemnly, staring the young boy in the eye.
Harry nodded back just as solemnly.
"Right then," Catherine said, her tone turning to something much more light-hearted, "Hermione, why don't you start showing Harry around the grounds?"
Hermione nodded eagerly, then her eyes widened as the dog between them stood up, blocking her view of Harry. It was taller than she was! A moment later, she saw Harry's face pop up over the dog's side, smiling shyly, as he offered her his hand. Uncertain what for, but courteous to a fault, Hermione took his hand, then yelped as he pulled her up onto the dog's back in front of her. He was a lot stronger than she had expected. It took a moment, and Harry's help, to get herself seated modestly on Black's back, without her skirt riding up too high, and then the dog looked back at her expectantly. For a moment, Hermione was confused, but it did not take long for her lightning-fast mind to come up with a probable cause for the dog's expectant gaze.
"Um," She said, pointing towards the gymnasium "That way?"
The dog turned forward, and trotted off. Hermione realized that there was a huge grin spreading across her face. This was fun.
Nymphadora 'say my first name and die,' Tonks hummed a merry tuneless tune as she moved on to Transfiguration from Defense Against the Dark Arts, cycling her hair through a bright array of primary colors in a reflection of her good mood. As per usual since partway through her fourth year, she was first to arrive to McGonagall's classroom, and sat herself front and center in the classroom. Taking a measured gaze around the classroom as she crossed it, she ruled out any potential threats, and once seated turned her attention to the room's only other occupant, Minerva McGonagall herself. A quick glance at the focused expression on her teacher's face, and the contents of her desk filled Tonks in on all that she needed today.
"Who's the lucky muggle-born today?" She asked with a knowing smile, and McGonagall's eyes flicked up to stare intently at the young woman in front of her.
"Hermione Granger," McGonagall said, "An extremely bright young witch and only child, noted for excellent marks at school. Her parents are dentists."
Tonks winced slightly at that last comment.
"Poor girl," She said.
Minerva raised an eyebrow at her remark.
"Probably never had a sweet in her life," Tonks said morosely.
McGonagall's cheek tweaked slightly into a grin at that remark.
"No," She said, "I suppose not. Still, parents of such high standards of education would clearly be one of the causes for such academic motivation. Probably a Ravenclaw."
Tonks allowed herself an amused smirk.
"Another egghead for the tower," She said in a put-upon manner, "Probably be lecturing us poor Hufflepuffs about proper note-taking by this time next year."
McGonagall's slight grin turned into a full-blown smile.
"Are you quite sure you weren't meant to be a Gryffindor?" She asked the metamorph with a smile, "I have perhaps a half-dozen students in a decade with the nerve to joke with me in such a manner."
"Oh, poo," Tonks said, pouting slightly, "I just know that your bark is worse than your bite."
McGonagall's happy smile lasted until the next student arrived a minute and a half later.
Fenrir Greyback screamed as something tore deeply into his flank, and lashed out with his own bloodied claws at the unseen enemy, roaring in satisfaction as he felt flesh give way beneath his own claws. His roar was cut off by a massive tangle of sticky, white material plastering him and his surroundings to the ground. With a snarl, the werewolf ripped free of the webbing that immediately bound him, but it took him precious seconds to force his way out of the mess. Hissing deep in his hybridized throat, the Werewolf growled as he sniffed his surroundings, searching for his foe.
A flaming mass of shadows roared across the forest clearing, slamming into the Werewolf, slashing at his throat, and setting his fur aflame. Fenrir attempted to grapple with the creature that assaulted him, but as the flames faded, so did the shadows, and he could no longer see his foe. He was smashed to the ground, and the silhouette of a pair of claws appeared, wreathed in flames, and laid into the wolf, shredding and searing his flesh. Screaming in pain and rage, Fenrir clawed and bit at his invisible assailant, but failed to strike another successful blow. The next exchange of blows tore into Fenrir's chest and throat, nearly tearing the creature's body apart.
Sensing inevitable defeat, the werewolf attempted to flee, but a blow from behind snapped his neck, and the Fenrir grayback fell to the ground, dead. A long moment passed, and the only audible sound was a loud panting, that of a large creature that had worked up a good sweat, but it rapidly faded.
"Are you sure about this?" A hesitant voice said eventually, from well above ground level.
"Of course I'm sure," Another voice said, tone clearly indicating he was tired of the argument, "It won't cure Lycanthropy, but it will allow you to control it."
The voices descended as they spoke.
"If it's this simple, why hasn't it ever been found before?" The first voice asked.
"Change to the status quo," A deep, growling voice said from over the corpse, and an invisible force began to butcher the dead wolf's body, "What happens to those in power if a wild pack of slavering beasts, instead become a force of powerful warriors, beholden to none? Upsets the balance of power, and there are those who have a vested interest in the balance of power remaining where it is."
"Black," The first voice said warily, "Who is that?"
"He's the one who helped me take down Lucius," The second voice said happily, "Had the poor old boy just about wetting his pants when I told him he was being held by a werewolf."
The first voice was silent for a few moments, and the only sound was the dead werewolf's corpse being messily rendered down for meat.
"Very well then," The first voice said.
"It's best fried," The deep voice said, and several pounds of meet were lifted into the air by an invisible hand, and placed into another invisible hand, "Tastes a lot like venison, but unfortunately you have to take the blood with it, even cooked."
No more words were spoken as the bloody meat was tucked into invisibility, and the first two voices left the clearing.
Tonks forcibly restrained herself from bursting into the Gates home, instead quietly opening the door, and stepping inside.
"Catherine? Jaquelyn? Harry? Black?" Tonks called with a moderately raised voice.
"Tonks?" Came the voice of Jaquelyn Gates, followed shortly by the fit, middle-aged owner of both the voice and the house.
"Proffessor McGonagall's going to the Granger's tonight, to give Hermione her introduction to the magical world!" Tonks breathed out in a strained but carefully restrained volume.
Jaquelyn frowned, scowling for a moment, then decisively moved towards the doorway that Tonks still stood in.
"The boss is out," She said, "We'll have to deal with this ourselves."
Tonks nodded frantically, and followed the older woman out of the house.
The Grangers lived in a large, spacious home, with its own exercise room, modest pool, and completely immodestly massive library. Currently, said library had one ten, and one eleven year old occupant, the elder of which was rapidly educating the younger on the finer points of efficiently and legibly writing in the Queen's English. Within the house's more normally sized kitchen, Catherine Gates and Jeanne Granger were preparing dinner together; the Granger patriarch was not yet home.
To the surprise of both the women in the kitchen, there came a knock at the door at the hour of 6:17 PM. Excusing herself from the kitchen, Jeanne Granger went to answer the door, opening it to find a calm, attractive middle-aged woman flanked by a jarringly polychromatic elfin young woman. Most of the jarring matter was her rainbow-colored hair.
"Mrs. Granger?" The elder of the two asked, something in her voice raising tension in Jeanne.
"Yes," Jeanne said, "And you are?"
"Jaquelyn Gates, Harry's current guardian," She said, and Jeanne relaxed somewhat, "And this is Tonks. If it's not too much trouble, I would like to be able to speak to you about some of the special circumstances around Harry."
"Of course," Jeanne said, come on in, Catherine and I were just preparing dinner.
"I'd be happy to help you," Jaquelyn said, "And Tonks could probably do with some observational practice."
The younger woman scowled at the older, blushing slightly. Jeanne raised an eyebrow.
"I'm not much good in the kitchen," Tonks grumbled, and Jeanne smiled slightly.
"Well, to the kitchen it is then," Jeanne said brightly, and the three women moved to the kitchen, where they were met by a somewhat startled Catherine.
"Lyn?" She said surprised, "What are you doing here."
"How many times must I tell you to call me Auntie," Jaquelyn said with a frown.
"Sorry Auntie," Catherine said, ducking her head and blushing.
Jeanne looked at the two confused, but didn't say anything.
"Anyways," Jaquelyn said as she intuitively slotted herself into assisting Catherine in the salad making process in front of her, "As I said, there are some special circumstances regarding Harry I need to discuss with you."
"I already know that Harry does not speak," Jeanne said, "And it isn't hard to gather that he has probably been abused in the past, judging from all the scars."
"Yes," Jaquelyn said, nodding, "What you don't know is that we've barely had him for a month. He was rescued forcibly from his abusive aunt and uncle's house in early August, and we took custody of him the next day, in a special house with special security measures."
Jeanne, who was in the process of removing a cake from the oven at that point, looked at Jaquelyn for a moment, obviously confused.
"Why on earth would Harry need security?" Jeanne asked, placing the cake on the counter to cool.
"This is where things more difficult to explain come in," Jaquelyn said evenly, looking Jeanne in the eye, concern evident in both her face and tone, "Tonks, if you would care to demonstrate."
Tonks, now the focus of all three other women's attention, nodded eagerly, and her hair rapidly shifted shape so that it resembled a rainbow not only in color, but also in form. Jeanne's highly educated, rational scientific mind suffered a short circuit, and she just stood there, staring. Tonks, ever the mischief-maker, grinned and changed first the shape of her hair, then the color, to make a crude amalgam of a second head peaking over her right shoulder.
"Looks a bit like she's had a Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster," Tonks whispered conspiratorially to her second faux-head.
It nodded, smirking in response.
"Well, except for the falling down and passing out into a coma bit," Tonks continued, studying Jeanne carefully.
Her 'second head' nodded again.
"What on earth?" Jeanne breathed, her brain finally working back into gear.
"That'll be enough, Tonks," Jaquelyn said, her voice poorly concealing her grin, "Harry, like Tonks here," She said, turning back to face Jeanne, and gaining her attention as Tonks hair faded to something more mundane, "And in fact your own daughter as well, is magical."
Jeanne suddenly found herself needing to sit down, as many, many unexplained occurences over the last eleven years began to make sense. Fortunately for her, Catherine slipped in and assisted the heavily distracted woman to a chair. For several long minutes, she was aware of nothing but mental connections being made, and a large, rising sense of relief as a burden on her heart was lifted, and worries were eased. Around her, Catherine and Jaquelyn continued with meal preparations, receiving limited help from Tonks. Eventually though, Jeanne's attention turned outwards again.
"How do you know all these things?" She asked, somewhat breathlessly.
"Tonks here is a student of the woman who will be showing up today to introduce you to the magical world," Jaquelyn said, "She came by our house earlier to warn us. As to why she would do such a thing, Harry is a high-profile target in the magical world, and we need to be on hand to ensure that he is not exposed to the same kind of treatment we rescued him from barely a month past."
"Is this woman dangerous?" Jeanne asked, not noticing the offended look on Tonk's face at the potential accusation.
"Not in and of herself," Jaquelyn said, "But unless given good reason, she will spread word of Harry's whereabouts, and that will draw attention from many dangerous figures."
Jeanne nodded hesitantly before speaking again.
"What does this mean for Hermione?"
Jaquelyn sighed, set aside the task at hand, and crossed the kitchen to sit down across from Jeanne.
"I will be forthright with you," She said, "We specifically selected the school to send Harry to, because we knew Hermione would be there. The leader of our little group, with the endorsement of the queen, is attempting to make a very thorough renovation of the British magical community, and breaking Harry free from the many forces attempting to control his life, and introducing him to someone we knew would be a good, loyal friend, not to mention needed a friend herself, was one of the early steps."
Jeanne was unsure whether she should be upset with what her daughter was potentially being dragged into, proud of how much faith these near-strangers placed in Hermione's character, or touched by their attempt to engineer a friendship for her. Her dilemma was preempted, however, by Jaquelyn continuing to speak.
"There's more to it than that," She pressed on, and her tone was sad now, "Whether you like it or not, your daughter is about to be pulled into a world that has deeply racist elements. British magicals refer to non-magical people as muggles, people born of purely magical blood 'Purebloods,' and those with mixed parentage, 'half-bloods.' Many powerful members of the so-called 'Pureblood' community are fanatical racists, believing that they should rule over all that do not meet their standards of blood-purity. It is by and large just this faction that our leader is actively purging from British magical society. You are intelligent enough, however, to recognize that these attitudes, even if legally unacceptable, will affect your daughter, especially since she is almost certain to outshine her 'pureblood' peers with her brilliance."
Jeanne stared at Jaquelyn, uncertain how to respond to these rather dire proclamations. Jaquelyn smiled, a sad, sympathetic expression.
"Not what you were expecting tonight, was it?" She asked sympathetically.
Jeanne just shook her head wordlessly.
"Not what I expected either, when I got involved with all this," Jaquelyn said, "But someone needed to look after Catherine and the Boss, and he'd already saved my life."
"I'm not sure if I can accept this," Jeanne said slowly.
Jaquelyn nodded, smiling in understanding.
"That's understandable," She said in a warm tone, "We're just here to warn you, not to try to tell you what to do. Professor McGonagall will be here at Eight PM sharp though, knowing her, and when she finds out about Harry, we will have to have words with her. Your own decision about how to react to all of this is up to you."
Jeanne nodded vaguely as her mind whirled with new input, demands at denial, concern for her daughter, and a great deal of confusion. Fortunately for her, Jaquelyn knew how to help people struggling with having their entire world-view implode.
"Jeanne, could you tell me where you keep your cheese grater?"
Hostly instincts kicking in, Jeanne got up to resume dinner preparation, and the normalcy of the physical routine helped ground her as her mind struggled with the extra-normal.
Amelia Bones, newly invested Minister of Magic, smiled at Elizabeth the Second, Queen of England as she served them both tea.
"It's nice to see you in good health, your majesty," Amelia said, and the queen smiled back at her.
"It is nice to see a woman of character in control of the Magical Ministry," The Queen returned, "I have been concerned for quite some time about the rather questionable qualities of Cornelius' administration."
"As have I, your majesty," Amelia returned, a dark note in her voice for a few moments, but she shook it off.
"Fortunately," The Queen continued to Amelia's surprise, "My agents within the magical community have been able to effect change."
That caught Amelia completely by surprise. While she held her loyalty to the queen in truth, it was considered common knowledge amongst the magical community that the queen took a hands-off attitude towards handling their affairs. The fact that she not only had taken a direct hand in matters, but Amelia, as the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had not even noticed was stunning. In spite of the sheer shock of the revelation, the only outward reaction Amelia showed was a slight hesitation as she poured her own tea.
"I was unaware you had agents involved in the recent political upheaval in the magical world," Amelia said, ever the forthright and blunt woman.
"Just as I desired it to be," Elizabeth said, smiling, "Something that you may or may not wish to pass on to the rest of your government."
Amelia nodded, and sipped her tea.
"In July," The Queen said after taking a sip of her own tea, "I became aware of young Lord Potter's circumstances, and found myself constrained to act. After asking a few questions in the right places, I also learned that Lord Black was in Azkaban, apparently without a trial."
Amelia grimaced at that.
"Yes, your majesty," She said, with tightly restrained bitterness in her tone, "It appears that someone falsified the documentation involved in his case, something that I pressed upon the new head of the DMLE as a priority for investigation."
Elizabeth nodded, taking another sip before speaking again.
"After I discovered that, all I had to do was send one of my agents to inform Lord Black of the poor circumstances in which his Godson resided. From that point on, no further intervention on my part was required. I do prefer to govern with as light a hand as possible, and it is thanks largely to your excellent service to The Crown that no more involvement on my part has been necessary."
"I'm honored by your words," Amelia said quietly, "I did not realize the Crown's eyes were on me."
"The Crown sees more than most think," Elizabeth said with a twinkle in her eyes, "Now, tell me how your niece Susan is doing."
Minerva McGonagall looked at the young eyes in front of her in shock. It was as though Lily Potter's eyes were staring at her from beyond the veil of death. Around those eyes though, was something that horrified her. A scarred face, with the slightly misshapen note that her experience as both a Transfiguration Master and a teacher of children told her only came with damage to the bone structure of a face. Damage that only came from violence. It was simultaneously one of the most heartwarming and horrifying experiences of her life, and the emotional dissonance made her feel dizzy.
Fortunately, a young woman she did not recognize helpfully guided her over to a seat and helped her down into it. After several long moments, Minerva was able to regain some equilibrium, and she looked up at the girl with a smile.
"Thank you," She said, "You are?"
"I'm Catherine Gates, Professor McGonagall," The young woman said with a smile, then moved to sit beside the two older women in the living room.
"As I said," Minerva said, regaining her mental equilibrium, "I'm Minerva McGonagall, and I've come to offer your daughter an invitation to the Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
The bushy-haired woman on the right end of the couch nodded slowly, looking at the girl sitting on the love seat across from her. The girl was staring at McGonagall with intensely inquisitive eyes, and the boy sitting next to her, the one with Lily's eyes, who had to be Harry Potter, was looking at her curiously as well.
"Pardon me for asking," She said, carefully restraining the desperation that wanted to enter her voice, "But is this young man Harry Potter?"
"Yes," The other middle-aged woman said, staring Minerva directly in the eyes, "And by order of the Queen, you will not be informing either the magical government, Albus Dumbledore, or any other member of the magical community of his whereabouts."
Minerva completely lost the mental equilibrium she had so recently regained.
"The Queen?" She breathed faintly.
"Yes," The other woman said, "I am one of Lord Potter's two newly appointed guardians. Until such time as the two of us choose to re-enter him into the public sphere, only the decision of both of us, together, can permit the dissemination of information regarding the whereabouts of Harry Potter."
For a moment there was silence, the other woman continuing to gaze at Minerva purposefully.
"Sirius Black is not the other guardian?" Minerva asked eventually, having taken note of the specific meaning of the woman's words.
"No," She said, "Due to the effects of nine years in Azkaban, Lord Black is not currently a suitable guardian. I am Jaquelyn Gates. The other guardian's name is not for public consumption."
"Where is he?" Minerva asked.
"If things are moving according to schedule," The woman said, glancing down at her watch as she spoke, "He should be killing Fenrir Greyback just about now."
Later that night, Jaquelyn, Catherine, and Harry sat on the back porch of their house outside London, looking up at the stars, a modified CB radio sitting next to them.
"Do you think it will last?" Catherine said quietly, softly stroking Harry's head as the boy leaned up against her drowsily.
"Tonks says she's a good woman," Jaquelyn said after a while, "We can really only hope."
"We can handle things if it doesn't last," A distorted, tinny voice said through the radio.
"I know," Catherine said, "It's just..." Her voice trailed off.
"Just what?" Jaquelyn asked softly.
"I don't understand how Boss can handle all the pressure," Catherine said, "I know I couldn't, and the boss has, in his own way had things just as bad as the rest of it."
"You learn to live with it, little one," The voice through the radio said gently, "Insanity and death are the only alternatives."
"You're not exactly a poster-boy for sanity yourself, bomb-man," Catherine said with some sarcasm.
The voice laughed, an oddly distorted sound through the radio.
"All of us that bear scars develop our own eccentricities," The voice said, "Lyn drives herself into her work, I play with my explosives, I know you've become somewhat compulsive about cleanliness and punctuality. Harry doesn't speak, and the Boss-"
"The Boss drives himself into his purpose," A new voice said, his tone a strange duality of harsh and gentle, "And argues with God like the fool he is."
Catherine and the others turned to the corner of the house, where a silhouette broke free from the shadows, and came over to join them.
"Good to see you Boss," The voice from the radio said, "Bring me along next time. Any complications?"
"No," The man said, seating himself neatly in the space between Caitlyn and Jaquelyn, "And you wouldn't have fit in the forest anyways."
A harsh metallic snorting sound rolled across the speaker, but nothing more.
A few moments of silence passed.
"Are you alright?" Jaquelyn asked quietly.
"Fine. He managed to claw me once, but for the most part he was just really tough."
Jaquelyn nodded, but by the way she wrapped an arm around the younger man's torso, it was easy to see she was concerned for him. For a few minutes, there was a pregnant silence, even through Catherine leaning into his other side.
"I really wish you'd let some of us come along and help when you fight," Jaquelyn finally said.
"Yeah," Said the voice through the radio, "I'm getting bored."
The man frowned, looking out at the large barn behind their house.
"You know you're the only one who can keep up with me," He said, "And I'd bring you along if it was practical. None of the ladies are anywhere close to as powerful as either of us."
"I'm getting better with the gun," Catherine chipped into the conversation.
"That's great," He replied, his tone a mixture of encouragement and frustration, "But that doesn't mean you're ready for the kind of fights I get into."
"I've seen how you fight," She said pointedly.
"And do you think you can keep up?" He replied.
She was silent, but shifted her body around so that she faced away from him, and he could read her frustration. Jaquelyn reached around to squeeze the younger woman's shoulder comfortingly, and Harry gave her an encouraging squeeze.
"I know you're frustrated," He sighed, "But you're just not ready yet. When the fights are less dangerous, or you're more ready, or things are more desperate, I'll let you help out, but please be patient with me in the meanwhile."
She sighed, then nodded silently, the motion lightly rocking the entire collection of stargazers.
"I Love you, you know," She said.
"And I Love you too," He said, "All of you."
Jaquelyn and the voice on the other side of the radio echoed his sentiments, and Harry reached his small arms around Catherine so he could hug the man, and hold Jaquelyn's hand too.
They stayed out late in the warm September air, watching the stars and savoring the moment of togetherness, each finding refuge in the company of the others from past wounds.