A/N: Here ya go! Part 2 of Sulaco (ch30, I think). Enjoy kiddies, you're in for a bumpy ride.
Harry Potter was studying. Okay, so it wasn't really homework-related or even magic-related really, but it was still studying. Books on mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, english, french and history littered the downstairs dining table. What was weird to him was the degree to which he was enjoying himself while doing this.
In the wizarding world, you never really had the time to study such things. Hermione's muggle studies textbooks, for example, never mentioned anything science-related unless the writer was attempting to relate magic to science, inevitably writing it off as the muggles' failed attempts at emulating the greatness that was magic. Such dismissal had left Hermione in raging fits on more than one occasion in both third and fourth year-science was meant to help understand the universe, not transform it like magic could. Applying scientific principles and techniques to understanding magic had already translated into huge benefits for the girl-and for him, too, given that her findings had often helped save his hide.
Most magicals dismissed muggle science out of hand, pointing out that learning magic was already a full-time occupation that superseded such muggle frivolities. And with the study of magic taking up as much time as it did, few students had the heart to disagree with their opinion.
But studying such 'muggle frivolities' now, Harry could definitely say that he would find a way to make time just for this in the future.
Science was a kinder mistress than magic. Follow the formulae, understand the reasoning and nothing would stand in your way towards actually coming up with the right result. If something went wrong, you could backtrack and check for yourself where you went wrong and, should you not understand why it went wrong, well, just study the topic you're stuck on in more detail until you do. And doing the exercises until you got them was infinitely easier than waving a wand around and hoping that you got the spell before the spell got you.
In all, he found the sciences relaxing, history exciting and the language studies interesting. It also helped that, unlike the frustrated, frantic bearing his study partner was unfortunately prone to when studying magic, Hermione took to the sciences with an easy, relaxed grace he could only equate to the feelings he had when flying.
Since their release from hospital almost a month ago, the two teens had spent their time studying, reading for fun and watching science fiction shows on the telly when not walking around what little undisturbed countryside was left in southern England.
All wonderfully nerdy, as the twins might say, and incredibly therapeutic for the both of them.
Harry was used to the sensations associated with sleeping and waking up after almost dying. It had happened, time and again, ever since his first foray into magic. He could handle the fevered memories of dark halls, ice-cold water slithering through the layers of clothing, the weightless moment when the bus tilted over, the howls and screams of the werewolves coming in the dark without a problem. He had similar memories associated with trolls, basilisks, possessed defence professors, dementors, dragons, grindylows, acromantulae and Voldemort himself. What was one more set of nightmares, after all that? At least this set didn't happen in daytime. Somehow, almost dying with the sun shining brightly made for worse nightmares to him than doing so at night. Something about the harsh glare of the light made everything so much more brutal and violent in his dreams, often shaking him more than the dreams of monsters hunting him in the dark ever could hope to achieve.
Hermione, though, was still a novice at it. He could tell by the fact that she'd spent two whole weeks whimpering and screaming herself awake at night. He managed to get over that stage by the summer of '92. Hermione, it seems, never had.
He knew exactly how to help her, though, given that she and Ron had unwittingly done the same for him over the years-be there, to put it simply.
Those first two weeks, when the whimpering started, Harry was still awake. Force of habit, really, what with Voldemort haunting his dreams on top of everything else. Ignoring all bounds of propriety, common sense and the risk of either elder Granger taking offence at his brazen attitude, Harry would get up in the dead of night, follow the whimpers to Hermione's bedroom, gently open the door to her room, get in and hug her until the whimpering stopped. Then he would go back to his own bed, leaving Hermione none the wiser.
Given the looks Agnes shot him over breakfast just after he started, though, he was sure that both her and menelaus, Hermione's dad (don't ask), were in on it. Nobody said anything, but the knowledge was there.
During the day, when something happened that would set Hermione off (stiff shoulders, heavy breathing, panicked looks), he would distract her by asking an asinine question, asking for help or, if anything else failed, he would just go ahead and hug her. It didn't help much, but she seemed to appreciate it, and that's what mattered.
But, even as she got over their near death experience in a carpark, she was slowly getting ever more nervous as time went by.
The moon loomed incredibly large on the horizon. And soon, very soon, it would be at its fullest, marking the end of Harry and Hermione's former lives.
She was scared of it. He could see that-he wasn't that dense. But he was ambivalent about it. It's not like his former life was anything to write home about, after all.
"How are they doing?" Remus asked Dumbledore anxiously.
"Better than expected." Albus commented absently. "It seems that the Grangers are better parents than many others I've encountered over the years." And he'd encountered a lot of muggle parents over his tenure at Hogwarts, which went without saying. "It seems that young Harry's in good hands."
Sirius nodded sullenly. "Noticed that." He stated. "Tonks keeps saying that she's never seen him so happy before."
"Indeed." Remus stated wonderingly. "He looked happier sitting with the Grangers than he ever did in class, even when conjuring his patronus. I think he's really, really happy there."
"Really?" Albus said, eyes twinkling with happiness. "And under such circumstances as well." He smiled. "That boy has the strangest luck."
"Not to mention a knack of finding family in near-death situations." Remus commented, looking over at Sirius with a smile.
"Aye." Sirius said, returning the smile, though his eyes remained haunted. "Just like James. 'twas always when things went wrong that they went right for him."
"Lily was like that too." Remus pointed out. "For a prefect, she always had a tendency to walk into the most bizarre situations even before she went out with James."
"Yeah!" Sirius chuckled. "Trouble magnets, the both of 'em."
"Indeed." Albus nodded before sighing. "Well, in light of the situation, I do believe that it would be ill-advised to bring the two to headquarters until after the full moon, at least." He stated. "The atmosphere of the house may well exacerbate the problems the two are dealing with rather than help allay them. In all honesty, I doubt they would agree to part with the Grangers before the full moon anyway and I, for one, have no desire to force them into agreeing to do anything prior to confirming that the two are, in fact, werewolves."
Remus sighed. "It's for the best anyway." He assented, clearly nervous about something.
"Moony?" Sirius asked warily. "Why are you looking like a slimy snake tried to shove his meatpole up your arse?"
"Sirius, language!" Remus snapped. "The truth is that the DRCMC is obligated to handle the registration of anyone suspected of being a werewolf by collecting them at their place of residence and locking them up on the night of the full moon. If they don't change, then good. But if they do, they are registered as werewolves by that department..." He petered out, hesitating at the look on Sirius's face.
"And if they cannot be found, it is assumed that they have fled and their details are turned over to the CDDC." Albus finished, taking pity on his former student.
"The what?" Sirius asked.
"The Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures." Remus finished quietly. "If they come here before the full moon, they'll go back to Hogwarts with a death sentence hanging over their heads."
The look on Sirius's face was heartbreaking. "Oh Harry..." He sighed, curling in upon himself and shivering.
Albus silently left the two to their own devices, having his own mysteries to ponder. Namely, how exactly the blood wards he put up on Privet Drive collapsed. And how Harry's mother's protection now extended to include one Hermione Jane Granger, a girl who bore no relation to the Evans family whatsoever.
Hermione shivered in the bright sunlight as she wrote her final report on the effects of a lycanthropic infection prior to the initial transformation. Transferring to Beasthood: pre-transformational effects and side-effects of the lycanthropic curse on the human body, the title read. It was a lengthy bit of writing (a book, really, if she was being honest with herself) and, given how rare official studies into what happens before a human becomes a werewolf were, it was sure to break some brand new ground in the treatment of the disease/curse she'd been infected with. Not that that was why she was writing it up, mind. No, not at all.
Writing detailed, insightful medical reports was how she dealt with the trauma of having something magical go very, very wrong on her. She'd already written up a number of similar reports-polyjuice accidents; a victim's perspective. Petrification and its effects on the witch's psyche. Demontors and you. Side effects of the Densaugeo charm. Time travel and paradoxes; what it does to your magic and why you should care. She did the same for Harry too, though the fact that she was mostly only getting a second-hand perspective of the effects of such-and-such an occurrence limited the usefulness of what little information she could gather on the consequences of his adventures. Still, even though they were smaller in size and considerably less detailed than her own files, reports on the side effects of Harry's misadventures still took up twice the shelf-space hers did. She'd never told him what it was she did and she really didn't have any desire for him to find out on his own, doubting that his reaction would be called 'positive' in the least.
In fact, this was the first time she could, in real time, do an in-depth study of an event that affected both of them without needing to constantly fish for information weeks or even months afterwards. She took full advantage of this.
It had taken quite a bit of explaining and a lot of convincing on her part in order to get Harry to co-operate, but she had. So every week, she'd taken blood samples from the both of them and analysed said substance for changes.
Her parents, being dentists by trade and full medical professors by training, had access to equipment one normally didn't see outside of a pathology lab. In fact, said equipment was sitting in a lab they'd built in the basement. Agnes was a strange woman, but a wonderful mother. Menelaus was the same. They liked to bring their more interesting bits of work/study home for the weekend sometimes and play with it. And when they weren't using it over summer, she was, learning the intricacies of modern pathology as she went.
Being able to analyse blood and urine samples for foreign contaminants was not a normal skill for a teenager to have, but she was a witch. Even if nobody but her immediate family & their friends knew it, it was still expected of her to have a weird hobby or two. This covered that issue nicely. Weird, what one learned when one had no friends to pass the time with.
But, this time, her studies had turned up some things that left her breaking out in a cold sweat.
The first shock came when she'd analysed Harry's blood for the first time. It was awash with foreign compounds. She'd discovered dozens of new contaminants that had no equivalent in the muggle world-self-replicating compounds, too small and too simple to be viruses, bacteria or spores, which her prior studies identified as being due to potions residue still circulating the body. Crystalline structures that, though they seemingly behaved in a similar way to Ebola, actually helped reinforce the cells they inhabited rather than tried to take them over and use them as replicator factories. A lattice of something unidentifiable crisscrossed the sample in a mesh grid, the large blood cells passing through them without impediment.
Her samples weren't as much of a surprise, having taken to analysing them after her first year. The familiar if still foreign potions compounds, blood cells still exhibiting residual damage from her forays into polyjuice and encounter with the basilisk, the last vestiges of bacteria that'd popped up following her extended exposure to dementors (neither malign nor benign, they simply were) and that, really, was about it.
The second shock came when analysing her own blood in week two.
A crystalline structure showed up on the electron microscope, its edge just peeking through the side of one of her blood cells. The networked lattice she'd spent a day and a half studying had also popped into existence in her sample. All the damage lingering from the cat-snake events was disappearing a lot faster than her previous estimates had envisioned. Even the wildly optimistic models she'd constructed had not anticipated such improvements until she was in her late twenties, at the very least.
She checked, re-checked, re-drew blood from herself. Twice. Nope, still all there.
Harry's contaminants had found a way into her system.
It was in week three, the beginning of her current week, when she found what she'd been missing.
Her wounds and Harry's had come into contact as they were waiting for help to arrive. That must have been it. Even though there were no changes on a genetic level (ie they hadn't unwittingly blood-adopted each other, thank the gods), Harry and Hermione's magical ailments had transferred from one to another. A quick check using a runic ritual circle she wasn't supposed to attempt until late next year confirmed that, not only had the contaminants made their way across, a portion of the magics the two had been touched by had as well. Harry was now just as awash with time magics as she was. Hermione was now subject to that same blood protection magics Harry's mother had gifted him, which struck her as both incredibly bizarre and fucking unfair towards Harry. His mother dies and she piggybacks on the gift of sacrifice? She sincerely hoped Harry didn't blame her over this-he was notoriously irrational about anything related to his parents.
Basically, while they were still Harry and Hermione, their blood now shared almost everything in common. And because of the weird link between blood and magic, that meant that they also shared a fair amount of magical side-effects to certain activities as well.
And week three finally saw the first signs of the curse coming to bear. There was no viral compound, no new unclassifiable blood-born agent, nothing visible under the battery of different microscpes available. Because it wasn't something inside the bloodstream changing, but the bloodstream itself.
She'd gone back and checked the previous samples's findings. Over time, the natural PH levels of the plasma carrying the blood had changed, shifting steadily upwards. It was subtle and would have been missed by career pathologists, but it was there-blood acidity was slowly, but surely, rising.
And with it, the symptoms plaguing her and Harry were getting worse. Headaches, fever, loss of balance had started in week two and had gotten steadily sharper, lingering, more persistent. Simple things, such as banging your shin against the coffee table or grasping a mug of tea in your hand while it was still boiling hot had gone from minor issues that caused a few minutes' worth of aching soreness into half an hour of pain akin to that of the cruciatus, if Harry was to be believed. Fifteen minutes of continued exposure to direct sunlight left both her and Harry with lobster-red skin. An hour in the sun left blisters behind.
Oddly enough, though, the sun didn't feel warm and bruises disappeared seconds after forming even though the pain lingered, not to mention the tan the two were now sporting just from walking around Sevenoaks in particular and the countryside in general.
If anything, it was the coldest summer Hermione'd ever experienced. It was sunny, warm and cloud-free, which was rare. Normally, she'd have spent many an afternoon sweating bullets as she rode her bicycle around, visiting libraries or seeing if any of her childhood colleagues cared to have someone to hang out with. But this year, she was wearing her woolly christmas sweater while the rest of the world was undergoing a heatwave, it seemed. Harry just wore normal clothes, saying that he'd gone through worse with less. Given that she was dressed to meet a blizzard, that said a lot about Harry, she thought.
All those things and more went into her report. She even mentioned the strange dreams in them, the ones about planets with two moons or more, cliffs of barren rock done up in purple coloring, the strange forests and even stranger grasslands that would leave her whimpering and shuddering for no reason. She omitted the ones that took place in metal structures of bizarre shape and construction, of seeing what could only be described as a space ship floating in the void, of human-like settlements in far off worlds, their halls splattered with blood and holes from gunfire or other things, thinking them to be little more than nightmares.
Neither did she mention the fact that her hands had, when she wasn't concentrating, taken to stick to anything metallic. Or how she could now tell where metal was without thinking about it. And though Harry professed to being able to do the same, it wasn't something she'd heard Remus or any other werewolf being capable of, so she left it out until she had proof.
She finished typing up the report and printed it off. One copy went into her file. One went into Harry's. She sent the third off to Pomphrey using Hedwig-it wasn't like the fact that she'd been infected would surprise the mediwitch all that much. Their attack had already made front-page news in both the Prophet and the Surrey Daily. Really, about the only thing left was the confirmation. Two days to go. Two days until the full moon. She shivered, but it wasn't the cold that did it this time.
"Hey." Harry said, sliding next to Hermione as she sat in the kitchen. "Your tea, madame."
Hermione smiled. "Thanks. Picked up some etiquette lessons Harry?" She asked, downing the brown concoction in one gulp. "Ah, that hit the spot."
"Had to, really. It was either that or put up with Fleur's sneering during the third task. A bit of french here, a little gentlemanly behaviour there..." He shrugged. "I'm sure I could have had her eating out of the palm of my hand hadn't Voldemort mucked everything up."
Hermione snorted. "Yeah, right. And Gabrielle had nothing to do with it, I'm sure." she pointed out, putting the cup on the table and stretching herself. "Ow, my joints are aching."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Gabrielle's eight, you know. Not exactly dating material yet." He said, mock-shuddering. "Not to mention that, well, I didn't really feel that way about them, you know."
She looked at him. "Really? You never told me that." She stated. "Who do feel that way about?"
"Not gonna." Harry wheedled.
"Oh, come on!" Hermione whined, smiling.
"Nope." He stated. "Not telling."
"Cho Chang." She retorted.
"Almost, but not quite." Harry conceded.
"Eww." He said, shuddering for real this time.
"There's not enough butter in the world." He declared. "Imagine, trying to get a decent bit of toast for breakfast when she's around. I'd have to pick the lint out before I could eat it."
Hermione giggled. "Padma Patil."
"Don't know her well enough. Plus, Yule Ball, remember?"
"She'd forgive you Harry. Parvati Patil."
"Both together?" She asked teasingly.
"Hmm... maybe? But from the way they carry on when you put them in the same room, I'm going to say it wouldn't be worth the hassle." He stated.
"But Harry, twins!" Hermione stated in her best Padfoot imitation, which wasn't very good.
He laughed. "Face it Hermione, you're a cat person. And yeah, uh, no, not worth the hassle."
"Fine then." She huffed playfully. "Pansy Parkinson!"
"Eww!" Harry said, gagging. "Have you lost your mind in that lab of yours girl?"
She laughed. "Almost." She admitted. "Come on Harry, tell me!"
Harry smile took on a remorseful bent. "Sorry Hermione, but not now. Later, I promise, but not now."
She looked at him quizzically before nodding. "Okay then." She stated. "But I will ask. And you'd better answer me." She said. "After all, you're my best friend and I am yours. I'd like to know, if only so that I can help set up the date-or get your insanity fixed if you go after a fangirl."
Harry laughed again. "Thanks Hermione. I couldn't ask for a better friend."
"Well, you could, but then you'd have to be insane to want to, right?" She teased him.
"Right." He spoke fondly. "I'd have to be insane to do that."
"Good!" She said, nodding. "Now why are you here? Shouldn't you be studying something?"
"Taking a break, actually." Harry stated. "Got tired of going over the principles underlying electromagnetism and, well, didn't want to start studying magic again, so..." he shrugged.
She winced. "Harry, we're going to have to go back to studying magic, you know. At Hogwarts, if not beforehand."
"I know, it's just... I want a break!" He declared tiredly. "Just, I don't know, take a year off and go to a boarding school in another country. Just a year without monsters, Dark Lords or any of that other shite."
"Yeah." Hermione stated sadly. "Me too."
"So why don't we?" Harry asked himself. "I mean, it would be easy. Take whatever magic courses we have to do this year by correspondence while we just relax and study stuff that won't kill us if we get it wrong the first time around."
"Oh, I don't know!" Hermione snapped angrily. "Because it's OWL year perhaps? Because, with Voldemort around, we'll put any muggle unaware of magic in danger just by hanging around them? Because we're about to turn into the fucking monsters you're talking about taking a break from Harry?" She hissed out. "Damnit Harry! Think! Where can we go off to? Another country? Another continent? Another planet? Another galaxy, maybe? Well newsflash for you-we can't leave. We can't run. And we can't hide for a year. Because, Harry James Potter, no matter where we go, guess who'll find us?" She shouted.
Harry paled, reddened, frowned, opened his mouth and then closed it when he thought of what happened when Ron tried to argue with her when she was in this mood. "Sorry Hermione." He said dejectedly.
"Oh, shut it you prat." She muttered as she pulled him into a hug. "I'm just angry because that's what I want to do too. Wanted to do it ever since second year. Went so far as to ask Professor McGonnagall about it. She said I could, if I made the effort to do so."
Harry gaped at her. "Then why didn't you?"
"Well, uh, you guys." She stammered, blushing. "I couldn't just leave you and Ron to get yourselves into trouble. That, and magic isn't all that bad." She stated primly. "We just seem to get the worst of it."
"Amen to that." Harry said with a hesitant smile. "Thank you." He said, looking at her.
She smiled back. "Always a pleasure! So, we're stuck here and we're bored. What should we do?" She said, tapping her chin.
"Phone around?" Harry offered.
"Great idea!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Dean! You've got a phone call!" Mme. Thomas shouted out.
"Coming!" Dean Thomas, soon to be fifth year shouted back as he entered the TV room and took the phone off his Mum. "Yo, dis be Dean you've reached! 'Oo dis be?" He stated in a fake Jamaican accent. His mum just shook her head.
"Hey there!" A voice said over the phone. "How's Brixton treating you, mate?"
"Harry?" Dean asked in surprise. "Damn man, what the fuck are you calling me for? Hedwig gone walkabout?"
"Oi! Language!" Mme Thomas and another voice said over the phone.
"Well, I'm bored and so's Hermione, so we decided to give everyone we knew a ring. Hey, did you know Ron's got a phone too?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, I stopped calling him though. He kept screaming me bleeding ear off." Dean stated. "Hey, you ready for the European cup next year?" He asked excitedly. "We've already got tickets for the finals! Go-o England Oi! Oi! Oi!" He exclaimed.
"Ouch!" Harry said on the other line. "Mate, stop giving Ron a run for his money."
"Oh, uh, sorry, heh heh." Dean said, grinning. "It's just that football's coming home mate! It's going to be great."
"And how in the world did you get tickets for the finals?" Harry asked.
"Mum's got connections." Dean said with a conspiratorial air.
"Connections?" Hermione's voice said in the background.
"Yeah, to a bunch of hackers-hey! Hermione? Damn Harry, you sly fox you!" Dean said, chuckling. "Finally made a move on her?" He asked, wagging his eyebrows at the phone in an attempt to get the point across.
"Oh stop it you manwhore." Harry said, chuckling. "And it's probably going to be sly wolf after tomorrow."
"Sly wolf-oh." Dean said, deflating. "So it wasn't just Skeeter's usual bull this time?"
"I'm afraid not." Harry said mock-cheerfully. "England's about to have to new lycans on the books."
"Well shit." Dean answered, ignoring the muffled 'language' coming from his mom's room and Hermione. "My condolences mate."
"Hey, it's not like we're dead Dean. It's just a setback is all." Harry said in an upbeat fashion.
"A setback he says. No big deal, he implies." Dean mocked, smiling. "Damn, only you Harry."
"And don't you forget it!"
"So how did it happen?" Dean asked, sitting on the sofa and looking out the window. "'coz knowing you, there's gotta be one hell of a story behind it."
Needless to say, he was right.
"So, how was your day?" Menelaus asked tiredly.
"Just phoned around." Hermione said dismissively. "Said hi to a few friends, exchanged stories, you know-stuff."
Agnes snorted. "Stuff she says. Done any magic again yet?"
"No." Harry said. "I think we're in enough trouble as it is. Amelia was willing to cover us last time, but taking chances at this stage would be idiotic, to say the least."
"Hey, stop being surly gits you two!" Menelaus said with unexpected fervor. "This werewolf thing sounds bad, but it isn't that bad."
"What?" Came the deadpan reply from the three other table dwellers.
"I read the report summary and some of my daughter's old textbooks. Sure, you're both going to turn into blood-thirsty monstrosities every month, but it's only for a few hours and then you're back to being human again. What's the big deal?" He asked.
Total silence settled on the table.
"Look, I know what it sounds like." Menelaus continued. "But honestly, it happens once a month and then you're good. Just treat it like a period-it's awkward, painful and embarrassing, but it's a part of life."
Harry choked before he started laughing. The Granger girls went red in the went pale.
"Fuck." He said, noticing the twin glares of death he was getting from his girls. "I shouldn't have said that."
Harry fell off his chair laughing. Menelaus legged it before the angry girls got their act together.
The doorbell rang at four in the morning, startling the inhabitants of Granger House awake. Harry woke up with glasses in one hand and his wand in the other. Hermione woke up with a grunt, her dishevelled hair spiking up in curly totems. Agnes and Menelaus rose with a huff, clearly not liking having their sleep interrupted unexpectedly.
The quartet met in the hallway, Harry taking the lead with his wand out while Hermione slipped behind her parents and covered the windows. Neither Granger made any comment, though Menelaus privately thought that he should teach his baby some of the more interesting techniques he'd picked up in Ireland as a medic.
Harry sped down the steps, taking them two by two before switching on the lights. Seeing and feeling nothing out of the ordinary, he motioned for the Grangers to move forward. Agnes just shook her head and walked past him, going straight for the door. Without a word, Harry and Hermione followed, each covering one side of the house as they went while Menelaus looked on.
Agnes opened the door, practically oozing irritated poise as she took in the early morning interlopers. "Yes?" She asked, eyeing the oddly dressed man and woman standing outside. "Can I help you?"
"Sorry Madam-Granger, was it?" He asked his partner, who nodded her head. "-Granger, right. My name is Amos Diggory and I work for the DRCMC. This is Auror-Tonks, was it?" He asked the woman, who just rolled her eyes before nodding again. "Right-Tonks and we're here to escort Harry and your daughter to their Ministry approved evaluation areas."
"I'm sorry, what?" She asked quizzically, very carefully not allowing herself to turn around and look at the children. "The DRCMC? Ministry-approved evaluation areas? I am afraid that you're going to have to explain what this is about."
"We suspect that Harry Potter and your daughter are cursed with lycanthropy madam. I am the head of the DRCMC, better known as the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. We are here to escort your daughter and Harry Potter to an area where they can safely transform for their first time should they be infected and/or spend the night should they turn out not to be cursed." Amos explained. "Normally I wouldn't be doing this, but Harry was a good friend of Cedric's in the end and, well, my family owes him a debt of gratitude for returning the body. This, I am afraid, is the least that I can do."
"Oh." Agnes said. "Do we have a choice in the matter? I mean, Hermione is my daughter and Harry's become a friend of the family..."
"I am afraid not." Amos said, shaking his head. "While we can make the first time as comfortable as possible, the chance of them transforming in a muggle area is too severe a risk to take. I am working towards providing them with a secure area to transform in the future should they need one, but the initial transformation for those from muggle-centric backgrounds has to be done in a Ministry facility. That allows them to familiarise themselves with the change and us to see what options we can give them so that the transition is as smooth as possible."
Agnes stopped, thinking about what the man just said. "You're Cedric Diggory's father, right? I am sorry for what happened to your boy."
Amos flinched. "You had nothing to do with it madam."
"Harry... he talks a lot about Cedric with us. He was a good man." Agnes stated gently. "But, as a parent, you must understand why I have to ask the next question."
"Go on." Amos said warily, thinking of the million and one questions other parents had asked him under similar circumstances over the years.
"If Cedric had been turned like my daughter or Harry, would you have sent him to where you're taking them?" Agnes asked intently, all gentleness gone.
"Yes Madame."Amos stated confidently. "I made sure that the facilities were as comfortable as we could make them. We're not monsters." He declared harshly, well aware of what the wider community saw his department as following the last war.
"Sorry, but I had to ask." Agnes stated, not looking all that sorry in Tonks's silent opinion. "Well, alright, I consent to this course of action, but only if you promise to return them to me unharmed."
"I promise." Amos declared solemnly.
"Tomorrow?" she asked promptly.
"I-yes." Amos said brusquely.
"Good. Harry, Hermione, you can come out now!" She stated out loud.
The two teenagers appeared from behind Amos and Tonks, startling the Ministry employees. "'ow the fuck did ya two do that?" Tonks exclaimed, startled.
"Practice." Harry stated deadpan. "Too many near-death experiences lately."
"Training." Hermione said, smiling at the thought of reprimanding an auror for their language. "He taught me."
"Bloody hell." Amos said, shaking his head. "Good to see you again Harry."
"Likewise sir." Harry said sadly. "Wish it was under better circumstances, mind."
"Next time, it will be."
"Look sir, I'm-" Harry started, but stopped at Amos's upraised hand.
"Dumbledore showed me the memory." Amos stated. "It was... hard, but educational. There was nothing either of you could have done. Good job with Voldemort too."
"I ran." Harry pointed out. "Hardly noteworthy."
"You survived, lad." Amos reprimanded. "Trust me when I say that few have managed that particular feat. Very few." he said, a heartbroken look on his face.
Harry nodded, not trusting his voice any longer.
"Alright you two ninjas, let's get going." Tonks said, interrupting the moment she could see coming from a mile off. "We've still got tons a work to do."
Dawn on Azkaban Island was spectacular. The bleak harshness of the terrain, the old, venerable building housing the prison and the violent weather normally provide a sense of desolation that had nothing to do with the Dementors that lived there. However, when the sun peeked over the horizon, the Island took on a whole different appearance. The quartz, blackened by age and malign magics, lit up like the stars in the sky. The prison proper took on a golden hue, the image re-inforced by the background of stormclouds painted purple and red by the light hitting them. The sun itself rose, dissipating the cloud of smog that hugged the ground for the rest of the day, highlighting a whole microcosmos of magical insects that rose in a cloud of buzzing specks, making the very air sparkle.
Truly, a display worth dying for.
The very roof of the prison held the werewolf pens. Hundreds of the Dark Creatures, either violent criminals or Death Eaters without the money or the influence to wheedle themselves out of court, had ended up here. Left with no shelter, exposed to the elements as well as the dementors, with barely enough food and water to survive, there were only an even dozen of the creatures left after more than a decade in Azkaban.
But Fenrir Greyback had endured. Silently. Consideringly. Waiting for that day when his Lord would return and he could once again head the pack of those that'd embraced their curse and turned it into a blessing. It had been a long time, but time was all he had. Time and the odd attempted escapee thrown into the pen on the night of the full moon. The warden hadn't taken Black's escape kindly, to absolutely nobody's surprise. The way he went about stopping the escape attempts, however, had done more than enough to supplement their diets... as well as their, ah, other urges.
A young woman, given life for attempting to steal from the Minister's office and death for walking out of her unlocked cell looking for scraps to eat, whimpered in a corner as he turned to look at her. She knew what the night would bring. She also knew that he would make it so that she welcomed the full moon. She was a mudblood, after all, and he a Death Eater. It was only natural to make his assigned prey welcome the release of death...
The doors to the silver cage opened unexpectedly. The young woman brightened as she saw who'd come through.
"Dolores!" She shouted. "Dolores, please, it wasn't me, it was Malfoy, you have to believe me!" She exclaimed as quickly as she dared, her naked form bared for all to see as she rose to face her erstwhile colleague.
"Mandy." Dolores stated, not even looking at her.
"Look, I have proof!" She said in a panicked voice. "It's in my vault inside a manilla folder marked 'miscellaneous'! You can go check! Please, Dolores, I beg you!" She said, shivering as she looked around at the other wolves drifting closer. "Please, they're going to kill me, PLEASE!"
"Silence, wretch. Your vault was seized in recompense and we never found any papers belonging to you or the ministry." Dolores stated coldly whilst facing Greyback. "I have business with you, wolf. Tell one of your underlings to take care of her until we have finished speaking."
"Alright." Fenrir said, smirking. "Poole. You know what to do." He said.
"Thanks boss." The aforementioned Poole said, striding forward and grabbing hold of Mandy.
"No! Please, I beg you Dolores! No-no-no!" She shouted as she was being dragged away.
"Stealing from the ministry..." Umbridge stated coldly. "Deserves anything she gets."
"Maybe you should stick around then, witness justice being done." Fenrir stated with a smirk. "It gets a mite... interesting." He said as the screaming started.
Umbridge smiled coldly. "As I said, anything she gets. No Fenrir, if I wanted to watch you do your dirty work to someone, I wouldn't have come in here in the first place. Instead, I came here with an offer." Dolores stated. "You get to leave Azkaban for a month and be relocated onto a werewolf preserve we've set up for you."
"What? And miss this?" He laughed, indicating the sunrise. "Fair enough lass. What's the job?"
Dolores smirked. "The Boy-Who-Lived has been infected with the lycanthropy virus along with his mudblood friend. I don't care what you do to the girl, but I want the boy dead."
"Huh. I get to avenge the Dark Lord and an all-expenses-paid vacation in one go? How do you want it done?"
"Tonight is their initial transformation." Umbridge stated. "It's taking place in the dwarf caves of Wythmail."
Fenrir smiled. "Ah, Wythmail. It'll be good to see the old place again."
"So we have an understanding them?" Umbridge asked.
"Yes, we do." Greyback stated. "I kill the boy and I get a free vacation. Good enough for me. Do I get to keep the girl?"
"For as long as you want to." Umbridge said dismissively. "Like anyone would care if another mudblood goes missing anyway."
"Follow me." She ordered, leaving.
Fenrir followed, a mad grin etched on his face. The screaming kept getting louder.
"Okay, so you are the two that got attacked about a month ago?" The mediwitch asked, jotting down notes as she questioned them.
"Yeah, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, at your service madam." Hermione stated politely, extending her hand.
"Good, good. Now I am going to need some blood from you two before we can send you on your way, alright?" She said, pulling out an empty syringe and a strip of leather. "Who wants to go first?"
"Me." Harry said. "Let's get this over with." he muttered, extending his left arm.
"Your wand arm if you please, sir." The mediwitch requested.
Harry quirked an eyebrow. "I'm ambidextrous madam." He pointed out.
"Ambi-what?" The nurse asked, pausing to look up at him.
"He doesn't have an off-hand." Hermione clarified.
"Oh, alright then." The mediwitch stated brightly before affixing the leather strap and plunging the needle into his arm. "You're very brave. Most people your age cry out when they get blood withdrawn."
"It's okay. A couple of months ago, someone took my blood using a ritual knife. A few minutes later, I was hit with a cruciatus. In comparison, this is quite painless." He explained.
"A crucio? Ouch. Last time I got hit by one of those, I blacked out." The mediwitch mentioned.
"Who cursed you?" Hermione asked as the with affixed the strap and pulled a new syringe out.
"A man named Antonin Dolohov. Don't worry about him though, the bastard's in Azkaban." The mediwitch said conversationally as she withdrew blood from Hermione. "Wow, two champions in one day. Count me blessed." She praised, handing them a chocolate frog each. "Here you go. It's traditional."
Harry eyed the chocolate with surprise. "Aren't we a bit too old for this?"
"Oh, right, muggle-raised. No, everyone gets one of these frogs after giving blood. It's got a mild blood-replenishing potion laced into it." The mediwitch explained. "That way, you don't feel woozy or tired afterwards."
"Thank you." Hermione stated in a respectful tone. "Thank the woman, Harry." She snapped.
"Oh, uh, right, sorry-thank you Miss?"
"Call me Irene." The mediwitch stated with a smile.
"Thank you Irene." Harry said happily. "Now, can we go?"
"Sure. Just walk through the door to your left. You'll be in your assigned room in a moment." She said, indicating the aforementioned door.
Hermione gasped. "A vanishing cabinet! Wow, they are so rare!"
"Better than that, dearie. It's a one way vanishing cabinet. We normally use them to transfer patients from one ward to another, but Amos arranged this one just for you." Irene explained. "Now off, I have other duties to attend."
"Thanks Irene!" Harry stated. "See you around." He said, grabbing Hermione's hand and heading through the cabinet.
"Good luck you two." Irene stated to an empty room. "May the gods favor your path."
Harry and Hermione stepped through the vanishing cabinet, blinking as they saw the room they were alloted. It looked, well, cozy really. There were two beds, a table, some chairs, a bathroom and a ventilation tunnel in the ceiling. The walls, a door leading outwards and the grid covering the vent shaft were covered in a glittering metal of some kind. Harry approached the door and ran a hand over it.
"Silver." Harry stated authoritatively. "Quite well preserved too. About an inch thick with an iron and hardwood frame."
"A silver-lined room... that's sick." Hermione sneered in disgust.
"I guess it makes sense. This place was designed to hold werewolves. What better way to do that than ensure that they can't even try to escape in the first place?" He asked rhetorically.
Hermione slumped onto her bed. "So this is it, eh?" She said, rubbing her month old scar with concern.
"I... yeah, it is." Harry agreed sadly.
"Everyone will know by tomorrow." She said.
"I know." Harry declared.
"We'll officially be werewolves." She elaborated.
"I know." Harry said, slumping onto his own bedroom.
"Harry? Will they-will they hate us?" Hermione asked in a small voice. "Our friends, I mean?"
Harry looked at her with sad eyes. "You already know the answer to that." He observed.
She hung her head.
Harry approached her. "Hermione, you're not alone in this. We're not alone in this. We will still have our friends, you'll still have your family, everything will be alright." He stated with conviction. "And if they do abandon us, well, you have me."
Hermione smiled at him. "I never thanked you for holding me at night, did I?"
Harry froze. "Uh, well, uh..." He trailed off looking up at her.
She kissed him on the forehead. "Thank you Harry." She said. "Now let's get some sleep. Tonight's going to be long enough as it is."
"Alright." He said, eyes shining. "Let's do that." He stated, climbing into his own bed.
Hermione sighed as she pulled her wand out. "Nox." She chanted.
The room went dark.
The entrance to Wythmail lay open. Stylised runic script ran all along the upper archway. Werewolves could get in, but they couldn't come out until after the transformation. Greyback knew the place well. In his early days of service to the Dark Lord, he'd come here seeking out new recruits. Back then, Dark Creatures were treated like scum by everyone, seen as mindless, vicious beasts, full moon or not. The Dark Lord had sought Fenrir out and offered him a position in his Death Eater ranks, the first Dark Lord to do so in five generations. He'd tasked Greyback with recruiting as many werewolves as soon as he possibly could.
Wythmail was where he'd gone. Now little more than an adjustment facility, it had been a glorified prison back in Fenrir's day. Rare was the werewolf who ventured in that came back out. Even rarer was the one who did so twice.
Fenrir broke all of them out. Close to a thousand werewolves, maddened by their stay in gaol and angry at the Ministry's duplicity, poured into the magical world once more.
Most of them died, of course, but the damage they did was tremendous. Magical werewolves were given wands. Muggles or squibs were given swords & cross-bows. Suddenly, Dark creatures didn't seem as mindless as they used to be anymore. If anything, human intelligence coupled with the werewolf's killer instincts made them even more dangerous after the full moon than during it. For, as humans, they retained many of the wolf's benefits-increased strength, resilience, pain tolerance, resistance to mind control, understanding and respect of command structures... truly, werewolves were the perfect shock-troopers twenty-seven days out of twenty-eight.
And on that twenty-eighth day, they were the stuff of nightmares. In other words, exactly what the Dark Lord had been looking for.
Greyback's position on the peripheries of the inner circle was cemented in the blood and screams of wizards & witches that had once looked down upon his kind with scorn. Since that day, they'd looked upon them with fear, which was as things should be.
And it had all started here, in Wythmail.
Fenrir smiled, raising a hand in the air. A weres he'd talked Umbridge into taking with him on his way out of Azkaban followed him into the dark hole that'd once been a major dwarven city-state.
It was a black chamber with circular walls. In the middle of the chamber stood a dais the colour of obsidian-metallic, glistening, flawless. On top of that dais stood an oval-shaped object. It was opaque, yellow and covered in veins. The top of the ovoid was marked by striations. It looked organic, but there was simply no way to tell if it was organic or not.
Suddenly, the striations parted and the ovoid opened. Gradually, the outer shell went from opaque to transparent. The inside of the ovoid was filled with liquid that was gradually being sucked away. A form could be seen through the shell now, twitching and turning around in the disappearing liquid. Finally, the liquid vanished with a wet slurp. Something leapt out of the egg-
Hermione screamed herself awake at the exact same time Harry did. She was shivering. She was cold. She was-
Vomiting all over the floor.
"Hermione!" Harry croaked out, weakly trying to disentangle himself from his bedsheets.
She lay over the side of the bed, not daring to speak between pants. The next surge burned as it came out of her throat, steam starting to rise off the floor.
"Lumos." Harry panted out. The lights came on fully, revealing a sight that filled both of them with horror.
The liquid splayed across the floor was a deep, dull red speckled with black dots. Clumps of dead cells, swimming in a sea of blood. "Harry." Hermione warbled in a broken voice. "Harry, I'm scared."
He would have replied, but he was too busy throwing up right alongside her to answer by that point.
The spilled blood started to bubble.
Umbridge sat in front of Walden Macnair. "Fenrir Greyback has escaped Azkaban. It is my belief that the man is currently going after Potter and his friend. They are both currently incarcerated in the Wythmail adjustment facility. I want them gone, Walden. Both the children and Fenrir. We cannot afford another Black situation on our hands. Understood?"
Crooked, blackened teeth shone in the torchlight as the CDDC's main executioner offered Dolores a rare smile. "Got it, Boss."
"Good." Umbridge said, inwardly pleased at having engineered both the Potter's and Greyback's downfall so quickly.
Justice would be the ministry's tonight.
"I don't understand what happened." Menelaus wailed. "One second, we were sitting down for tea, the next the whole house filled with fumes!"
PC Exwith nodded gravely. "Well, the firemen did find something unusual in your basement lab, sir. Tell me, have either you or your daughter been playing with chemical compounds recently?"
"No, officer, we haven't." Agnes stated confidently. "We keep very careful track of how we use our equipment in order to avoid such situations."
"You're sure of that?" the constable asked intently. "Because it looks like your daughter stored a large amount of extremely potent acid inside a samples cabinet."
"What?" the Grangers exclaimed in shock.
"Indeed. Says here that it made its way through the cabinet, the safe underneath the cabinet and was happily sizzling away, eating through the concrete foundations by the time the firemen arrived. Pete said that it was like something out of Aliens." Exwith let out with a chuckle, shaking his head.
"Wait a mo." Menelaus asked. "Which samples cabinet was this?"
PC Exwith leafed through his notepad. "Main cabinet, middle of the room, lowest shelf."
"But that's where she stored... the blood samples." Menelaus concluded. "The ones she took this month."
"Acid for blood." Agnes breathed. "Oh dear Lord..."
"You two alright?" Exwith asked. "Only, we've got a medic on standby if you need one."
"Oh no, don't worry." Agnes stated worriedly. "It's just something... interesting I just remembered. Nothing to do with this situation, I can assure you."
"Well, alright then." Exwith sighed. "Someone from the council's going to come by to verify the structural integrity of your house in a few days' time. Until then, I strongly suggest you go find a hotel to stay in. And if you remember anything... out of the ordinary, call me." he stated, handing over his calling card. "I may only be a constable, but I'll do what I can."
"Thank you." Menelaus said absentmindedly as his wife virtually dragged her to their car. "Honey, the keys are still in the house." he pointed out to her.
"Oh bloody hell Mr Granger!" She muttered. "Go fetch them then!" She snapped.
"Alright honey." he said, walking right back into the house. Fumes may be toxic, but it was his wife that was lethal when she was in one of those moods.
Fenrir walked down the main shaft, taking note of the intricate carvings around him. The first time around, he hadn't really been able to stop and take a looksie at the artwork the dwarves had left behind, which had been a shame, really. Because, under the bright light cast by his wand, he could finally stop and appreciate the work of art that had been abandoned countless generations ago.
The walls were filled with carvings and pictograms, portraits of people and landscapes, battles fought in the ice and snow of times forgotten by man, cries of victory long since silenced, the wails of defeat long since soothed. On the vaults, the carvings depicted star signs of a zodiac made up of pinpricks of light that no longer existed in the skies above. Runes, one of the few remnants to have made it to the present day, spoke of the importance of this shape or that figure appearing in the dark, their portents rendered invalid with the disappearance of some of their prime components.
This was an ancient world. A forgotten world. Once bringing shelter and civilisation to an otherwise savage land, nowadays all this place does is to provide a mute testimony to the effects of entropy even upon the most powerful of peoples.
Fenrir went back to staring at the walls on either side of him. Small nicks and gouges in the rock spoke of this place's recent service as a shelter of a decidedly more sinister kind.
Fenrir smirked. He knew he'd liked this place for a reason.
He continued on in the dark, his inner self stirring in anticipation of the coming moon.
Harry panted as he crawled across the floor. Hermione lay there, face down, unconscious.
He struggled through the pain, moaning as he felt the molten plastic of his glasses oozing down his cheeks and onto the roiling, boiling floor.
There was blood everywhere, eating everything. There was simply no better word for it. Scraps of linen hissed as they unravelled, the fine thread turning into a reddish goop as it liquefied. The bed frame sagged and listed as the blackened liquid tore through it with terrifying ease, the metal spilling onto the floor like wax. The flagstones spat and churned, sending blobs flying across the room. The silver walls were running with black streaks, the etchings getting deeper and deeper as time passed.
Yet Harry carried on. His clothes were long gone, a string of rags running down his back the last vestige of the clothes he'd gone to sleep with. His wand lay on an untouched section of the floor alongside Hermione's, which was a relief. He could feel his skin itching and spasming, but didn't dare look at it in fear of what he might see.
He felt darkness encroaching, but didn't dare launch himself in its relieving embrace. He had to make sure Hermione was safe first.
He felt something come up again and turned his head to one side. A stream of bile and blood came forth, bathing one of the chairs nearby in acrid-smelling fluids. It started to sag almost immediately, slumping down like a deflated balloon as the liquids dissolved it. He panted once, twice, then resumed his slow, painful crawl across the floor.
Right arm forward, left leg forward, push. Left arm forward, right leg forward, push. Repeat.
Thinking was hard, oh so hard. He was lost in the haze of pain. His entire psyche was crumbling around him, memories and lessons learned sent howling into a red-tinged void opening up deep inside him. Something inside that void stirred, lodging itself into the back of his mind. He grunted as his world started graying, his entire attention focused on that one tiny pin-prick of lucidity. Go to her. Hold her. Make her safe. Protect her. The mantra that now superseded all others, continuing on even as he failed to remember his own name, what his face looked like, what his skin felt like under water, what bare feet on grass did to him, everything that he was.
A white hot spike of pain shot through his back, forcing him to arch his body and scream. He fell back to the ground with a thud, moaning as the aftershocks hit him. Still, he continued on, forcing whatever he was to ignore the pain, to keep putting one limb in front of the other and push.
Finally, his hand touched a mane of brown curls. Tears trailed down his cheeks, ponderously rolling across his skin until they congealed into a waxy drop.
He pushed one last time and put his arm around Hermione, the mantra still going strong.
He felt things writhing underneath her skin. He couldn't remember if that was normal or not.
A dozen men clad in inky black robes and bone white masks approached the gates of the dwarven mines.
One of the figures, their apparent leader, hefted an executioner's axe into a more comfortable holding position. He jabbed his wand-bearing arm towards the entrance.
Slowly, silently, Macnair led his Death Eaters towards their ultimate goal-killing Potter. The mudblood would be a bonus, really.
A flare of pain woke her up.
She moaned, opening her eyes for what felt like the first time in a very long while. She felt... tired. Yes, that was the word she was looking for.
She moved her... head around and looked at her... body? Was that the right word? It was... naked. Covered in red stuff. What was the name of that again? Mud? It didn't fit, but someone had told her that about the stuff a couple of times. Something to do with mud. At least she thought so. Tip of her... tongue. Yes tongue. And red stuff-oh yes, blood, that was the... word for were moving underneath her skin. Was that... normal? She tried to... remember, but couldn't. It didn't feel normal, but she couldn't be... sure. She moved her head again. The... tomb? Loom? Room? Yes, room, the Room looked strange. She didn't know how, but it was not supposed to look like that, something told her. Too... chaotic. Destroyed. Did destroyed work? She felt it did.
A wave of pain crossed through her and she lost her mind again for a few seconds. She came to and stared in a pair of green things. Flies? No, eyes. Yes, eyes. She was staring in a pair of green eyes.
They belonged to someone else, she felt. Someone important to her. She moved her... hand and ran it through this other's... hair. It felt... nice.
She forced her body to move closer to this other. The other moved closer to her. She moved her... mouth towards this other's, surrendering to something... mindless now sitting at the back of her... brain.
Their mouths met.
Pain came again. Only this time, it didn't leave.
Strange noises came from her body. Crunches and cracks, she remembered. They sounded like crunches and cracks. Her skin was opening, leaking that red blood stuff. There was so much of it.
Underneath the skin, something black and glistening came forth where she felt her... muscles should have been. Fresh pain came. The black thing bulged upwards. She felt... pressure and more pain as her skin cracked open in other parts of her body.
She looked over at the other and saw the same thing happen. She could see something else there too, an... emotion? Yes, that was it.
The skin around her head broke open. She tried to scream, but her tongue had cracked open too, filling her mouth with something she couldn't... see.
Yes, that was the word.
The Dark Lord hunched forward as he felt the bond sundering. There had been minutes of intense and utter pain, easily countered via the wonders of Occlumency, followed by the scrambled thoughts of one who had lost his mind (a feeling he knew very well indeed) and then-nothing.
The connection had been cut. The pain had been immense, far stronger than what a mere cruciatus or even a full-on transmutation of the body could generate. Voldemort himself had felt such a thing only once before. Therefore... The Dark Lord smiled.
" My followers are successful once more. Harry Potter is dead." He declared to an anxious room filled with his Inner Circle. "The Prophecy is broken. My fated enemy is no more."
The Death Eaters broke into cheers as their master leaned back into his chair with a malicious smirk. Truly, it was for days such as these that he lived.
The silver door seemed to glow in the darkness. Fenrir's men shifted around nervously as they felt their inner wolves stir. The transformations had begun.
Greyback smiled. He had but a minute left to open this door and let his provisional pack loose where it counted. He brought his wand up and did a double stabbing motion, summoning up thoughts of mudbloods and sneering wizards as he spoke two words.
The bolt hit the door, causing the silver to catch fire and dissolve into vapour before his very eyes.
He stepped forward, his muscles bunching as fur started to grow and the wolf came to the fore.
The hunt was on.
"What is this place?" One of Macnair's followers asked in awe.
"Used to be one of the biggest dwarven settlements south of Fulufjaellet." Another answered. "But then a number of things happened-the mines ran dry, the ice cold environment the dwarves lived in aboveground disappeared and muggles poured onto the island. Eventually, the dwarves just abandoned the place, claiming they would come back when the ice came."
"Wow." He said, surveying the enormous central plaza he was standing in. "I didn't think the dwarves built this big."
"Well, that's because, back when it was insanely cold, it wasn't just the dwarves that lived here."
"Who else did?" The clueless Death Eater asked as he contemplated the twenty foot tall granite door standing open at the other end of the plaza.
"The fae." Macnair answered, striding forward and pointing at the two. "You two, stop this mindless blathering and get ready. This complex goes down by another five levels, each one bigger than the next. We cannot afford to waste time."
"Aw, come on sir, they're just werewolves-"
"No, they are the boy-who-lived and his pet mudblood." Macnair sneered. "Every werewolf is different, reflecting the magics and mentality of its human form. Do not forget that. A were-hunter is only as good as the time he takes keeping himself hale & hearty." He admonished. "Now listen up!" Macnair shouted.
The Death Eaters assembled in the plaza.
"You all know me from my work at the ministry and our associations in the last war. I picked you because you show either the potential to become something great in the Lord's ranks or because I can trust you to do what you're told when it counts." Macnair declared out loud.
The assembled Dark Wizards acknowledged this.
"For those of you who don't know, this... is a very important assignment for us. The Dark Lord has entrusted you with the task of hunting down and killing two werwolves within this facility-Hermione Jane Granger, a mudblood, and Harry James Potter, the boy-who-lived."
About three-quarters of the group broke into murmurs.
"Now, as those two over there pointed out," He said waving at the Death Eaters he'd interrupted. "Most of you think that werwolves are simply dogs with sharper teeth. That there is no possible way that they could stand against any of us in a stand-up fight."
Some of the dimmer lamps in the bracket cheered.
"Well, you would be wrong. Werewolves are not as intelligent as their human forms, yes. But that doesn't mean they're stupid." Macnair admonished. "I have seen weres feign death to get their prey in range. I have seen them climb trees and buildings to drop down on unsuspecting people from above. I have seen them imitate the yowl of a wounded dog to attract the attention of nearby muggles-point being, they are very good at hunting us. And given the fact that nothing short of Dark Magic can put a werewolf down in one shot-and you'll only ever get one, trust me on this-, most of you would not survive the encounter if you were alone." He stated.
"But how many of them are there, sir?"
"Three of them." Macnair stated confidently. "Greyback, Potter and the mudblood. Don't bother trying to discern which is which, though. If you see a were, kill it. Got that?"
"Yes sir!" The group chorused.
Not far from the plaza, a number of dark shapes leapt from roof to roof, trying to find a way out. Every so often, one of the stragglers would yelp in fear before disappearing.
Prey. So much prey.
Claws dug into the smooth stone wall, granite giving about as much resistance as butter under obsidian claws, the thing's body holding itself in place by attaching itself to the metal underneath. It followed the iron seam pervading the outer earth, flowing sinuously along, tail adjusting itself silently as the thing contorted its body to stay closer to the metal.
Flakes of dried blood drifted away, dislodged from the claws by the stone crumbling underneath the pressure.
The thing sensed the passageways the metal provided, allowing it to reach its prey more easily. The route was circuitous, but the thing didn't care. It had already fed recently, but its queen was young and vulnerable. She needed to grow, fast.
Which meant she need prey, preferrably alive.
The thing laid its hand flat against the rock, trusting the metal underneath to keep it in place until it reached the furred prey nearby. It didn't give any scents off. It didn't make a noise. It didn't even breathe. Oxygen was optional to it, its body capable of absorbing any gas and breaking it down into something that would be useful to its continued existence. It could take air or leave it, really. And, when hunting, it left it.
The prey, a mound of fur wrapped around a body of fibrous, glutionous matter and crunchy chunks of calcium, came into range of its senses. The thing bared its first row of teeth as it smelled the acrid stench of fear wafting off the creature. It was bigger than said creature, faster, stronger, more durable, deadlier. And the creature was scared, possibly because a sense told it that the thing was nearby. The thing ascended the wall faster as the creature let out a pathetic sound and jumped from one edifice to another. Stupid creature. It had brought itself in range of the thing.
The thing tensed, internal fibers bunching like coiled springs. It jumped, pushing itself off with the help of the metal in the walls, landing on the creature's back.
Claws dug into the creature's flank as it yowled in fear and pain. The thing's spiked, serrated tail whipped around and down, expertly skewering the area it knew the creature's gas bags were. The yowl got garbled as the creature's fluids filled the bags. The thing opened its mouth and put it against the convulsing creature's neck.
Its second mouth flitted out, embedding itself in the calcium chunks behind the fluid pipes in the creature's neck. The creature stiffened and went limp, hurt immensely but still alive. The thing hooked one of its hands around the creature and leapt off the platform, letting the metal around it slow its fall to the bottom.
Prey. So much prey. One less to hunt now. Its Queen needed more.
"Sir!" One of the robed men shouted out. "You had better come and see this!"
"What?" Macnair snapped as he looked up from the werewolf tracks. The dozens of different werewolf tracks that covered the entire corridor. The bizarre thing was, the tracks were rather light going in, but deep coming out. Almost as if they had scurried forth silently, but then had run the other way as quickly as they could. Something was up and that utter moron had interrupted him in the middle of his deductions.
One thing was for sure, there were a lot more than just three weres down here. He absently wondered how many men he was going to lose as he strode down towards the man that had interrupted him. He also wondered how he could get that insufferable idiot to be one of those victims.
It would be easy, he thought prvately. Send the man on a solo scouting mission to one of the lower levels and wait for the screams before killing his attacker. That way, he was blameless, the Dark Lord wouldn't care and the others would try their best to stay on his good side for the rest of the hunt.
The man had removed his mask at some time in the past hour and a half of trudging around. Macnair recognised the man-one of Crouch's old flunkies in the DIMC Macnair had seen flittering around with self-important pomposity.
Honestly, the man was asking for it.
"What is it?" He growled.
"Take a look." The man said with a worried demeanour, indicating the inside of what should have been the VIP transition chamber.
The sight gave Macnair pause.
Smoke lingered on the ceiling, the illumination enchantments lighting up the vapours and diffusing across the rest of the room with an eerie green glow. The silver walls were blackened, pitted, scored and gouged away by some unknown substance. The furniture, the beds and almost everything else made out of metal was warped and twisted like a muggle car after being hit by fiendfyre. The floor had sagged, leaving a foot-deep crater in-between the beds and potholes virtually everywhere else, the warped furniture being held in place purely by virtue of having fused with the flagstones underneath them.
Near the edge of the depression, a wrinkled, broken mass of something organic was hissing away to itself.
Macnair pointed his wand at it, silently levitating the stuff over to him. It was grey-coloured and covered in dried blood, but the tufts of hair stuck onto it helped him realise what he was holding.
Skin. This stuff was skin.
Walden let the spell dissolve, dropping the mass of disgusting stuff onto the ground before continuing his survey. In a corner, untouched by any damages, lay two wands. He ignored them for now. He could pick them up later if they weren't the obvious bloody trap they looked like. The door to the bathroom was destroyed, shattered pieces of wood strewn around the inside of the cubbyhole. Under the wood, a small tuft of black hair (or was it fur?) stuck out.
Macnair once again levitated the thing. It was considerably harder this time, the tuft belonging to something a lot heavier than the mass of skin had been. Walden yanked his arm back like he was holding a fishing rod. The tuft rose ponderously into the air, displaying the rest of the object as wooden shrapnel fell to the ground in a soft clatter.
What emerged was a mound of fur, shredded by something that put Macnair in mind of some of the more vicious weapons in the CDDMC's arsenal. Muscle, bone and organs spilled out onto the floor as the carcass was lifted. The head was missing alongside the majority of the carcass's spine. A ragged bit of fur caught Macnair's attention. The fur was the colour of tarnished silver.
"Greyback." Walden breathed in shock, dropping the carcass to the ground. "Fuck me. Fuck me!" He repeated silently, staggering backwards and taking in the whole room with new eyes. "What could have done this?" He asked himself absent-mindedly. Kettleburn had never talked about something like this being possible before. A creature with the strength to rip Fenrir's head off and mutilate a were's corpse like that, but still small enough to get out of this room? What could possibly be-oh.
He turned around. "Get everyone together-" he started, only to notice that he was alone. He strode out into the corridor, looking for the cowardly man that'd pointed out this room.
A thin scream reached his ears, making him look around. Finally, he looked up as the screams petered out.
Right next to the door, a vent shaft in the ceiling was dripping with a substance that put him in mind of rancid pumpkin pudding. The silver grid overlaying it was scattered in the floor in pieces.
Walden's blood ran cold.
"Expecto Patronum!" The man shouted, the silver cloud coalescing into a giant spider. "Go and tell my men to meet me on the uppermost floor as quickly as they can." he ordered. The glowing spider chittered once, twice before vanishing into the ceiling.
Macnair started running, cursing the anti-apparition wards all the way up the giant staircase.
His name was Henry Clinkscales. He'd gotten brilliant results in OWLs and NEWTs, but had never managed to make past the clerk's desk in the ministry of magic back in the seventies. Then one day, Lucius Malfoy had come to him with an offer-he would sponsor Henry if the man was willing to do something in return.
A month later, the Dark Lord had marked him. A year later, and he was back on track in terms of his career path.
Then the Dark Lord died and Henry was left scrambling for all the influence and money he could get his hands on, squandering the ammunition he'd hoarded for promotions on staying out of Azkaban. He succeeded, barely.
Malfoy, as per their original agreement, still looked out for him, though in a much more limited capacity than before. His career damaged, he spent a good ten years getting back into influential positions where the right man made the right difference.
In five years, he'd become an important figure in the DIMC. With the uproar caused by Crouch's disappearance, Henry had managed to even rise to the position of assistant to the department's executive committee, a trying and weary, but also powerful and important, position.
When Malfoy had tapped him on the shoulder that afternoon, he'd readily agreed despite not having been 'in the field', as it were, for a good decade and a half. It was only a pair of teenagers, after all. Nothing too strenuous, a good practice run to get himself fit for the battles to come.
Right now, he wished he'd said no.
He woke up, embedded in some kind of sticky cocoon, glued to the wall. He looked around himself and gasped.
Pods of the substance he was covered with lined a circular chamber that rose up into the darkness. Tufts of fur could be seen sticking out of the tops of the pods, small changes in colour hinting at snouts, teeth and eyewhites in the near total darkness.
Goodness. He'd been caught by things that hunted werewolves. Things that seemed to worship the black, glittering statue sitting in the middle of the chamber, curled in upon itself on a granite dais of some kind.
He squirmed, seeing if there was any give in the stuff he was covered in. No chance. He was bound tighter than if he'd been hit by an incarcerous.
Henry started squirming more forcefully as panic set in. "Shit." He muttered to himself. "Shit, shit, shit." He continued, his breathing getting more laboured as he twisted and contorted himself violently.
A noise made him stop.
It sounded like the bellows of a forge. Huuuuuuuh-HAH-Huuuuuuu-HAH-Huuuuuuuu, it went, getting louder and louder in the otherwise silent chamber. HAH-hisssssssss the noise went eventually, turning into a growl that was more felt than heard.
Henry looked down at the statue. The statue that was slowly unfolding below him.
The head was immense, a serrated V-shape that tapered off just above a set of enormous teeth. Its body was as dark as an overcast night, with pipe-like protuberances starting on its torso and branching off on the thing's back. It's arms were large, even when dwarfed by its head crest. The claws were larger. Its legs were as big as Henry's torso used to be when he was a young man, their height alone dwarfing his total body's. A black tail slithered along the ground, reminding Henry of Nagini in a decidedly unpleasant way. It moved with the same intent the Dark Lord's familiar did, but it was twice Nagini's length and girth. The sword-like spike at the end did little to negate the image.
The thing sniffed the air, prowling around and growling at the coccoons around it.
Henry forced himself to calm his breathing, though there was little he could do about the shivering dread encroaching upon him.
Finally, the massive thing came to a halt in front of him. In the little light he had available, the thing's face took on a transparent quality. Behind the glistening skin, behind the off-orangey tint of the little light that was available, Henry made out a shape he would recognise anywhere.
Buried inside the thing's body was a skull. A human skull.
The Queen hissed as it finally found its awakened prey. Its jaws opened up as the prey started making noises.
The last thing Henry felt was a second set of the thing's jaws lashing out, breaking his ribcage and skewering his lungs in one fell swoop.
The group of Death Eaters made their way up to the exit, hoping against hope to make it out of the cavern alive. The fae were supposed to be dead, driven to extinction by their war with the mountain trolls. Wythmail was supposed to be practically abandoned, not playing host to creatures from wizarding fairytales!
No such luck. At least, based on the skins he'd diligently taken with him, Walden could report that the mission was a partial success-all three targets were dead. He would get his reward from both his Lord and the toad, not to mention that he still had some vacation time accumulated.
Because, after tonight, he'd need that vacation. If he made it out of here alive, that is.
"There it is!" One of his flunkies shouted out, gleefully breaking into a full-on sprint. The others, apart from Walden, followed suit.
The werewolves, panicked by the loss of their leader and by virtue of being trapped in a confined, if large, space with predators that hunted them, attacked.
Walden stopped, stared, cursed himself for a fool, dropped his heavy axe to the ground and started sprinting past the screaming, snarling and tearing melee. He made it, barely. He didn't stop running until he reached the ward line.
He never noticed the small nick one of the weres had managed to inflict on his right leg as he rushed past.
Its Queen was in pain. The thing could feel it as it cowered in a corner, racked by its own pain. The feeling was... unfamiliar, pleasant even. The thing knew that this was a good pain.
But pain it still was. The thing didn't like pain.
The Queen shrieked again, ripping one of the food coccoons to shreds in her agony. She fell upon the twitching mass it contained with violent fervour, hoping that nourishment would spare her the agony of something shifting around inside it. The front of her crest was throbbing dully. Memories of Mothers, other Queens of times past, had not prepared her for this. This was... different. Unnatural.
She shrieked again as she felt her insides shrink. She cried out for her faithful servant, who came limping out of the dark, the metal in the walls barely holding him up.
She wailed at him. He came closer, allowing her to embrace him. Another unexpected thing. She felt more things shrinking, constricting, shifting, changing.
The Queen and her servant screamed in unison.
There were glimpses between the dark spells. Visions of wall carvings. Offal, blood, viscera splattered everywhere. Agony. New memories. Old memories from... whatever he was now. They felt old, like from before Man walked the Earth old. Maybe even from before the Solar System old. The room he remembered stepping into that morning, now nothing more than a twisted wreck. Stairs, wide, carved, eerily even and never-ending.
The sun. The air. The lack of metal around him, leaving him feeling naked and exposed for some reason.
He came to as he was laid down on the ground.
He opened his eyes. He blinked. Closed his eyes. Opened them again.
Perfect eyesight. Huh.
He looked at his arms. His unblemished arms. Not a scar, not a scratch, not a reminder of his eventful past remained. The only scar he could find was a tear in the palm of his hand, courtesy of the werewolf from a month ago.
Wait-he moved his hand up to his forehead, fingering the area where his most famous scar had been.
Nothing. He blinked in shock.
He looked down on himself. He was clad in a set of ragged black robes splattered with blood. He could smell the blood and the lingering acrid smell that made his hind-brain stir in hunger.
Fear. He felt his mouth watering.
A sound made him look up and into Hermione's face. She was smiling down at him. "Hello sleepy-head." She said softly. "You alright?"
"Yeah." He said, standing up slowly. "Great-whoa!" He said in shock as he came to his full height. "Tall." He observed.
"Yeah." Hermione agreed, looking at him. "But I'm still taller than you."
"Not by much, though." Harry pointed out. "Your hair has grown too."
Hermione laughed. "Like it, Potter?" She teased.
"I can never get enough of it." He deadpanned. "Remember anything?" He asked.
"Just... snatches." She demurred. "And what I do remember, I can't make sense of yet. It's all a bit... blurry, if you catch my drift."
"For me too." He confirmed. "So then, what do we do now?" He asked, turning around and seeing little but farmland.
"I suggest we wait." Hermione said. "Someone's bound to come and check up on us."
"Right." Harry sighed. "What are we going to tell them?"
"The truth." Hermione stated. "We don't remember. Plus, with what they're going to find in there, I doubt, they'll have much in the way of time for us..."
"Fair enough." Harry said, sitting down in the tall grass to wait.