I didn't even have time to ask what it was before Sirius growled "Werewolves."
The first howl was answered by a chorus of howls from at least three different directions.
Sirius stiffened and added "A lot of them. Probably Fenrir Greyback's pack, it's the only one big enough to make that much noise."
I looked around, but when slavering monstrosities failed to spontaneously materialize and chew my face off, I started dragging the invisible bundle off my back.
As I did so, I glanced at Sirius. "How many werewolves at a time do you think you can handle in Snuffles-mode?"
He glanced at me, a bit baffled. "Snuffles?"
"Hell's Bells... that... big black dog-thing you can turn into. The one that looks kind of like a Black D... a Barghest?"
"Probably two or three at best." he said after a brief hesitation. "It looks like somebody's used a variant of the enchantment they put on ministry cars and the Knight Bus to pull us out of phase. There's no way of telling how far it goes, but it feels big."
"I'm guessing you're right. I can't even see anything that looks like the end of this... zone, or whatever it is, although the glowy haze isn't helping much. This has gotta be either a trap or a..." I trailed off as a shrill scream erupted from somewhere off to the left, accompanied by a good deal of snarling. "... diversion." I finished.
Sirius made a face. "If it's a diversion, we have no way of knowing what from. I don't think it's a trap, though. Not a lot of people knew we were coming here, and that long stay in the Leaky Cauldron changed our timetable."
I nodded. "All we can really do is see if we can save anyone who's in here with us and those werewolves, I guess. If we find something, we find something."
Sirius opened his mouth, then closed his mouth, giving me a very strange look.
After a moment, he said "You know, most kids would be panicking right now..."
"Not a kid, not my first time being hunted by werewolves." I snapped.
He looked taken aback, but then pretty much visibly dragged his mind around to the decision that we had more important things to worry about. "Please tell me that if you're planning on taking on a werewolf pack, you at least have something in mind."
"Of course." I finished pulling the invisibility cloak from around my broom and hopped onto it. "Your local version of werewolves aren't terribly smart once they've gone wolfy, are they?"
Sirius hesitated, then shook his head. "Not... exactly. If they can sense a human, they'll go crazy trying to bite them. Other than that, though, they're not too much dumber than normal. Simplified a bit, maybe- animal thoughts and feelings aren't as complicated as human ones."
"Good." I said. "That means that ambushes should be pretty easy. Hop on; if we can get onto the rooftops, it will be easier to isolate different bits of the pack."
I waved an arm at the back of the broom, and Sirius got on. "Well, it's at least as good as any ideas I've got... you know, your calm is still a bit unnerving."
I glanced over my shoulder at him. "Would it really help anything if I started freaking out?"
"No, not really." he answered, then muttered something about weirdness that I didn't quite catch.
"Then I'm not going to bother. Besides, when you've been chased by a loup-garou, these things really aren't that frightening."
As I spoke, we hovered smoothly off the ground, rising to draw level with the rooftops. Sirius hopped gingerly off onto the oddly wavering glow surrounding the building, but it seemed to support him well enough. His form blurred and shifted, resolving into an enormous black dog. I nodded to him.
"I'm the bait, you're the trap. Between the cloak and my broom, I should be able to avoid the worst of things. Try to stay out of sight and upwind..." I hesitated. "Well, you get the idea. Sorry."
The big dog gave me an aggrieved look, but just nodded in an oddly human gesture. Then he faded into the gloom.
I suppressed the urge to sigh and brought the broom around, scanning for suspicious movement. I swept slowly back and forth, moving towards where we'd last heard the scream, moving slowly enough that I hoped that Sirius could keep up, and thinking we probably should have checked that before we started.
As if on cue, there was a muffled bark from below me and slightly to my left, pitched so that I was the only one likely to be able to hear it. In response, there was another scream, this time from just below us. I grinned tightly and accelerated down into the street.
My wand was in my hand, and I flicked my wrist a few times, trying to loosen it up. In the strange half-light of the glowing buildings, a middle-aged woman had her own wand out, and was firing spells at a trio of hulking pseudo-wolves that had her pinned in a corner.
I swooped down and blew a crater next to the biggest werewolf- apparently Thomas was more right than I wanted to admit when he made fun of my aim- and shot off up over the rooftops.
There was a thunderous explosion of snarling behind me, and then the *whuff* of exhaled air as two sets of claws hit the slate roofing tiles in a scrabbling landing. They'd hit the roof in just one jump? Stars and stones, I was going to have to be more careful than I'd expected.
Then there was a howl from the still-grounded third werewolf, answered from all around the glowing pseudo-city.
If I'd had a hand free, I would've slapped my forehead. I'd worked with Billy and the Alphas for how long? I have no idea to this day how I'd managed to forget that wolves were perfectly capable of communicating long-distance, especially given that I'd pretty much had a werewolf pack for sidekicks for close on to a decade.
As it was, my hands were both firmly glued to the broom as I dodged chimney stacks, cornices, gargoyles, at least one rooftop garden full of trees, AC units, vents, and I'm not sure what all else. London has a frankly unbelievable amount of crap on its rooftops.
I flinched at the occasional crashes that suggested that the pursuing wolves had simply bulled through some random bit of old stonework. Probably headfirst. Sirius hadn't been kidding when he'd said they'd go nuts trying to get me.
Then there was a thunderous crash, and a collection of yowls, snarls, and tearing noises nearly drowned out the second crash. That second crash also marked the cutoff of the despairing yelps that had trailed down after the werewolf that Sirius had bodychecked off the eighth floor roof that they had chased me onto.
Another howl from ground level right in front of the building we were on top of made me jump, but Sirius, apparently none the worse for the wear, materialized out of the shadows slightly to my left, this time in human form.
"That worked, but I don't know how many more times it will. There are at least twenty in Greyback's pack, and we just got two of them." he told me.
I just nodded. "Gotta keep trying, not much else we can do."
Sirius nodded in agreement and melted back into the shadows.
The next hour or so was a nightmarish rush of shadows and false light, brief clashes of incredible violence, and a tense game of life-or-death hide-and-seek. After half a dozen fights, we wound up on a fourth-floor rooftop above a restaurant. Sirius was bleeding freely from dozens of scratches and bites, his dark robes in tatters. He didn't seem too worried about infection, though.
"Animals can't contract lycanthropy. I've been a dog every time they've even scratched me, so there's no chance of me being turned." he told me flatly.
Fighting off the urge to wince, I waved a vague hand. "I kind of lost track somewhere in there. Do you have any idea how many there are left?"
On cue, about a dozen howls erupted all around us. I made a face.
"They're not following us up anymore, are they?" I asked.
Sirius had his wand out and was healing the worst of his wounds, but he nodded distractedly. "We both knew it wouldn't work forever." He glanced up at me. "On the other hand, if they're busy 'treeing' us, they won't be running around mauling whoever else is in here with us."
I waved an irritated hand. "No real guarantees we've got all of them."
He nodded again.
"But it's too dangerous to try and go down after them." I finished.
This earned me an ironic smile. "I think they know that too. But we've singed their noses, so they're being wary."
I peered warily over the edge. "More than wary. I can't see them..."
A low growl from behind me snapped my head around. Hulking grey shadows melted out of the darkness on rooftops all around, with at least three on our roof already.
"... anywhere." I finished glumly.
My wand was already out, as was Sirius'. Some small part of my brain noted with interest that Sirius hadn't shifted again, despite the risk of infection. I wondered if it was because he'd had to use that form as a crutch in prison for so long that he was loathe to reassume it, or if he thought he was going to die and wanted to do it as himself, or even if it was just some instinctive wizard thing to face a serious threat with wand in hand.
I didn't have any real time to worry about it, though. Which seemed to be becoming a thing. My wand was in hand, and I yelled the first thing that came to mind, adding the wand motions apparently by instinct- "Expecto Patronum!"
Instead of the explosion I'd gotten every time so far, though, I got a thin silver trickle. We hadn't gotten as far as practice in my first session with Lupin, so... uh... huh.
I was still gaping at it when Sirius sent the first werewolf yelping over the edge and stunned the second in the same motion.
That was enough for me to jerk back alert, and the last werewolf on the roof jumped violently as an explosion three feet to its left rattled the glowing... forcefield, or whatever it was, sending glowing ripples in all directions. The werewolf gathered itself and leapt, and time seemed to slow. I could see Sirius whirling out of the corner of my eye, and I knew he wasn't going to make it in time.
So I just barked "Forzare!" and slapped the leaping wolf out of the air with a bolt of force.
Normally, I could have punted it halfway to the next county (are they even called that in England?), but even with my child-sized reservoir of magic, I still managed to clear the street and land it sprawling on an opposite rooftop. Two stories up.
"Physics, bitch!" I yelled, almost hopping in place as adrenaline fizzed through my system. "All the strength and speed in the world don't help if you've got no traction!"
Sirius gave me a pained look, and I tried to calm down a little.
That became exponentially easier when the next eight wolves landed on our rooftop almost simultaneously.
As they circled around us in ragged groups, I was torn between wondering how my blood had all been replaced with ice water and noticing that the weird, sourceless light turned every drop of slaver into a brief, splattering jewel.
Yeah, you notice weird things when you're about to die.
The tension was so thick that I could feel it, twisting in my guts and making my eyes water.
Then the lead wolves erupted in a snarling rush, and what I had thought was tension suddenly released with a soundless snap and a brilliant light that shattered into dozens of multicoloured pieces.
A leonine battle-roar erupted from the largest light, echoed by a piping battle cry from the dozens of smaller lights.
"FOR THE 'ZA LORD!"
... the hell?
My huge dog, Mouse, blazing with pale fire, slammed through the lead two werewolves like they weren't even there, skidding to a halt and faced down the pack, ringed with fairy lights. The wolves snarled, a rippling cacophony of angry bandsaws. Then Mouse growled back, drowning them all out with a roaring torrent of sound that actually made the roof-forcefield ripple with light.
On cue, Major-General Toot-Toot Minimus, leader of the 'Za-Lord's Guard, screamed "Charge!", and his basketball-sized sphere of blue light rocketed forwards, followed by something that looked like a tangle of lit Christmas lights fired out of a cannon.
The baffled werewolves suddenly howled in pain and frustration as they snapped their jaws on empty air, long, shallow gashes appearing on their snouts and puffs of hair exploding out and billowing in the contrails of the speeding pixie warriors.
At this point, they learned that even glancing away from Mouse was in all probability the last bad idea you would ever have. Three more died messily before they had time to turn their heads back towards him.
By this point, I had snapped out of my shock, and so had Sirius. One of the bigger wolves had apparently managed to keep it together and was leaping towards Mouse' back, but instead found himself turned into a brief comet of burning hair by my shout of "Protego!" and the accompanying explosion.
"Nobody hurts my dog!" I yelled after the plummeting wolf.
By that point, it was all over but the yelping. Sirius accounted for two more, the pixies got one, and Mouse and I got the last one.
I glanced around, lightly resting one hand on Mouse's ruff (I only had to raise my arm above my shoulder to do it, too), as the little balls of light that made up the core of the 'Za Lord's Guard came to ring around me, with Toot-Toot directly in front of me.
Inside the blue glow, the pixie looked much as he had when I last saw him- a handsome, athletic youth about a foot tall, with his dandelion fluff of flyaway lavender hair mashed under a makeshift helmet- a hollowed out golfball, still, and he seemed to have managed to upgrade his breastplate from an old Pepto-Bismol bottle to what looked like a refitted Coke can or three, mashed into careful layers to provide fairly serious protection for a foot-tall form.
Toot-Toot saluted me, sheathing his sword- a jigsaw blade with a heavily taped handle, no wonder the wolves were yelping- in the same motion.
"Major-General Toot-Toot reporting, milord!" he piped.
Sirius was just shaking his head, looking utterly baffled while I returned Toot-Toot's salute, and said "As you were, Major-General."
"Thank you, milord. The High Lady Archive-Ivy sent us, along with the great demon Mouse, and instructed me on pain of a great deal of pain to tell you that she had sent instructions attached to Mouse' collar before all else." he told me in one breath.
I blinked, then ruffled Mouse' fur and checked his collar, which had a big, heavy oilskin envelope on it. I was a bit perturbed to notice scorch marks on the outside of it, but Mouse just lolled his tongue sardonically at me when I glanced at him.
I managed to untangle the envelope- even Ivy's usual neat, solid knots seemed to have gotten a pretty nasty workout by whatever had happened- but wound up having to get between Toot-Toot and Sirius, who had apparently been prodding the pixie with his wand in utter befuddlement.
"May I slay the dastard, milord?" Toot-Toot demanded, blade in hand and outrage making his voice even more shrill than usual.
I shook my head firmly as Sirius started to smirk, then found his gaze sliding over the partially-filleted werewolf that had been the pixies' handiwork. The smirk faded rapidly at that point.
"No, Toot-Toot. He merely does not understand. I don't think he means any disrespect." I added with a sharp glance at Sirius.
He shook his head mutely, giving me another of those strange, sharp looks that were really starting to get old. Toot-Toot backed down, apparently mollified, at least for the moment.
"Just give me a second, please, Sirius." I said, without really looking at him.
If Ivy had bothered to send an envelope with the group, it meant that it had important information in it. Even the pixies' memories weren't so short they couldn't convey a simple message, if they were sufficiently convinced that it was important.
I rattled the envelope open and looked at it. I felt a brief pang of disappointment that there weren't any copies of the novels in there like I'd been kind of hoping, but it was really my own fault for forgetting to ask for them.
Then I glanced up, and caught the look in Sirius' eye. I frowned, and turned to fully face him.
I motioned first to him, then to Toot. "Sirius Black, wizard of London and member of the Order of the Phoenix, may I present Major-General Toot-Toot Minimus, warrior wyldfae and chief of the 'Za Lord's Guard?"
I gave him a bit of a look as I said it, bowing between them. Fae tend to set a great deal of store in formality and, well, courtly mannerisms, really. They, like much of the supernatural world (in my world, anyhow) were very old-world in their dealings with both one another and with mortals, and it paid to give that lip service, at the very least.
Thankfully, Sirius picked up on it quickly.
He bowed to Toot, bringing his wand up in a strange, arcane salute as he straightened, and said "It is my honour."
Toot nodded firmly, his sense of propriety appeased, and returned Sirius' bow smartly, returning the wand-salute with his sword.
Sirius was still staring at Toot and the others in wonderment, but Toot had zipped over and was prodding my arm, prompting me to check the envelope once more.
I popped it open, and pulled out a handful of paper, written in Ivy's tidy, childish cursive. I craned it around, trying to find an angle that would let me read it clearly in the surreal, sourceless half-light. Eventually, I managed to make out:
I regret that I was unable to find any copies of the Harry Potter novels in time to send them, but time was of the essence. Also, knowing you, you will have disarranged things to the point that they would be functionally useless by this point in any case.
I made a face at that. Apparently the kid knew me only too well.
Kincaid has insisted on bringing us both to Chicago while you are away- apparently there are lingering feelings for Ms. Murphy.
And that got another face, this time with a lot less ironic amusement.
I do agree that our presence here is sensible, however. We should be able to maintain order here, for the most part. Kincaid's reputation is very nearly as fearsome as yours, and, with all due respect, he is somewhat more efficient than you tend to be.
Ms. Murphy had been able to recover body before we arrived, with the help of your apprentice. It would appear that only your soul has travelled, and your body appeared to be largely intact, if rather vacant. Thankfully, this was easily solved, as you had a spare spirit lying around.
I stopped reading for a moment. A spare spirit lying around..? Huh. Murph must've let them into my apartment, but what spirit were they...
The next thing I knew, the papers had fallen from my nerveless fingers, Sirius was shaking me, and Toot-Toot was kicking me in the nose.
"Harry! Harry! Are you alright? You went all... I thought you'd been hit by some kind of curse!" Sirius exclaimed.
I shook my head tensely. "I've got to get back. NOW."
All I could think of was one simple fact. Ivy, contrary to her usual wisdom beyond her years, had put Bob. The. Freaking. Skull. Into my body. Bob the Skull. Bob the disembodied spirit of Air and Intellect, the laboratory assistant, the massively knowledgeable magical encyclopaedia. And also the amoral, perverted sex fiend.
"NOW!" I repeated, making a sharp slashing motion with my hand, trying desperately to tear open a portal to the Nevernever.
Toot's eyes bugged out as he realized what I was doing. "Milord, no! We are alread in the Nev..."
The world turned inside out, the sourceless glow rushing inwards all around me to erupt out again in a silent explosion of eye-searing not-quite-white.
When my head stopped spinning, Mouse was licking my face while giving me a disapproving look, and we were all lying sprawled around on a perfectly ordinary London rooftop, with the off-white glow conspicuously absent.
"Oh." I said.
Toot-Toot, who had been gathering the papers that Ivy had sent- apparently she had seriously impressed on the little guy that I needed to read them- glanced up at me and nodded. "Indeed, milord."
Sirius groaned and hauled himself up onto one elbow. "I'd been wondering how we were going to get out of there..."
He paused. Then, unexpectedly, he grinned. "I can see that hanging around with you is going to be just as interesting as it was with James."