Disclaimer All the characters you might recognise belong to J.K. Rowling! I own nothing but the plot and those characters you do not recognise... um... The song in this chapter- you'll see what I mean- is a very rough and modified translation of a beautiful German traditional song called 'Abendlied' (Evening Song). If you type ' "Der Mond ist aufgegangen" Authorship: Translation' into google, you will reach a page where you can read both the German original and the literal English translation, which, contrary to my own translation, does not coincide with the music.
A/N: Here we are with the new chapter... thanks to my beta reader, Michael!
Chapter 7 – First Steps
The first thing Harry became aware of was the silence. In the forest, there were always countless noises: the wind whispering in the trees, a stream rumbling in the distance, insects buzzing, birds singing. But now, there was nothing except for the quiet muttering of many voices. Human voices. Harry tensed almost imperceptibly and felt his breathing quicken.
The smell that hung in the air was off. The scent of fresh earth after a rainfall and the rustling of the undergrowth were missing. Harry couldn't smell the resin leaking from the towering trees or the faint scent of untamed wilderness that was unique to the Ancient Forest.
And then there was the surface he was sitting on. It was hard and uncomfortable, bending his back and knees in angles he was not used to. With a shudder Harry realised that for the first time in four years, he was sitting in a chair – a human chair.
How had this happened? How had he come to be here? Harry didn't dare open his eyes as he tried frantically to remember what had brought him into this situation. The walk. He had taken a walk to Hogwarts; there hadn't been any students or Watchers in sight. He had become lost in his thoughts and let down his guard. Then, there had been a shout; one of the Watchers was chasing him. Something streaked past him? A spell? It hit him in the back...and then nothing.
Harry's face burned in humiliation as he realised that he had been entrapped, that he had been caught by the race he had hidden from for half of his life, and that had tormented him for the other half. He had been imprisoned again by his race, the humans.
There was no doubt in Harry's mind that he needed to flee as quickly as possible. Whatever the humans were planning on doing to him, it was bound to be terrible just like his life at the Dursleys had been. And these were magical humans, no less. Magical humans, like Voldemort had been. Harry had had no fond feelings for his relatives, the Dursleys, but Voldemort's cruelty had still horrified him. Were all wizards like that?
The young ones Harry had been watching had seemed nice enough, but Harry was not taking any chances. He was not ready to leave the forest that had become his home over the past few years. He was not prepared to give the humans another chance, like Serenity wanted him to.
At the thought of his unicorn mother, Harry felt a pang in his heart. Were she and Ethryl already searching the forest for him? Did they know what had happened to him, that he had been caught, that his freedom had been ripped away from him forcefully and without his consent? Harry had to get away. There was no way that he was staying in this place against his will!
Praying that nobody was watching him, Harry slid his right eye open cautiously. He was sitting in a wooden chair with his back to the wall. The room Harry found himself imprisoned in was circular and nothing like any room Harry had ever seen before. There were countless portraits on the wall depicting sleeping men and women. Harry stared in wonder as he realised that the pictures were moving.
The sleepers' chests were rising and falling gently, and one particularly fat man opposite Harry was even snoring softly.
To Harry's right, there was a huge desk that was littered with the thick, yellow paper magical humans seemed to be using, bottles of ink and feathers. Behind the desk there was a shelf that was filled mostly with books. Harry's eyes widened as he took in this sight. What he wouldn't have given to read some of those! With the Dursleys, Harry had always had to steal books from his aunt and uncle if he wanted to read- the only book that had been his own had been his beloved fairytale book. Harry felt another pang as he remembered that his book must have been lost in the rubble of what had been the Dursleys' house.
There was also a strange hat sitting on one of the shelves. It looked extremely battered, and Harry wondered why it hadn't been thrown away yet. Across from Harry, there was a huge window. His heartbeat quickened as he caught a glimpse of the Quidditch pitch and the Ancient Forest through it.
In front of the window there were tables with strange, silver instruments that were whirring and moving constantly. Harry had never seen anything like that before.
To his left, there was an empty perch of some kind, complete with a bowl of water and a few crackers. Harry wondered idly what kind of bird lived in such a strange room as he allowed his gaze to wander on as inconspicuously as possible.
There. He had spotted the door on his left side. Harry opened his eyes fully and observed the people in the room with him cautiously. There was about fifteen of them, most of whom he had seen before as Watchers. Harry recognised the old, white-haired man, the black-haired man who had almost caught him, the stern woman with her hair up in a bun and finally the kind-looking man who was the cause of Harry's unwilling imprisonment. They were all talking in hushed voices with their heads close together. Nobody was looking in his direction.
Harry tensed his body and inwardly counted to three. Then, with a speed born from many years spent in the presence of the most graceful beings in existence, Harry rocketed himself out of the chair and hurtled into the direction of the door. He heard many surprised and dismayed exclamations and people scrambling out of their chairs to follow him, but did not dare look back.
Harry sprinted down the spiralling staircase at breakneck speed and threw himself out of the opening at the bottom. Unfortunately, Harry found himself in a corridor with no idea where to go next. He looked around frantically, as the voices behind him grew louder.
"Where'm I supposed to go?" Harry asked one of the portraits that adorned the walls fretfully, not really expecting an answer. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the portrait opened its eyes lazily and pointed to the left. With no better advice to go on, Harry took off in the indicated direction. Unfortunately, rounding the corner just brought him to another corridor, this time with three choices of where to go. In his desperation, Harry decided to stop thinking and took the middle one. There seemed to be a staircase leading downwards at its end, and Harry knew that to reach the exit of the castle, he had to go down several staircases.
Later, Harry could not remember how long he had run through the castle. Occasionally he encountered windows and noticed that he seemed to be getting closer to the ground, but after a while, even these stopped. Torches now dimly illuminated the halls and the walls were damp and mouldy. Harry had a feeling that he had maybe taken one too many staircases, as the halls gave off a definite dungeon-like atmosphere.
Scared by the nigh absolute silence, Harry could feel panic rising within him again. The walls seemed to be closing in on him and Harry ran faster and faster. Another turn, another staircase leading even further down. No.
A dead end.
Finally, a flight of stairs leading upwards. Another turn. Down again. No.
Harry's breathing grew ragged and hot tears stung in his eyes. There was no way out. He was trapped in the dark, damp hallways of this castle that suddenly held no appeal for Harry at all. He wanted to go back to the forest. He wanted to go home...
Harry stumbled as he encountered another dead end. He fell down and scraped his knees painfully on the floor. It was by no means the most terrible injury Harry had ever sustained, but in his current state of mind, it was the final straw. Harry curled up in the darkest corner he could find and cried silently.
Harry didn't know how long he had sat there, huddled against the wall with his knees hugged tightly, rocking backwards and forwards, when he suddenly heard footsteps approaching. Harry fell silent, paralysed with fear and apprehension.
As the footsteps got closer, Harry could also discern angry muttering, though he did not understand the quiet words. He did, however, recognise the voice, and that did nothing to placate Harry in the slightest. For approaching at a rapid pace was one of the men Harry wanted to see least in the world: the one who had almost caught him a few months before.
While Harry was still frozen in his realisation, the man rounded the corner, and Harry could just make out the words 'little brat' and 'just like his bloody father', before the greasy-haired, hook-nosed man spotted Harry and stopped short.
They stared at each other for a few moments, Harry in terrified silence and the man with a contemptuous sneer on his face.
Harry's thoughts were racing as his eyes darted past the man to his only escape; the corridor they had both come from.
The sneer on the man's face grew more pronounced. "Well, Potter, it seems we meet again."
Harry's eyes widened. How did the man know his name?
"Will I have to restrain you this time like the rabid dog you are, or do you promise to come quietly?"
Harry weighed his options. Escape seemed out of the question at the moment, and the sneering man held a wand in his fingers, which meant that Harry would not be able to try any surprise attacks on him- not that Harry believed that any would be very effective.
Harry's unicorn pride rebelled against the idea of 'coming quietly', but it seemed like the wisest option in Harry's mind. At least he would not be bound physically or magically, which left him free to look for other means of an escape later on.
His mind made up, Harry cautiously got up from the floor and looked mistrustfully at the now scowling man.
"Are you mute as well as rabid, Potter? Or have you not been taught that it is polite to answer when spoken to? Then again," the man's scornful gaze trailed over Harry's worn leather clothing to his bare feet and back to Harry's dirty face and tangled mess of hair, lingering briefly on the gold and silver leaf Harry still carried around his neck (Harry hid it from view protectively, which caused the man to sneer once more), "considering the company you've apparently kept the last few years, probably not."
It was Harry's turn to glare at the man. He did not take kindly to beings that insulted the only family he had ever known.
The man, however, seemed completely unfazed by a half-civilised boy's ire and merely jerked his head in the direction of the corridor imperiously. Defeated for now, Harry allowed the man to seize his shoulder in an almost painful grip to steer him along.
Harry's hopes for an escape were soon squashed completely. Every time Harry even so much as thought about an opportunity, the grip on his shoulder tightened painfully. It was as though the man could read Harry's thoughts, a notion Harry found highly disconcerting.
They were back at the strange stone gargoyle that hid the entrance to the room Harry had fled from earlier. The man dragged him roughly up the stairs and sat him down forcefully in one of the chairs in the deserted room. Ropes shot out of his wand and wound themselves tightly around Harry's wrists and ankles, effectively tying him to the uncomfortable wooden chair. Harry struggled unhappily, but the bonds would not give.
Meanwhile, the man had raised his wand to his throat and muttered, "Sonorus." When he spoke next, his voice was so loud that Harry's by instincts sharpened sense of hearing caused him to wince.
"All professors back to the headmaster's office! I've got Potter here. Quietus."
Harry bit his lip nervously as they waited. He thought longingly of the forest, of his family... was Serenity looking for him? Were the other unicorns? What about Ethryl, Cathey and all the elves? Harry yearned to see them again, to talk to them again; he wanted to feel Serenity's soft fur in his fingers and he wanted to be hugged like a son by Ethryl. He wanted to laugh with Cathey and to explore the forest with his unicorn friends; he wanted to transform into his own unicorn form and run with the others. He wanted to feel the wind in his face and hair, feel the soft, mossy forest ground beneath his feet, smell the fresh, sweet scent of pine needles and resin...
Harry was almost unaware of the low, keening sound he was emitting, which was a unicorn's way of transmitting deep pain or despair.
Harry's eyes were glued to the small bit of the Ancient Forest he could see through the room's window, and his mind was so occupied with thoughts of freedom that he did not notice the other professors' return.
What he did notice was the gentle hand on his right shoulder. Harry flinched back instinctively. No human had ever touched him in kindness, nor did Harry believe one ever would.
"I am not going to hurt you," the wizard standing in front of Harry said gently. Harry knew him by sight; it was the tall, white-haired and white-bearded man with the funny, half moon-shaped glasses and colourful clothes. He was smiling kindly at Harry, but Harry did not relax. If anything, it made him tense even more.
Why was the man kind to him? What did he want? Was he going to send Harry to an orphanage, where, according to the Dursleys, he would be beaten, starved and hated because of his magic?
"My name is Professor Dumbledore," the old man continued soothingly, "are you going to tell us your name?"
Harry's eyes darted past the man to the window. If only he could leave this room and go back to his family in the forest...! These people could ask him questions, but Harry would not answer any of them.
When it became clear to the people in the room that Harry was going to remain silent, Professor Dumblore, or whatever he was called, spoke again.
"Well, you do not need to tell us who you are, if you do not wish to, of course until you do, we will simply call you 'Harry'. Is that acceptable to you?"
Harry did not react. His thoughts were racing. He could try to break the bonds by transforming into his animal form, unless... Harry expanded his senses to his bonds and felt the tingle of magic in his mind. His hopes were, once again, dashed. The ropes would only strangle Harry, were he to try and transform.
"...old you are?" They were all staring at Harry curiously and impatiently. The impatience reminded him a lot of the Dursleys, and Harry suppressed a terrified whimper.
Professor Dumblore finally seemed to give up and looked helplessly at the other professors.
The young, brown-haired man Harry had watched with interest for so many months stood and approached Harry hesitantly. He knelt down to be on eye level with Harry and smiled tentatively. "Hello, Harry," he said gently, "I am Remus Lupin. You probably don't remember me, but I was good friends with your parents."
Harry could feel his eyes widen in surprise. This was why the man had always seemed so familiar all the time! He had seen him before, he had known him! For a moment, Harry was tempted to talk to the man, but then his gaze reverted to the other people in the room again and he shrank back.
"Oh, for pity's sake, Lupin, this is not going to work," the hook-nosed man spoke up with his, apparently, customary sneer. "Potter won't talk this way; you will obviously have to employ a little more force."
"Severus," Professor Dumblore said warningly, "I really don't think –"
But Severus had already reached Harry's chair and raised his arm. For one endless, terrifying moment, Harry thought that he was going to hit him, then the hand came down at an incredible pace and closed around the beautiful leaf that symbolised Harry's friendship with the Surrey forest animals. A short yank, and the delicate, silver chain that had held it around Harry's neck ripped with a single, metallic note.
The years-old charm had been broken, and the chain reverted back to the frozen blade of grass it had originally been.
"NO!" Harry shouted in horror, writhing desperately in his bonds. "This is mine! You're going to break it, give it back to me!"
"Ah," the greasy man said with a smug smirk, "so you can talk."
But Harry didn't care that he had just lost an important psychological battle. All he cared about was the small, fragile magical leaf in the man's hand.
"Now that we have ascertained that you are by no means mute," the sneering man continued, "are you willing to give us your name?"
When Harry's eyes remained fixed on the leaf, the man sneered even more.
"I suggest answering our question, Potter, or your little... talisman... here will be no more."
Harry stared at the man pale-faced. "It's not a talisman," he whispered, "It's- it's not mine to give and not yours to take!"
The man raised his eyebrows. "It's not yours? Who would have thought, the great Harry Potter, a thief?"
Harry bristled visibly as his fiery temper flared. "I'm not a thief!" he shouted angrily. "This was given to me by a friend, and I'm taking care of it!"
'Severus' seemed completely unfazed. "Well, then," he said smoothly, "if you want your... present... back, why don't we make a deal?"
Harry looked at him mistrustfully. "What's a deal?" If he had known the word at the Dursleys', Harry could not remember it, and he was quite sure that he had never encountered it during his time with the unicorns.
The sneering man, Severus, looked briefly exasperated. "It's an agreement," he hissed impatiently, again making Harry flinch in remembrance. "An agreement made between two parties to satisfy both of them."
Harry blinked, bewildered. "Parties?" he questioned innocently. Aunt Petunia had sometimes been to parties with Uncle Vernon, that much Harry remembered. And there had always been parties on Dudley's birthdays, though Harry had naturally never been allowed to attend.
Severus ran a hand through his greasy, limp hair in apparent agitation. "Two parties are two groups or people with opposing or at least differing opinions. Got it?" He looked so menacing that Harry wouldn't have dared say 'no', even if he hadn't understood the explanation. He nodded timidly.
"So, er," Harry said quietly. "What deal are you talking about?"
The man took a deep breath, as if he was trying to calm himself down. "You promise to stay at the castle with an appointed guardian," he began, "answer all our questions truthfully and follow the rules. In return, you will get this little piece of junk back and be allowed to do as you please, as long as your guardian condones it."
Harry could feel new despair welling inside of him. "What if I don't like the deal?" he asked tightly.
Severus sneered. "That would be most unfortunate, Potter," he mocked softly, "because we're not giving you a choice. The only difference is that you will not get your talisman back, even though you will still be forced to stay here. Though Merlin only knows why anyone would want you around."
Many of the other people in the room, including Professor Dumblore and Remus Lupin, looked outraged and made as if to talk, yet Severus waved them off harshly.
Angry tears blurred Harry's vision as he realised that this time, he was well and truly bound.
"What shall it be, young Potter?" Severus whispered mercilessly.
Harry gathered what remained of his shattered dignity and composure and forced himself to meet the vile man's cruel, glittering and oh-so-cold beetle-black eyes proudly. "I promise to stay at the castle," he whispered, feeling terribly humiliated. "I promise to answer your questions, and I will try to follow your rules, though I do not know them. I would also like to be permitted to visit my family in the forest."
"That shall be up to your new guardian." The man sneered at Harry contemptuously one last time and threw the enchanted leaf down on Harry's lap. He released Harry's wrists with a quick flick of his wand, making the ropes fall away.
Harry cradled the leaf to his chest protectively and transfigured the sad, dangling blade of grass back into a delicate, silver chain, which he put around his neck. Then Harry bent down quickly and severed the ropes that still tied his ankles to the chair with a simple, elven charm. As soon as his limbs were free, Harry got up from the uncomfortable chair and backed away until he was leaning against the soft, carpeted wall.
They were all staring at him incredulously and Harry wondered whether he had done something wrong.
"You have control of your magic!" the middle-aged woman with her hair up in a tight bun blurted out loudly.
Harry thought that this was an odd exclamation for a witch working at a school designed to teach magical children just that. "Yes," he said slowly. Then, uncertainly, "don't you?"
The woman looked flustered at Harry's answer and the amused titters of most of her colleagues. "Of course I do," she said briskly, "but at your age...?"
"I'm almost eight!" Harry said indignantly.
"Yes," the white-haired man interfered swiftly. "Your birthday is the thirty-first of July, isn't it, Harry?"
Harry furrowed his brow in thought. He had, of course, known the names of the months in his time at the Dursleys', but the memories had faded and gone hazy with time. (Besides, the Dursleys had never celebrated Harry's birthday, anyway.)
"The thirty-first of July," Harry said uncertainly, "is that at the end of the seventh moon?" Staring, always staring. Harry felt trapped and vulnerable under the intense gazes and pressed himself further into the wall. The fluffy wall carpet felt reassuring between Harry's fingers as he gripped it tightly. Unicorns did not appreciate human stares, and Harry had adopted their disposition wholeheartedly. The 'office' seemed to become smaller around Harry, as if the walls were closing in on him.
Harry felt caged. His breath was coming in quick gasps. He needed to get out of this room with all the people in it; he needed to –
Professor Dumblor stood quickly and crossed the room in three big strides, throwing the window wide open. The faint sounds of the distant forest penetrated Harry's dazed, panicking mind, and gentle scents of moss and pine needles tickled his sensitive nose, thus calming Harry's frazzled nerves.
His death grip on the carpet relaxed marginally and his breathing slowed. The urge to run was replaced by a deep, aching yearning in Harry's chest. He wanted his unicorn mother and Ethryl; he wanted them so badly that he could hardly hold back the stinging tears of anger, fear and loneliness. "Why do you keep me here?" he whispered.
Nobody seemed to want to answer the soft, desperate accusation for a moment, but then the man who had introduced himself as Remus Lupin stepped forward hesitantly and crouched in front of Harry. Their eyes were now almost on the same level.
"Harry," the familiar stranger whispered, "you are Harry, aren't you?"
A quick, sunny smile played around the man's mouth. "You belong in this world," he continued gently, "at Hogwarts. Your parents were human wizards, and so are you. So are all of us here. Hogwarts is a school for young wizards like you, and in a few years, you will be taught here with your peers. We want you to be part of this world."
The man raised his hand slowly and Harry watched it warily, poised to run. But Remus Lupin merely tucked a strand of Harry's long, tangled hair behind his ear in a gesture that felt strangely paternal. It made Harry's insides grow warm.
"I know you have come to expect no kindness from us humans and wizards. But we genuinely care about you, Harry. I was one of your parents' closest friends. I know that they would have wanted you to grow up with one of us. When they –"and here he paused, as if what he was going to say pained him greatly, "when Lily and James died, I tried to get custody of you. That means that I tried to get permission to raise you as my own son."
Harry stared. Someone had wanted him?
"My request was denied because of – special circumstances of mine..."
Harry cocked his head to the side in confusion. What special circumstances? He felt the kind man again with his senses and discovered another reason for the strange sense of familiarity and belonging he had always felt around him. "You're a shapechanger," Harry said knowingly, "a child of the forest. I can sense it. I have heard that many humans are afraid of your kind. But I'm not. Several of my best friends are wolves, even though they don't change."
They were, again, staring at him incredulously. Harry could feel some of the old panic rising and clenched his fists tighter around the carpet.
"Well," Remus Lupin breathed, "you are quite right. I am a registered werewolf, albeit not a well-known one, and so my request was denied. You were sent to live with your relations, the Dursleys, under heavy wards and protective shields. Three years later to the day, those wards alerted us to danger at your house. When we arrived, the house was a crumbled ruin, your relatives were discovered dead, there was evidence that Lord Voldemort himself had entered the house and never left it, and you, Harry, had vanished without a single trace."
Harry averted his eyes, the memory of that terrible night catching up with him once more. The green light, the laughter, the screaming, the betrayal, and most of all, the terror, the hopelessness, the all-consuming fear.
"We've been looking for you for almost four years. And now that we've finally found you, we are not about to let you slip away again. It's been so long, Harry. No one thought that you were still alive."
Harry penetrated the man's gaze with his own. Was he lying? Was he, unbelievably, telling the truth? Harry could sense no insincerity coming from the friendly werewolf.
"The ministry thinks you're dead now," Remus Lupin continued, "which gives us a little more leeway. If you'd like, I could , well, I could be your new guardian. It would be all right as long as you stayed elsewhere on full moons?"
Harry thought about it quickly. The young man seemed nice, his wild werewolf form gave him a certain connection to Harry, he had apparently known Harry's human parents well and seemed to like him, Harry, very much. "Yes," Harry breathed, "I think I'd like that."
The man smiled his quick, sunny smile again and offered Harry his hand. "Thank you, Harry. You may call me Remus."
Harry took Remus's hand and allowed himself to be led back to the table. Professor Dumblor and most of the other people in the room were beaming at him and his new guardian.
"I will have the house-elves move your belongings to bigger quarters," the professor said. Harry noticed that his light blue eyes seemed to be twinkling when he was happy. "There is a nice suite of rooms overlooking the lake that I trust you will find quite satisfying."
He clapped his hands twice and one of the strangest creatures Harry had ever seen appeared.
"Tipsy," said Professor Dumblor with a kind smile, "please move Professor Lupin's things into the empty suite in the west wing."
"Yes, Professor Dumbledore, Sir," the creature said with a low bow and vanished with a resounding 'crack'.
"Well, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said kindly, "why don't you take a seat?"
Harry squirmed uncomfortably. "I – I'd rather not," he mumbled. "The chairs, they're – they're not very comfortable."
"My apologies," Professor Dumbledore agreed jovially. With a swish of his wand, the back and armrests of the chair had disappeared, while the seat had been fashioned with a soft, purple cushion.
"Thank you," Harry said, surprised and sat down Indian style on his new... platform.
On the other end of the room, 'Severus' started to close the window.
"Don't, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted him sharply, "Harry here is suffering from claustrophobia. Quite understandable, considering that he has spent the past four years out in the open."
Remus seemed to notice Harry's bewilderment. "It means that you don't like to be in small, enclosed spaces," he explained in a conspiratory whisper.
Harry giggled. Professor Dumbledore was right, though.
"Harry," the latter addressed him, "would you mind answering a few of our questions now?"
Harry remembered his promise to 'Severus' darkly and shook his head."You don't need to answer if a question makes you uncomfortable, Harry," Remus said quickly.
Harry gave him a shy, grateful smile.
"Let's start with something simple, all right? When you talk about your family in the forest, whom are you talking about?"
Harry shifted a little to get comfortable despite the stares. "I'm talking about my mum," he said softly. "Her name is Serenity. There's also Stardust, her son, who's like an older brother to me, and Cassiopeia. She's one of my friends. Then there's Ethryl, who is like my dad, and Cathey. She's my big sister and best friend. I have many friends in the forest."
"Well, that sounds wonderful, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said soothingly, "can you also tell us what they are?"
Harry frowned. "What they – oh! Serenity, Cassy and Stardust are unicorns. Ethryl and Cathey are elves."
There was an outbreak of mutterings around the room. Even the portraits seemed to be conversing excitedly.
"You – you live with unicorns?" Remus asked incredulously.
Harry, not understanding their behaviour, nodded. "Serenity found me when – after – after the Dursleys. I've been living with her and her group of unicorns ever since."
This caused another bout of excitement.
"And you've been communicating with the help of the elves, I presume?" a tiny man sitting at the table squeaked. He was about as tall as Harry.
"Oh, no," Harry said, surprised. "Unicorns have their own language. Serenity used unicorn bonding magic on me at first, which allowed me to understand her. Later, I learned to speak their language. The elves live here in the Ancient Forest, not in Surrey! There wouldn't be enough magic there to keep them alive."
"When did you move here?" Remus inquired curiously.
Harry had to think about that question for a while. "Four winters ago, I think,"he concluded uncertainly. "I was four."
"So, directly after the Dursleys!" Remus breathed in wonder.
"No," said Harry. "It was after Christmas. Feb – Febuary? Yes?"
"February," Professor Dumbledore corrected absent-mindedly, seemingly half to himself. "They moved here in the middle of winter? What madness..." he broke off, looked at Harry piercingly. "I imagine that must have been hard?"
Harry shuddered at the memory. "Hard, yes," he said solemnly. "We had no choice but to move. Humans were coming to destroy our forest. We lost many friends on the way – Wolves, foxes, stags... even unicorns. I almost died. It was too cold for me, there was no food and the unicorns' magic was exhausted."
"And so you arrived here in the Ancient Forest three and a half years ago and lived right under our noses, and nobody ever knew." Remus mused, his voice tinged with both annoyance and amusement.
"Not many humans dare enter the forest," Harry offered cautiously. "Only Hagrid, and the Potions Master. Him." He nodded at 'Severus'.
"Yeh've seen us?" Hagrid asked, astonished. "Yeh've seen us in the forest?"
"No," said Harry shyly, "but some of the elves have."
"Blimey," Hagrid muttered, scratching his big, hairy head. "Ne'er knew, I didn't."
"Thank you, Harry, for answering our questions," Professor Dumbledore said gently. "There is, of course, one more question we must ask, concerning the events of the night you left the Dursleys."
Harry paled instantly.
"However," Professor Dumbledore continued soothingly, "since it is already quite late, and since you are obviously not comfortable with answering this particular question yet, we will leave it for another night. Remus, why don't you show young Harry here to your new quarters? The password is 'Whomping Willow', I believe. You may, of course, change it."
Harry looked to the window and saw that the sun had already sunk quite low. It had to be around the ninth hour and night was falling. He felt another stab of homesickness as he realised that it was high time for him to return to the meadows...
Remus tugged his hand gently and Harry stumbled to his feet. His gaze never left window while they crossed the room, and as the polished oak doors obscured his view of the only home he had ever known, Harry could feel his heart break a little.
They were silent on their way through the confusing halls. Remus's warm hand around his own, smaller one comforted Harry slightly as they followed a path only his new guardian could see.
When they finally stopped in front of the portrait of a lovely willow tree, Harry was quite sure of two things: one, that he would never find his way around this place; and two, that this place would never, ever be his home. They could keep him there as long as they liked, they could break his silver and gold leaf, they could hurt him, like the Dursleys had, but they could never, ever force him to feel at home. Harry's home was the forest and he vowed that it would always remain this way.
"Whomping Willow," Remus said clearly, which confused Harry for a second. Then the portrait swung aside and he realised that it had to have been some kind of password.
Remus climbed through the resulting hole and beckoned Harry to follow him.
The room they had entered appeared to be some kind of sitting room. There was a fire burning merrily in the fireplace and several dark red couches and armchairs stood facing it around a low, dark, wooden table. In another corner of the room there was what Harry recognised to be a dining table with several chairs surrounding it. Bookcases shrouded the walls, already filled with more books than Harry had ever seen. There were little trinkets placed randomly between them, giving the room a lived-in, homely feel.
The wall opposite the door was made almost entirely of glass, giving Harry and Remus a wonderful view over the lake and part of the forest. The floor was covered by soft, fluffy, beige carpeting.
Remus went to one of the four doors leading from the spacious, bright room and opened it. Harry could just catch a glimpse of a desk and even more bookshelves, before he closed it again. "Study," he said to Harry with a wan smile.
The next door opened to show the master bedroom, the third one hid Harry's own room (Harry was startled to learn that he wouldn't be sent to sleep in a cupboard), and the last door led to a vast and luxurious bathroom.
"Well," Remus said with his friendly smile, "a bath is in order, don't you agree?"
Harry grimaced. He had bathed in the river just that morning and felt clean enough, but apparently, by human standards, he wasn't.
Remus steered him into the bathroom with gentle force and helped him out of his clothes and into the big tub.
Harry almost screamed when he entered the water – it was much too warm! There had never been warm water in the forest, and Aunt Petunia had always refused to waste anything but ice-cold water on him. "It's too hot," Harry gasped out.
Remus flicked his wand quickly and the water cooled down a little. "Better?" he asked concernedly.
Harry nodded. The warm water actually felt pleasant against his skin, and Harry, for the first time in his life, found himself enjoying a bath.
The next hour was spent washing all the grime he had never noticed before off his body. Remus had to wash Harry's hair with shampoo – a horrible, cool substance that burned in Harry's eyes when he had opened them despite Remus's instructions. Remus tormented him three times with the shampoo until he was satisfied with his hair's state of cleanness. Then, he used a quick trimming spell to shorten it until it was just long enough to be tucked behind Harry's ears. Another spell took care of Harry's finger- and foot nails.
After the bath and a drying charm, Harry was wrapped in a large, fluffy towel and herded into his bedroom. Remus lit a fire in Harry's fireplace and removed the curtains from around Harry's bed. "You can have them back whenever you want", he said, "I just don't think that you would appreciate them now, since you don't like small spaces."
Remus then transfigured the towel into a nice pair of pyjamas and helped Harry into them. When Harry was safely tucked into the uncomfortably soft bed, Remus made to exit the room. He hesitated in the doorway and turned back to face Harry slowly, as though a heavy load was weighing him down.
"I know you don't want to be here, Harry," he said softly. "I can see it in your eyes and it is written all over your face. I know you miss your friends and family out in the forest and would like nothing more than to return to them..." He hesitated once more, his head bowed. "If, in a reasonable amount of time, I still feel that you are unhappy here and that you will never be able to see this world as your own, I will let you go, Harry. I promise you that. But..."
Remus released the door handle and approached Harry's bed again, sitting next to him and bringing a hand up to stroke Harry's soft cheek, smiling painfully. "I would like you to give us a fair chance, Harry. Don't try to be unhappy here until I say that you can leave. Try to learn as much as you can about this world; and try to get to know us and to fit in. You never know, you might just be happy here at Hogwarts. Will you promise to give it a go, Harry? Please?"
The pleading was so honest and intense and his voice so open and sad that Harry could not resist. "I promise," he whispered for the second time that day, and this time, he really meant it.
Remus's smile was the sunniest yet and he kissed Harry's forehead quickly before leaving the room with a soft 'goodnight'.
It was deadly silent after Remus's footsteps had faded away. The silence seemed heavy and oppressive to Harry, who was used to the sounds of a magic forest at night. After a while, Harry could stand it no longer. He got up quietly, padded over to the window and threw it wide open. The window ledge was big and comfortably cushioned and Harry sank down on it gratefully.
He hugged his knees to his chest, laid his chin down on his knees and stared outside into the fading dusk. It was a beautiful night; birds were singing, crickets chirping and there was a gentle breeze rustling the trees in the distant forest.
Yet none of this was a comfort to Harry.
The thought of being caught in this castle, imprisoned against his will, even though the occupants were treating him nicely, ("For now," Harry muttered to himself darkly,) was almost unbearable. There was a nearly physical pain in his chest whenever he thought about his unicorn mum. By now, she would have realised that he, Harry, would not be returning to the meadows that night. The elves would be notified, and every being old and strong enough would be searching for Harry at this very moment.
The thoughts of his family brought Harry's homesickness back full force and he let loose a cry full of despair and loneliness, in unicorn language, so high that it was but a gust of wind to human ears.
"Harry... Harry... wake up, Harry..."
Sunlight tickled Harry's eyelids and an insistent, if gentle hand was shaking his shoulder. Harry frowned sleepily and opened his eyes. For a moment, he did not know where he was. Why was he in a closed room, sitting on a padded window ledge and wearing cloth pyjamas? And who was...
As the memories came rushing back, Remus gave him a tentative smile. "Good morning, Harry. Normally, I'd invite you to breakfast now, but there's something I think you'd like to see."
Harry rubbed his eyes with his fists. "Whassit?" he mumbled blearily. His back was aching and Harry vowed never to fall asleep on a window ledge ever again.
"I think you'd better come," Remus muttered. He conjured soft shoes for Harry's feet and Harry put them on immediately. They felt very strange to him.
Then Remus led Harry out of their suite and through the endless corridors of the castle. Harry lost his orientation completely before they reached what was apparently the entrance hall, judging by the opened doors to their left. In the hall, there stood most of the people Harry had met the night before, and, incredibly...
"Ethryl!" Harry shouted, overjoyed. He jumped the last six or seven steps to the floor and ran to meet the only father figure he had ever known. Ethryl opened his arms with a wordless smile and caught Harry easily.
"Why, I didn't know your hair was black, Harry," he teased gently. "I've only ever seen it brown and tangled before."
Harry smiled and laid his head down on the elf's shoulder. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you, too," said Ethryl. "Are you all right, Harry?"
Harry nodded happily. "Will you take me back to the forest?"
Ethryl's face grew serious. "I cannot, Harry. You know that. You gave the humans your word, and..."
"... unicorns can't break their word, and because I've bonded with mum, I can't either. I know." Harry's last hopes had crumbled and his eyes filled with tears. "I'm stuck here, then?"
Ethryl clucked his tongue and adjusted his hold on Harry. "Don't look at me like this, Little One. Yes, you must stay at the castle. It is not the end of the world. They have been treating you with kindness, haven't they?"
"They have," Harry whispered, the tears spilling over. "Don't leave me here..." he added hopelessly.
"I must, Harry. There is not enough magic on these grounds to sustain me..., too many dampening protective wards. I will come and visit you as often as I am able to."
"Is beside herself with worry. She heard your cry last night through your bond. This is how we knew where you were. She will be waiting for you at the edge of the forest this afternoon at the fifth hour."
Ethryl's eyes turned to face Remus and hardened. "You are the one taking care of him?"
Remus nodded, looking a little pale.
"You will treat him with respect and kindness."
It was not a question, but Remus nodded again, fervently.
"You will never raise a hand against him or shout at him in anger."
Remus nodded, looking appalled.
"Good," said Ethryl in a hard voice. "He's had enough of that with his... relatives.
"You will allow him to see any of us whenever he wants."
"Yes," Remus agreed quickly.
"You will listen to and be there for him whenever he needs you."
"You will respect his needs and wishes and try to fulfil them to the best of your abilities."
"You will provide shelter, food and decent clothing for him."
"Yes, of course."
"You will die to save him if the need arises."
"I, what! I mean, of course I will!"
"You will love him and care for him with all your heart."
"I will," Remus whispered.
"Then you deserve to have him."
Ethryl transferred Harry from his arms to Remus's carefully, and Harry did not protest, for it would have been futile. Remus's arms were warm and strong around him, just like Ethryl's, and for the first time, Harry felt that Remus could become another father to him.
Ethryl, meanwhile, had turned to face all of the humans. "We do not approve of the way Harry was lured into your midst," he said loudly and strongly, "nor do we approve of the way he was made to stay here with no choice at all. It was wrong and despicable of you. However, now that Harry is bound to you through his word, we expect you to take good care of him. Harry is very precious to us, as elven children are extremely rare and Harry has been adopted into the fold years ago. You humans had no right to take Harry from us."
Ethryl's eyes were blazing with power.
"If we ever hear even one single word of complaint from Harry about any of you, that person will face the combined wrath of every elf, unicorn, shapechanger, centaur, wolf, fox and bird living in this forest and the ones surrounding it, and our wrath shall be terrible. You have been warned."
Ethryl's eyes softened as he turned back to Harry. "I must go now, Unicorn Child," he said gently. "I must tell the others that they can stop looking for you. Farewell, and I will see you soon."
Ethryl kissed Harry's forehead much like Remus had done the night before and turned swiftly.
And Harry watched his tall and proud back disappear down the gently sloping lawn with his head on Remus's shoulder and a small, sad smile on his face.
Nobody moved until Ethryl had disappeared into the forest.
"Well," Remus said at last, sounding a little shaken, "breakfast, I should think. Harry?"
Harry nodded and tightened his arms around Remus's neck. He felt a sudden urge to be held protectively and clung to his new prospective father as they entered a great hall with a seemingly transparent ceiling.
"It is enchanted," Remus explained. "It shows the sky outside."
Harry buried his face in Remus's neck and refused to move even after they had sat down.
"Hey," Remus said gently, "How are we supposed to eat with you clinging to me like this?"
But Harry tightened his hold. The strange voices, faces, smells, sounds, the stares... it had all suddenly become too much. Remus, who was being so nice to Harry; Remus, of whom Ethryl had approved, was now Harry's only hold in this big, terrifying new world. Harry did not let go of Remus despite his coaxing for surely he, Harry, would be drifting alone and totally lost in the sea of unfamiliarity until he drowned if he did. And Remus would be taken away from him like Serenity and Ethryl.
"I believe that you and young Harry should maybe return to your quarters, Remus," Dumbledore advised after a few minutes.
"Yes, I think we will," Remus mumbled. "Excuse us." He adjusted his hold on his clingy new charge and got up with some difficulty.
The way back to their suite was, again, silent. Harry kept up his tight hold and Remus rubbed soothing circles on his back.
"Whomping Willow." Remus made his way over to the couch and sank down on it with a groan. "You're quite heavy after a while, d'you know that?" he teased.
Harry refused to budge. They sat in silence for a few minutes, the only thing moving being Remus's hand on Harry's back.
"You know what my mother always did for me when I wanted comfort?" Remus said quietly. He didn't seem to mind Harry's silence. "She used to sing to me. There's one song I always loved more than any of the others. It is still my favourite even after all these years, and I'm going to sing it to you now."
Remus cleared his throat and Harry turned his head a little in interest. Nobody had ever sung to him before. Remus's voice was soft and soothing as he sang,
"The silver moon has risen,
the golden stars are shining
in heaven bright and clear,
the trees stand dark and silent
and from the meadows rises
the wondrous, mystical white mist.
How is the world so silent
And in the veil of twilight
So cosy and so fair
Just as a silent chamber
Where all day's woe and squalor
You shall forget and sleep away..."
They sat in comfortable silence after Remus had finished. Harry had relaxed his death grip on Remus's neck. He felt peaceful and drowsy and decided to open up a little, like Remus had done for him.
"Aunt Petunia never used to sing to me." Harry said softly.
Remus never stilled his hand. "Really, Harry? That is sad. It's very nice, having someone sing to you."
They were silent for another while before Harry had gathered enough courage to speak. "She always sang to Dudley," Harry whispered haltingly, "but never to me."
This time, there was a hitch in the motion of Remus's hand, and his other arm tightened a little. "That was not very nice of her,"he said gently.
There was another silence, this one stretching for a few minutes, before Harry felt daring enough to speak up again. "She had a horrible voice," he whispered, "all high and shrill. And she never hit the right notes. Not like you. But I always wished..."
"Oh, Harry," Remus whispered brokenly, "I will sing to you every night before you go to sleep, until you are so sick of it that you hex me out of your room."
Harry smiled. "Will you tuck me in, like she did for Dudley, too? Will you hug me and kiss me 'goodnight'?"
"Of course I will, Harry." Remus assured him.
Harry's smile widened and he slowly loosened his hold until he sat upright. "What about breakfast, then?" he asked, as it had suddenly occurred to him just how hungry he was.
"An excellent idea," Remus agreed brightly, "Shall we eat here rather than in the Great Hall?"
Harry nodded fervently. "Yes, please."
Remus clapped his hands twice, like Professor Dumbledore had done the night before, and another one of the strange creatures appeared.
"How can Twinkly help you, Sirs?" it squeaked enthusiastically.
"Breakfast for two, please, Twinkly." Remus said with a kind smile.
The creature popped out of sight and reappeared a moment later with a huge tray, which it set down upon the dining table.
"Thank you, Twinkly," Remus said, and the creature vanished with a low bow and a squeaked "It was Twinkly's pleasure, Sirs!".
Harry's eyes widened as he took in the mountains of food on the table. "We're – we're supposed to eat all that?"
Remus grinned. "Not all of it. Just as much as we want." He picked up one of the plates and started shovelling food onto it. "Scrambled eggs, Harry? They make them excellent here at Hogwarts. And bacon, of course? And you simply must try one of these sausages. They're wonderful..."
Harry shook his head in wonder. Maybe, just maybe, this new world wouldn't be so bad after all.
A/N: I hope you liked it... please review!
Until next time,