~ Chapter Thirty-Four ~
Harry stood alone in the hall as the headmaster slipped back into the kitchen to dismiss the members of the Order before heading off to Hogwarts to speak with Snape. Now that Harry was beginning to come off of 'crisis-mode,' the emotions shoved stubbornly to the back of his mind began to leak through, and he let his eyes close while breathing shakily, the anger, remorse, and self-doubt pressing down around him as though attempting to suffocate him.
"Reign it back in, boy," a gruff voice muttered quietly behind him. Harry jumped, having not noticed as Alastor slipped out of the kitchen after him. He turned to see that both of Moody's eyes were trained steadily in a single direction, and only when he followed the gaze did he notice the shimmering sparks flickering between his own fingers. He grimaced guiltily, the memory of how he had nearly lost control and hurt so many people the day the dementors came rising unbidden to the front of his thoughts.
"I'm sorry, I… Well I don't know… I…" As he stumbled over a desperate attempt at an apology, his breath hitched and he began to tremble, feeling the surge of power forcing its way through him as the sparks between his fingers grew and began to crackle in the air.
"Easy lad, ye need to calm down. Your emotions are fueling your magic, find a way to channel it."
"I don't know how, I don't know what that means!" Harry answered quickly, stumbling a bit as he hastily distanced himself from the ex-auror, the air around him beginning to swirl.
The voices in the kitchen began to die down and Moody whipped out his wand, casting strong locking and securing charms on the kitchen door. A moment later, the handle rattled and there was an angry pounding on the door.
"Harry James Potter, you open this door immediately!" Harry grimaced as Mrs. Weasley's outraged shout set off the portrait of Mrs. Black by the front door.
"Scum! Filth! Dirty half-breeds! How dare you soil the ancient house of Black with your presence!" Over top of this outburst, Mrs. Weasley continued to rant, despite the mortified hushing coming from her youngest children.
"If pouting and tantrums is how you handle every disappointment in your life young man, it is little wonder the headmaster chose to keep you in the dark this summer! I thought better of you—!"
"—Mudbloods! Stains of dishonor! Vile half-humans—!"
Mad-Eye was now keeping his magical eye trained on the door to check that his spells were holding, while alternating between trying to keep Harry calm and muttering something about 'that woman needing a muzzle, Merlin help us…' Harry, meanwhile, was quickly trying to remember the instructions Snape had given him, about imagining his magic wrapped around and around into a controlled core. Between the two shouting women, though, he could feel his magic begin to escape in spurts.
"—now open this door, and you and Ron and Hermione can sit and talk about this rationally, and I'm sure you'll realize that they aren't going to treat you any differently or leave you behind just because they were chosen over you for Prefect positions—"
"—GET OUT! Filthy blood-traitors, freaks!" That one word brought memories of the Dursley's pouring over the top of the walls he was attempting to build in his mind, and he turned on the portrait with a snarl, not even noticing as Moody flattened himself against the hallway wall in alarm. He couldn't focus, couldn't concentrate, just felt the fury and the pain swell up around him as though magnified by his magic fifty-fold.
Faintly, he became aware of another voice, this one soft and soothing in his ear, and was able to pull on his magic and restrain it enough to hear the words Ana hissed to him calmly.
"Eassssy, little princcce. If you mussssst let the magic free, then give it direction. Anger isssss not the mossssst powerful of emotionssssss, you can control thisssss, even with sssssso little practiccccce."
"Ana, I don't know what I'm doing! I'm going to blast people again, I'm going to—" Ana, who at this point was wrapped carefully around his shoulders, poked her nose sharply into one of his ears, effectively cutting off his panicked parseltonge.
"None of that, little princccce, you can not afford to have the fear take over, that isssss too ssssstrong. Hold onto your anger. Focusssss on the one causssssing it. Freak, ssssshe called you. You mussssst get rid of thissss magic if you do not know yet how to contain it!" Her hissing was still slow and quiet, but with a new urgency to it that Harry, even in this state, was able to pick up on.
Raising his eyes to the still screaming portrait, Harry lay all his trust in Ana's metaphorical hands and raised his wand hand as he had done in the graveyard when summoning a patronus. He focused on the anger the woman in the portrait had brought to him with her words, letting it build as he imagined the pain she must have caused so many others in the Order as well: 'dirty half-breeds' like Remus, 'mudbloods' like Hermione, 'blood-traitors' like the Weasleys… like Charlie. Suddenly he felt his magic leap in a swell of rage, and a bright beam burst from his hand and straight at the portrait.
It took a few seconds of blinding light before the spots stopped dancing in front of his eyes, and Harry gaped at the charred, black hole in the wall that had been the portrait of Mrs. Black moments before.
"Ye alright, Potter?" Moody asked quietly from behind him, and only then did Harry notice the way he was gasping in air and the feel of cooling sweat down his back and salty tears stinging his eyes. He nodded jerkily, not entirely sure if 'alright' was exactly accurate, but confident that his magic was yet again under control.
"All isssss well now, little princcccce. Jusssst keep breathing, all isssss well." Ana hissed soothingly, and Harry raised a shaking hand to brush over her scales in gratitude.
"Let me see yer hands, Potter," Mad-Eye insisted, abandoning his watch on the door as his shields began to be disabled from the other side, and instead limping to Harry's side to check him over. "Good, good; none of those red lines like the last time. Seems letting it out was the healthy thing to do. That what the snake told you?" Harry nodded quietly, not meeting the other man's eyes as shame started to cloud his thoughts.
"None of that. Ye did well, and I can promise there'll be more than a few thanks for finally shutting the old bitch up. Won't help anyone to wallow in self-pity, Potter. Just figure out what worked and what didn't so we know for next time. This is a helluva lot of power yer carrying, are ye willing to work at controlling it?" Harry's snapped his gaze quickly up to the other man's and held it as he spoke.
"I will do whatever it takes." Moody nodded solemnly.
"Meet me here at midnight tonight, wear the cloak, don't let the others know yer leaving."
"You're going to take me out of headquarters?" Harry asked, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
"Doesn't need to know, does he?" There was no threat in the words, no emphasis, just a calm, even-toned question. Harry, however, had spent enough of his life depending on his ability to read the emotions and moods of others to pick up on the fact that this offer was by no means being made lightly. He made sure to straighten his shoulders and hold the older man's gaze with the best look of respect and gratitude he could muster.
"No sir, I don't suppose he does." Just then, the door opened and a gaggle of angry Weasleys and other Order members toppled into the room, leaving Harry to bite his lip nervously as he watched them look from him to the serpent draped around his neck to the charred bit of wall over his shoulder. He quickly scooped Ana into his pocket, but knew that Arthur, Bill, Tonks, Kingsley, Ron, Hermione, and the twins had all seen her already. Thank Merlin Molly's view had been blocked, so she hadn't gotten a clear view of the Ana as far as he could tell. Nonetheless, Mrs. Weasley looked ready to keep shouting, and only the fact that Bill had been able to step between the two of them from the beginning and began speaking first stopped the outburst.
"Harry, you finally found a way to get rid of the portrait! Well done, that!" He said cheerfully, pointedly ignoring the yelling from moments before and the residual crackle of magic in the air.
"Ding Dong, the witch is dead, Which old witch? The wicked witch. Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!" Harry couldn't contain the snort as his godfather's deep voice came singing over the heads of Order members as he forced his way to the front of the group, eyes crinkling at the corners and sending Harry a wink. He noticed that Lupin, Hermione, and Charlie were all snickering at the muggle reference to the Wizard of Oz as well, while the others were watching Sirius with varying degrees of amusement, concern, and disdain, none of which seemed to faze the man.
Harry let himself be pulled into a warm hug, and finally felt his muscles relax and his shoulders slump as he burrowed into his godfather's embrace with a sigh.
"I've got you pup," Sirius whispered into his hair, and Harry felt another hand tentatively resting on his shoulder. He glanced up and smiled guardedly at Lupin.
"Hey Remus." He noticed the unusual brightness in the other man's eyes and realized that this was one of the few times he had actually been touched by him. He furrowed his brow and tilted his head questioningly, not exactly sure how to phrase his question.
"The wolf can smell your pain and anger in the air, cub," he said so quietly that only Harry and Sirius stood a chance of hearing him. "I know I haven't given you any reason to see me like family, but you're pack, and I… if you'll permit it, it would help me to be near you for a while." Harry was trying to figure out the emotions swirling behind the bright eyes, but before he could figure out a response, both Sirius and Remus looked over his shoulder and took a step back from him, leaving Harry to turn and face Ron, who was standing seething just a couple feet away.
Harry felt his stomach clench guiltily, and took a deep breath to give his emotions a moment to settle. He really hadn't meant for it to appear that he was upset over the Prefect choice; honestly, it had never crossed his mind to want it in the first place. While he couldn't deny that it had hurt a little to think that the headmaster might see him as a danger, like Snape had said, he was honestly really happy for Ron, who never did seem to get the recognition he deserved, being in the shadow of The-Boy-Who-Lived so often.
"Ron, mate, I'm sorry…"
"And you bloody well should be!" Ron snapped, crossing his arms and glaring. Harry's shoulders slumped and he waited for the red-head's biting remarks. "You can't spring something like quitting quidditch on a man without a bit of warning mate, that's just mean." Harry's eyes shot up in surprise; that was not what he was expecting to hear. Ron must have noticed his shock, because he rolled his eyes before continuing. "If we can get old Snake-Face out of your head I'm all in Harry, and you have a good plan, we'll just need to iron out some details for it. But really, we've been best mates for how long, and you still forget to give me time to blow some steam before you expect me to start planning?" Harry opened his mouth, shut it, and shook his head bemusedly before he was able to respond.
"Yeah, I know what you thought," Ron said, anger leaving his voice completely, and ears turning red while he shuffled his feet sheepishly. "Look, I know I'm a prat sometimes while I'm still wrapping my head around things, but you've got to know by now that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty fight, I'll be standing right beside you. And…" He glanced at his mum before leaning forward to whisper in Harry's ear, who felt something cool and metal being pressed into his hands. "We'll talk to Dumbledore mate, I don't know what the barmy man was thinking, but you deserve Prefect."
Harry suddenly realized what Ron was trying to hand him and yanked his hand back as though he had been burned, frowning at his friend.
"Fred, George, can I borrow that silencing net thing for a second?" He bit out angrily, and Mrs. Weasley's protests were cut off almost immediately as the same carefully warded shield that had helped he and Charlie escape just that morning blocked out the rest of the Order. "Ron, get it out of your head that I am somehow better than you, alright? You earned Prefect. I'm the one who's always pulling you into trouble. You and Hermione both. I made you go after Hermione when the Mountain Troll got lose in the castle first year, and I insisted it was our job to protect the stone; I dragged you into the Chamber second year with only Lockhart of all people to help us, and it was because of me that we were locked out of the entrance to platform 9 ¾; third year you helped me break how many rules to get into Hogsmeade? Are you seeing a pattern here?" Ron started to interrupt but Harry just crossed his arms and kept talking. "Now I'm not saying I wouldn't do the exact same thing if I had to make some of those decisions over again, given the circumstances, but you've gotta admit I don't have the greatest track record of school responsibility. You've earned this Ron, let yourself enjoy it. And I'll knock Fred and George's heads together for you if they give you grief about it."
Ron spent a good thirty seconds searching his face carefully for any signs of uncertainty, and Harry patiently let him, honestly feeling none. Suddenly, Ron's face split into a wide grin, and just the faintest brush of red showed on his cheeks as he held the badge up to really look at for the first time. Harry realized that it was pride, not embarrassment, that was affecting his friend this time, and gently took the badge out of his hand, pinning it on the redhead's robes himself. He nodded to the twins, who were watching him patiently, and slowly the shield fell away around them.
"Congratulations, Ron. You too, Hermione," Harry said, loud enough to easily carry through the room, and just like that the tension eased and Mrs. Weasley was easily distracted from her previous outburst as well-wishers hearded her subtly back into the kitchen and Ron went excitedly after her, asking about the possibility of getting a new broom as his Prefect gift. Harry grinned after him, and turned to thank the twins for their help. He saw the pained expression on his godfather's face, however, and quickly caught his eye. Sirius nodded toward the patch of wall that Harry now knew from his explorations led to one of the secret passageways and nodded, carefully edging his way around the room while Sirius did the same from the other side. He noticed Lupin step after his friend, then step back quickly, biting his lip uncertainly. This happened a second time, and Harry frowned as he caught the man glancing at him, watching the blush rise in his cheeks as he turned away almost looking ashamed.
"Remus," he whispered, knowing the man's werewolf sense would pick up on the quiet word while no one else in the room heard. "You coming with us?" He asked uncertainly when the other man's gaze snapped up to his, and saw how his former professor's shoulders sagged in relief, before he smiled softly and casually crept after Sirius, who was leaning impatiently against the wall, not seeming able to understand what Lupin's hold-up was. He muttered something to the werewolf when they were closer, and rolled his eyes at whatever the response was, grabbing Remus' arm and seeming to sink with him through the wall. Harry paused to make sure no one had noticed then made his way to the same spot. He looked around again quickly, exchanging nods with the twins, who smiled at him knowingly before winking and distracting Hermione, who had also been watching Harry with a frown. Seeing that the coast was clear, Harry took a deep breath and stepped back through the wall, still feeling the nervous flutter in his stomach that he had had the first time he passed through platform 9 ¾, as though this whole magic thing was too good to be true.
As Harry walked quietly through the narrow tunnels of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black, Sirius and Remus' voices began to drift over to him from a lighted room a little ways ahead.
"…and Lily and James always, always saw you as family, Moony, what's this really about?"
"I left him there, Padfoot! I wasn't dead like James or even locked away like you, I was alive and free and I left him with those muggles! I know no one's talking about it, but I know they hurt him." There was a protective growl in his voice that had Harry shivering. The motion must have roused Ana, , because he had to bite his lips to hold back a sound as she slithered out of his pocket and lightly up over the back of his neck with a tickling sensation. He knew how sensitive the werewolf's ears were.
"So you knew where to find him?" Sirius voice was stern, but Harry knew his godfather well enough to hear the pleading sound. He didn't believe his godfather was actually upset, more like trying to prove a point.
"Well no, of course not, Dumbledore wasn't trusting anyone then, not when James and Lily had just been betrayed, but—"
"And I suppose you had suddenly cured your little 'full moon malfunction' so the ministry would have let you take him in even if you had found him, hmm?"
"Pads, I'm being serious!"
"So am I! Remus, tell me the truth, right now; what was it like for you after they died? Where did you go, what did you do?" His voice was pleading now. "You're wolf, Lupin. By all laws of nature you should have lost your mind getting to this point in your life, not finding a mate. Now James and I were never as smart as you and Lily, but even we know that the only thing appeasing the wolf at times was letting you protect your pack." His voice gentled, and Harry had to strain to hear now. "James and Lily were dead. You thought I had betrayed you, and killed Peter as well. And on top of it all, they took your cub away. Remy… tell me the truth now."
There was a soft thump and a broken sob, as though Remus had fallen to his knees in pain, and then through the tears Lupin spoke in a voice so broken that Harry's heart physically ached in sympathy.
"I went feral, Siri. You say I should have lost my mind, well I did! I managed to get deep into mountain forest, far away from any human life, and then… I couldn't tame the wolf, Pads, I don't think I even wanted to try. For years I lived like an animal… I was nothing more than a mindless creature; hunting, killing to survive, and howling my pain to the moon each night until I lost my voice in grief, even in my human form." Remus was crying full-out now, and Harry could hear Sirius's blubbering attempts to comfort through his own tears, but now that Lupin had started talking, he didn't seem to be able to stop. "It was years, Pads, a decade of a life that wasn't even a life, and then…" He paused, and when he spoke next there was awe and wonder in his voice. "Fawkes came to me. For days, the Phoenix song tried to break through to the human inside the wolf, and I was aware, for the briefest glimpses of time I could hear it and remember the man I had been, but it wasn't enough, and when the Phoenix disappeared, I thought that was it. Even the wolf seemed content to curl up and wait for death." The words were said with such certainty and such sorrow, that Harry had to press a hand over his mouth to ensure that his own crying wouldn't be heard.
"But you d-didn't die Moony, you're here, you're with m-me!" Sirius was outright sobbing now, and Harry could picture him on his knees beside his friend, pressed against him and clinging to him in that no-boundaries-necessary way that he had.
"Shush Pads, I'm alright. I didn't die," he agreed, continuing his story in a stronger voice now. "Fawkes came back. And this time, he brought this." There was a rustle of robes and a pause, and Harry wondered what it could be that had struck his godfather dumb.
"Harry's sock, yeah." Down the tunnel, Harry gasped, unable to stop the noise. There was a pause, and then, "Cub?"
Harry didn't even consider trying to stay hidden at this point, not with the implications of what Remus had just told him. Coaxing Ana onto his hand as he walked so that he had something to ground him, he closed the space between himself and the lit room, and crossed cautiously over the threshold of a comfortable study. The two men knelt together, tears staining both their faces unabashedly just as Harry had imagined. And there, tattered and torn beyond recognition in Remus' hand was one of Uncle Vernon's old socks. He looked from Remus to the sock and back, nearly holding his breath. Sirius attempted a watery smile at his godson, then nudged Lupin, who was watching Harry with a strange mixture of hope and regret.
"What happened then, Moony." Remus looked down at the ragged piece of clothing and seemed to brace himself, still staring at where his thumb brushed against the cloth when he finally spoke again.
"The wolf smelled him, smelled our cub, my pack… and he let me back out so that I could find him." His eyes swam with new tears when he finally looked up at Harry. "I had been wild so long, I… it took me some time, to land on my feet, assure myself that I wasn't going to slip back and become a danger, but as soon as I was sure I went to Dumbledore and begged him to let me go to you. That was just before Sirius would have escaped. Then when that happened… Dumbledore needed someone for Defense, and I think he knew that he wouldn't be able to keep me from you anyway, not a second time, not when I thought you were in danger." He glanced apologetically at Sirius, but the other man just shook it off—that, at least, they had settled back in the shrieking shack over a year ago. "I'm so sorry Cub, sorry I wasn't there for you, sorry I left you without a pac—without a family, I…"
Harry could see from across the room how violently the man was trembling, and his eyes were nearly black. He thought back to the werewolf Moony he had seen his third year, the one that had chased he and Hermione through the forest, and even as he did he felt a tingle of calm and warmth settle around him, very unlike the fear he had expected.
"You ssssssenssssse that you are pack now, little princcccce. Your magic wassssss not sssssstrong enough to feel it before." Harry nodded at Ana's words. Of all the strange things that had happened to him, being loved as fiercely as a wolf does its pack was the last one he was going to question or complain about. He looked down to the snake peering quizzically up at him.
"Do you know about wolves then, wisdomed-one?" He asked, the endearment coming out strange when his mind translated it to English, although Ana seemed pleased by it.
"What isssss it you wisssssh to know?" They hissed back and forth a few more times, the men on the other side of the room wiping their tears away and watching with baited breath, unsure how Harry was going to react to all that he had heard and wondering what boy and snake were talking about. Then Harry looked up and deliberately caught Lupin's eyes, the deepest of blacks meeting shimmering green. He walked slowly towards the other man, never blinking even as he sank to his own knees next to him and lowered his eyes respectfully, just as Ana had instructed. Hesitating only a moment, a childhood of rejected affections screaming at him to back off now before he got hurt, Harry leaned forward and brushed his nose under Remus' chin before deliberately turning his head so that his neck stretched out exposed to the alpha. For a moment, the older man froze, and Harry almost pulled away to begin babbling apologies for touching him. Then there were steel-strong arms around him and warm tears on his neck as Remus whispered soothing nonsense words, rocking them back and forth as he did. Harry wasn't sure if the comfort was for him or the wolf, but he let his eyes close and the last remnants of guilt and pain from the day wash away as the whispers washed over him.
"Oh cub, my cub, thank you, always here for you, so bloody proud, never leave you again…" An extra weight settled around his shoulders, and Sirius brushed the hair softly from his eyes to smile down at him, arms wrapped around Harry and Remus both.
"I would have the only Gryffindor pup ever to talk to his pet snake," he quipped, smiling to let Harry know that there was no malice in the words, and winking when it drew a watery chuckle from Lupin.
This too, Harry thought, looking at the two men holding him close and remembering back to the promise he had made to himself earlier that day, about doing whatever it took to be with Charlie. This is worth every struggle and sacrifice; I'll fight for this, too.
I know the emotional moments aren't everyone's cup of tea-don't worry, Moody's lesson next chapter should be much more action oriented. Remus has been waiting to let go of that pain long enough, though, and the melt-down just sort of happened. I mean, how was I supposed to know he would react to Harry's raw magic like that?
I will try to get the next chapter up soon, and I hope you are still enjoying the story!