~ Chapter Sixty-Two ~
In the weeks that followed Umbridge's "promotion" to High Inquisitor, Harry quickly learned what it truly meant to be his own leader in the coming war.
Umbridge, of course, provided a never-ending deluge of groundless detentions and increasingly ridiculous 'educational decrees.' After the kiss-fest the night of Harry's return, she had quickly passed a new rule forbidding kissing in the Great Hall at all, with the threat of expulsion as penalty. In response, the twins had joined forces with Colin Creevy to have a literal flurry of photographs fall from the enchanted ceiling a few nights later. Harry had actually enjoyed a rare moment of carefree laughter as hundreds upon hundreds of animated photos of all of Harry's friends—and several additional students from other houses—rained down over the dining students and staff. The countless combinations of students engaging in over-the-top gay make-out sessions for the camera had quickly become valuable contraband, and Fred and George were particularly proud that their photos were the most sought-after by the Hogwarts witches. Harry was torn between exasperation, amusement, and squeamishness over the implications, and had instead focused on welcoming new additions to 'his' table.
The next day, Umbridge had banned kissing from Hogwarts entirely.
As for Sirius and Charlie, Harry had been relieved to find them waiting for him, unharmed, in the forest clearing. Snape had been right that Harry had managed to bring to coax Pomfrey into following him into the Chamber and secretly seeing to Charlie's injuries, and Sirius had begun following Harry around the school under the invisibility cloak, the Maurauders' Map always on-hand to keep an eye out for Dumbledore. The first time Sirius had sat through one of Harry's detentions with Umbridge, he ended up breaking his hand punching a stone wall in the Chamber, tears of frustration streaming down his face at his inability to do anything to end his son's torture. Gamp was trying to find time to work on the issue, but with so much of his efforts taken up with fighting the treason charges against Charlie—and with no of-age guardian currently able to file charges on Harry's behalf—he was struggling to make progress.
Meanwhile, Harry's legal team had recently found themselves fighting an entirely new battle against the Ministry. It seemed that as Umbridge found her crusade for power less successful than she had anticipated, she turned to others in the Ministry to help add pressure. Last weekend, Bill Weasley had sent a panicked Patronus message to Harry and Remus as they sat with Diggory in Hagrid's still-empty cottage, having their weekly meeting-slash-wizarding-ettiquette-lesson. Harry knew that Bill had been doing his best to wedge himself into Fudge's confidence ever since Arthur had disowned him in front of the Minister, but this was the first time that Harry really understood the worth of the charade.
"Remus—they're coming for you.
McNair was just sent to fetch a pair of dementors.
Malfoy found someone to claim you bit and turned them.
Get out now!"
…As the shimmering Raven Patronus faded away, Harry felt his heart begin to hammer in his chest and he paled at the panicked whimper that came unbidden from where Remus stood frozen in fear.
"Run Remus, into the forest. Roland and I will come for you when they've eased up on the search. Run man, for Merlin's sakes!" Hearing Winton's frantic and ill-conceived plan only served to heighten Harry's alarm, and he gaped as the usually stoic man rushed around the small cottage gathering up their books and parchment and shooting pitying, stricken looks at Remus every few seconds.
"What? No! That's absurd! They can't just arrest him, they've no proof! He's my legal council, I've granted him the protection of my House! Surely if I—"
"Perhaps, if Remus weren't a dark creature, but given what he is…"
"How dare you! You can't talk about Remus like he's not—" Harry's outraged cries were cut short by a slim, trembling hand brushing against his cheek and turning him to face a very shaken Remus.
"Cub, shhhh, it's alright. Lord Diggory meant no harm. It's the law; I am a creature by wizarding law, they need no proof to make an arrest, only a conviction. If I'm lucky, I'll wait for a trial in Azkaban, but the law allows for a trial to be post-poned for several weeks after an arrest, and the full moon will come before then. If I start to transform while under custody of Ministry officials…"
"They'll kill him, self-defense against a dark creature. I'm willing to be they'll have McNair do it himself and without so much as a slap on the wrist in reprimand afterwards. It will all be tidily protected by werewolf laws."
"No… No! They can't do that!" Harry's eyes were tearing up from sheer anger at the situation, and he just kept shaking his head in denial. Remus, meanwhile, had quickly shoved the rest of his things into his beg and reached for the handle of Hagrid's front door when sudden shouting voices from outside had him crying out in despair and sinking to his knees, body slumped over and suddenly still as though all the fight had drained away.
Harry, too, had recognized the voices of Umbridge, McNair, McGonagall, and Dumbledore, and the cold feeling of dread that began to creep up his spine with the approach of dementors was the final confirmation he needed. Distantly, he registered Diggory attempting a few last words of encouragement and Remus begging him to look out for Harry in his absence, but Harry's focus was on trying to think of some way—any way—to keep Remus from being taken away. It wasn't until Remus told Diggory to keep his 'cub' safe that Harry latched onto a crazy idea.
"Remus. Remus, snap out of it and listen to me! I'm your wolf's cub, right? I mean magically—not just you saying it. Your wolf senses me as pack." Lupin looked up at Harry with a slightly dazed expression, a blank look of resignation in his eyes, but after a moment he nodded in confirmation and Harry let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Winton—damnit, don't change into a bird just yet, this is important!" Harry actually growled as he turned to find Diggory preparing to shift into his animagus form, and while he didn't realize he had sent a blast of wild magic at the man, Diggory certainly felt it and quickly reversed his shift, raising his hands in front of him as though to show Harry he wasn't a threat.
"Harry, they're almost here, they can't find me…"
"The laws we talked about last week—the ones about familiars. You told me if Ana had bitten someone, I could claim responsibility for her actions as my familiar, and no one could touch her until I had gone on trial, right? Because we were magically linked?"
"…Yes…" Diggory hesitantly replied, eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out where Harry was going with his line of reasoning. It had come up when discussing the High Council, and Diggory explaining that the only way Ana had been able to accompany Harry into the chamber was if she had magically linked with Harry as his familiar.
"Can any creature be a familiar?" Diggory's eyes widened and he glanced over at Remus, who was also now gaping at Harry in astonishment.
"Harry—it's not just your word, there's a spell to test magical bonds, that's how I confirmed that the Longbottom boy had pledged—"
"Damnit, just answer my question!" Harry nearly shouted, growing desperate as the voices came even closer to the cottage. Diggory looked reluctant to answer, but rubbed a hand over his face and nodded.
"Yes, any magical creature has the potential, but Harry—!"
"Transform and fly out the back window, we can't risk Dumbledore sensing you're here." With that, Harry turned his back on the man in dismissal and instead stood facing Remus, an expression of pure determination masking the gut-wrenching guilt he felt for what he was about to do.
"Harry, what…?" The werewolf had only managed two words before he was slammed back against the wall of the cottage, breath knocked from his lungs so that not even a whimper of pain could escape. He slumped to the floor, and before he had even managed to gasp in a breath, he found himself pinned to the floor by Harry's weight, a vicious punch to his unprotected side causing him to curl up in pain and shock, and the rest of the fight to leave his body as he stared up at Harry in defeat, his eyes shining with betrayal as he tried to understand what was happening to him.
"Submit. Do it, damn you, submit to me!" It was as though even getting oxygen to his brain was taking longer than normal, and Remus hadn't really processed the words before he felt his head and shoulders yanked up from the ground, only to be slammed back down against the wooden floor. Stars danced in front of his eyes from the impact, and somewhere deep inside he felt his wolf rising to the surface. Remus surrendered to it, the fear and pain of the situation leaving him too defeated to fight, and just as he felt the wolf take over, teeth sank painfully into the side of his neck, and he instinctually stilled and threw his head back, exposing his neck fully to his alpha in a sign of submission.
"Cub… what have you done?" He asked shakily, pulling the wolf back under control as Harry collapsed on top of him, sobbing and pleading for Lupin's forgiveness as his tears soaked into the older man's robes. Remus raised a trembling hand to rub at Harry's back, vaguely recognizing the gentle shushing sounds as coming from him as his brain fought through the daze from his battered body to understand what had just happened.
Sharp knocking at the door had Harry scrambling off of him and swiping hastily at his tears with the sleeve of his robe. Lupin struggled to bring his bruising body into a sitting position, glancing around to find that Diggory had at some point fled from the cottage. He was still sitting there, holding his throbbing head in his hands when Harry yanked the door open and sent a gleaming Patronus out onto the grounds in a single fluid movement.
"Here now, what's all this then?!"
"Minister, whatever are you doing at Hogwarts?" Harry asked in return, not even bothering to try to sound truly surprised.
"The Minister is here to make an official arrest, Potter," McNair spat out, and Harry had to clench his fists until his nails drew blood to keep from attacking the man who had brought Death Eaters to Charlie's reserve. "And you've just chased away his prison guards!"
"Why I had no idea it was the minister who had brought dementors onto school grounds! If you'll remember, the last time dementors were at Hogwarts I was nearly 'kissed,' I would think you could understand my alarm at feeling dementors approaching the cottage." He forced a fake smile for the snarling man, but his eyes glinted dangerously as they stared at each other.
"I did try to tell you, Cornelius, that to bring the creatures back onto school grounds…"
"Fine, fine! It's of no matter now, they're gone, aren't they? Where is the werewolf? I am here to arrest the beast, and then I will be on my way." A sharp intake of breath at the cruel statement drew everyone's eyes to where Remus was now standing, albeit leaning heavily on Hagrid's kitchen table. Harry was disturbed to see McGonagall's eyes fill with tears as she looked on her former student, and even Dumbledore looked aged, all the usual twinkle gone from his eyes.
"Ah, there's the dark animal now…" McNair drawled with a cruel glee, but as he pulled heavy, clanking shackles from his robes and stepped towards Lupin, he was stopped by the tip of a wand suddenly pointed straight at his forehead, and stone-faced Harry Potter just behind it, all traces of a smile gone from his face.
"You won't lay a finger on him," Harry said in a low, menacing voice.
"Harry, don't." Harry actually turned a look of shock at the headmaster after the sharp admonishment, but when he locked eyes with the man he almost gasped at the depth of pain, guilt and regret that shone through the gaze. "We can't interfere, Harry. I've seen the Minister's arrest papers myself; if you don't comply you'll be charged and taken to Azkaban right along with him. You know that's not what Remus wants." The man's voice was soft now, his eyes almost pleading, and Harry found he had to look away, unable to see the Great Albus Dumbledore looking so utterly overcome. Harry swallowed thickly, almost deciding he couldn't go through his plan anyway, but as Winton's harsh words played over in his head ('They'll kill him… it will all be tidily protected by werewolf laws…'), Harry found himself speaking before he had even consciously realized he could.
"The law is on my side. They can't touch him. Not until I've stood trial in his stead. A spell will reveal a creature-bond between us; I know my rights."
"What are you talking about, boy?" Fudge demanded suspiciously, even as Dumbledore stepped forward and stared at Harry with wide eyes, question written all over his face. Harry forced himself to meet those eyes with his own, his insides twisting painfully from his guilt. Voice barely above a whisper, he made himself finish. "The werewolf is my familiar; you cannot touch him before I've been given a trial."
Dumbledore paled and his eyes closed briefly, as though he needed a moment to draw on some inner reserve of strength before he could look at Harry again. In his periphery, Harry saw McGonagall's hands fly to her mouth, and just before she turned away Harry caught the expression on her face and thought she might be sick. On his other side, Fudge was gaping stupidly at him, mouth opening and closing like a fish. Under the circumstances, Harry couldn't even find a drop of pleasure in having caused the reaction. In the end, it was McNair who broke first.
"Oh this is all bullocks! I'll prove it!" They all turned to see what would happen as the man sent a complicated spell at Remus (Harry's fingers crossed tightly beneath the sleeves of his robes). It was difficult to say who looked more upset when a beam of light shot from Harry to Remus: Fudge and McNair, as they realized their arrest had somehow been thwarted, or Harry and his mentors, as they were faced with the drastic, desperate measures Harry had gone to to save his family.
"I don't mean it… I didn't know what else to do…" Harry began babbling as soon as Fudge and McNair had stormed away from the cottage. He was staring at Remus pleadingly, tears starting to stream down his face and his whole body starting to shake as he began to crumple from shame over his actions. "Couldn't lose you… couldn't let you die… Ana taught me about werewolves, she taught me about challenging the alpha, she… I just… I couldn't… You…" And then Remus had stumbled to him and gingerly pulled him into a hug, mindful of his many injuries from Harry's early aggression, and Harry had broken down entirely, crying until he began to hyperventilate and Dumbledore had stepped forward and spelled him gently to sleep…
That had been almost exactly a week ago now. When Harry had woken up, he was alone in the hospital wing and Remus was gone. Harry had tried many times over the past week to write to him, but always ended up losing his nerve and destroying the letters. No words seemed adequate to explain his actions, no apology sufficient to erase the words he had said, even if they were spoken only in order to protect his friend.
It had taken only a day for the Prophet to pick up the story, and if I hadn't been for Charlie sneaking out to tell Fred and George what really happened after getting the full story from Bill in a letter, Harry would have gladly accepted the outrage and disgust of his peers as due punishment. Instead, the twins had been painstakingly thorough in making sure that Harry's friends and those beginning to join their secret defense club all understood that what Harry had done was the only way to keep 'Professor Lupin' out of Azkaban.
"Harry. Harry. Come on mate, come back to us." A rough tug on his shoulder pulled Harry reluctantly from his brooding thoughts, and he grimaced apologetically as he found Ron, Neville, and Dean all watching him with concern.
"M'sorry," he mumbled, before sighing as his cloak and scarf were held out to him.
"Hogsmeade, Harry. You promised."
"You've gotta stop beating yourself up, this thing with Professor Lupin is tearing you apart!"
"Give yourself a break, Harry. You need this." It was the earnest concern in his friends' faces that stopped Harry from making an excuse not to go, and a short while later he found himself trudging into the village with his year-mates, hands shoved deep into his pockets and eyes downcast as he tried to ignore all the whispering and pointing that followed him. The others kept up a steady stream of cheerful banter, doing their best to raise Harry's spirits, and while he was touched by their efforts, he doubted anything they could say would pull a smile from him. Harry had just begun to calculate how soon he felt he could retreat back to the castle when the last person he expected to see stopped him in his tracks with a single, accusatory word.
"You!" His friends all froze in shock as Harry slowly raised his head and felt his heart sinking as he locked eyes with a snarling, stumbling, clearly inebriated Amos Diggory.
"Mr. Diggory…" Harry started forlornly, shocked by the man's gaunt, wasted appearance and truthfully at a loss for words in the face of such stark grief.
"Look at'chyoo, laughing wif'yer, yer little friends. Not a caaaare in the world, no no no, not for famous Harry Potter!" Harry winced as his name was hissed out like some vile curse-word, and he shrank in on himself as the older man's drunken shouting began to draw a crowd. "Cedric can't do that… my boy… my baby boy can't do NONE o'tha'… because HE'S DEAD! He's dead, and it's YOUR FAULT!" Harry had to bite his lip to hold back a whimper at the harsh words. He felt almost light-headed, and even Ron's arms wrapping around him and trying to pull him away couldn't break through the haze.
Between the near-debilitating guilt he had carried over the last week, and Umbridge's 'isolation' decree leaving him tossing and turning in a cupboard-sized room off the Common Room at night, unable to sleep on his own, all the progress Harry had made in healing from his guilt over Cedric's death had been stripped away. With Cedric's father standing here now, still so broken over the loss of his son, Harry couldn't find it in him to disagree of the man's accusations.
"…let you roam free? You MURDERER!" Diggory's voice had risen to an outright roar, and Harry was surprised to see Neville actually slipping his wand into his hand from the corner of his eyes as Diggory stepped close enough for a bit of spittle to land on Harry's cheek as he continued screaming. "CEDRIC NEVER SHOULDA BEEN LEF'TA, TA DEAL WITH YOU. YOU SHOULD BE LOCKED UP! I know what you did, I know." The man's words were suddenly ominously quiet, his drunken slur actually disappearing entirely as he looked at Harry with eyes crazed by drink and hatred. Harry braced himself for whatever was coming next, but nothing, nothing could have prepared him from the words that were screamed into the silent tension of Hogsmeade's main street. "WHAT KINDA MONSTER KILLS A MAN WHEN THEY'RE ELEVEN YEAR OLD?! WHAT KIND OF MANIAC KILLS THEIR TEACHER AND THEN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED?! HOW CAN YOU EVEN LIVE WITH YOURSELF?!"
Quirrel? Harry's mouth actually fell open as the man kept shouting, his words no longer processing in Harry's mind. He hadn't thought about Quirrel in years, had never even crossed his mind that… but he had, hadn't he? At eleven years old, he had burned a man's face to ashes with his bare hands, and never looked back. He had killed Quirrel, he had led Cedric to his death, in all the nightmares since the reserve he couldn't even remember how many people he had helped Norbert to kill…
I'm a murderer. He thought numbly, and even as a detached part of him registered Dumbledore appearing out of nowhere and restraining the hysterical man, even as some part of him connected the dots and realized that the ambush had been a set-up, that Fred's prediction that Dumbledore would do something drastic to try to get Harry to see the 'error of his ways' and return to the headmaster's control, even as he watched the old man's mouth move to form an apology, the guilt-trip he had planned clearly having gone way overboard, another part of Harry just kept repeating the words in his head. I'm a murderer. I'm a murderer. I'm a murderer.
Harry pulled away from Ron, turned on his heel, and he fled.
He was vaguely aware of voices shouting his name behind him, vaguely aware of pounding feet that grew more and more distant as he dove, ducked, and darted out past the village and into the woods that lined the path between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Years of evading Dudley and his gang had taught him how to disappear, though, and soon enough it was just Harry and his guilt and his gasping breaths as he finally slowed down and stumbled against the side of a tree, grabbing the stitch in his side and doubling over in pain, trying to catch his breath.
Harry had a moment to feel the first niggling tremors of alarm through the numb haze of his emotions when two burly, tattered men emerged silently from the trees in front of him, predatory sneers on their faces. Then something hard struck him in the head from behind, and his world went completely black.
He wasn't sure where they had taken him, or how long he had been floating in and out of consciousness. The one thing he was sure of, that he was always aware of, was the pain.
"Get up," a harsh order, just enough time for Harry to tense before the bucket of freezing water was upended over his face to leave him spluttering and shivering violently in his already-soaked-through clothes. It had become a familiar pattern over the past… however long he had been held by captive by the wolf-pack.
Harry bit his lip, slowly putting pressure on what he assumed were sprained wrists in an attempt to move to a sitting position.
"Hurry up!" another harsh order, this one accompanied by a swift kick to his already battered side, hard enough to leave flat on the ground once again, forced to start the painful process of raising himself onto his knees all over again.
It was like this every time. They wouldn't truly beat him while he was down, he had realized that quickly enough. Each time he gained consciousness they would wait until he had pulled himself up before the blows would begin to rain down on him, interspersed with their taunting words. "You think werewolf's are nothing more than animals, do you?" "You think we're just creatures to be owned?" "Are you hurt? Aw, we're sorry… I guess we can't help ourselves, all these wild animal instincts…"
They had taken his wand. Some part of him absently hoped they hadn't destroyed it, but he lacked the energy to truly worry over it. He had struggled when he first came to after his abduction, fought fiercely against the hands and arms restraining him even before he had fully become aware of his surroundings. As soon as their words had begun to register, though, and he realized that his attackers were werewolves, outraged on Remus's behalf, something inside him gave up, and he accepted the pain as just penance. He could have stayed down, could have lain defeated on the ground any of the times he had come around, and he suspected there would have been a reprieve from the assault, but every time he forced himself up off the ground, forced himself to accept their punishment.
As Harry struggled to a slumped over kneel once again, it took him a moment to realize that something had changed. The pattern had shifted, and instead of the blows and taunts, there was only startled cries around him. He stared down at the ground, wondering if he lay back down if he would slip back into peaceful unconsciousness, but those thoughts were gone instantly as Phoenix song filled the air followed by an almost inhuman roar and then the voice of the one werewolf that Harry would give anything for.
"GET AWAY FROM MY CUB!" The night air around him was suddenly lit with the light of Lupin's spellwork and the sounds of Harry's captors fighting back with whatever they could get their hands on. Literally, Harry realized. Why aren't any of them pulling their wands? Harry had managed to crawl over to nearby tree at this point, and pull himself shakily to his feet, leaning heavily against the tree trunk. He watched two men fall by Lupin's wand, both crying out in pain from whatever curses had hit them, and Harry was about to cry out for Remus to stop the attack when the man's near-constant deluge of magic suddenly cut off as his body gave an odd jerk. It took Harry a moment to realize what had happened, but when he watched Remus look down dazedly at the arrow protruding from his chest before falling to his knees, something in Harry snapped.
"NO!" In a rush of power stronger even than his wandless Patronus at Privet Drive, Harry shook every still-standing man to the ground with his magic, and anything they held in their hands flying away into the trees, including the bow and arrows one man had been holding. That done, Harry directed a powerful blast of wind to push them together, headless of the rough ground and rocks that their bodies scraped over as they tried to scramble in the direction Harry's magic sent them, rather than be dragged. Eyes blazing with fury, undeterred by the fear in their eyes, Harry held out his palms and with one final burst of magic set a ring of ground around them to flame, trapping them inside the wall of fire. They were shouting now, begging his mercy, but Harry knew their cries were from fear rather than pain, and his only priority now was stumbling as quickly as he could towards his fallen friend.
"Remus… Remus, it's gonna be okay, it's gonna… you have to be okay. I can't lose you, please!" Harry blanched as he fell to his hands and knees beside the man, truly seeing all the blood for the first time. It looked like Remus had tried to dig the arrow from his own chest while Harry was rounding up his captors, but it broken off with the tip still lodged inside, and Harry's heart sank as he realized that even if he was able to draw enough magic from his drained core, he didn't know how to heal the man in the state he was in.
"Remus…" Harry cried softly, head dropping down onto the man's stomach as he curled into his side like a frightened child. He felt a hand brush his hair shakily and his breath hitched as he tried to stop crying long enough to say something reassuring, but he was saved the trouble by a flash of red falling from the sky to land beside them. "Fawkes?" Harry whispered, almost scared to hope as the bird lay her head on the werewolf's chest and began to cry onto the wound.
Harry watched with bated breath as the bleeding stopped and the skin slowly began to knit back, Remus hissing sharply thorugh his teeth as his flesh sealed up around the head of the arrow still in his chest.
"How… Can that…?" Harry wasn't sure what exactly he was trying to ask, but as his eyes stayed transfixed on the Phoenix's work, Remus found his hand with one of his own and squeezed hard.
"It's not a permanent fix, but I think it will hold me over until Pomfrey can get her hands on me." His voice already sounded stronger, and Harry felt the urge to start crying all over again, nearly overwhelmed by his relief, but Remus pulled insistently on his hand and Harry made himself meet the man's eyes. "My wand?" Harry frowned, then looked around only to realize that the wand had fallen from Remus's hand after he had been shot and had rolled out of reach. Harry quickly scrambled for it, placing it back in Lupin's hand, and then watched uneasily as Lupin pointed his wand at the wall of flames still circling the begging men and lowered down to just a few inches of oddly white-colored fire. Harry was about to object, but as one of the werewolves extended an arm hesitantly towards the little line of fire, that section quickly leapt up to its previous roaring height and then settled quietly back down after the man had yanked his arm back in alarm. Harry realized that it would keep them trapped there without putting them in immediate damage, and conceded that it was a better plan.
"Cub… cub…" Harry looked up to find Lupin gently stroking Fawkes' head, his chest now as healed as it would be for the time being, and realized that the older man had been trying several times to get his attention. "What did you let them do to you?" Harry saw that Remus was cataloging his many injuries with wide eyes, and he could barely stand the pained sound in the man's voice as he took in the state his cub was in.
"They… they took my wand…" Harry tried lamely, but trailed off at a sharp look from Remus, knowing that he had just very clearly demonstrated that he was fully capable of fighting back even without his wand. "I deserved it," Harry admitted quietly, eyes screwed shut so he wouldn't have to look at the man's face as he did so.
"…Harry James Potter, I never, never want to hear you say something so terrible ever again," Remus finally answered, and Harry's eyes shot open as he realized the man was actually crying as he spoke. "Is this because of that stupid Prophet article? Because of what happened with Fudge?" He sounded so genuinely bewildered that Harry could only gape at him.
"I attacked you! I called you… I called you a creature, Remus! I equated you to a pet…"
"And it was brilliant Harry! It saved me from being arrested, saved me from being put down like an animal. You. Saved. My. Life." Fudge and McNair, they were right there, ready to haul me off to Azkaban. I had given up, I had accepted my death without a fight, but you—Cub, you fought for me. Your only attack was to challenge me for Alpha in our pack, because it was the only way your story would hold up against magical scrutiny. You said what you said in order to use the law to protect me from the Ministry. I owe you my life, Harry." Harry, meanwhile, was shaking his head, not ready yet to forgive himself, much less accept Lupin's forgiveness—and certainly not his gratitude!
"But you left, when I woke up in the hospital wing you were gone, you couldn't stand to be around me… you didn't write, you didn't… you…"
"I didn't write because I was ashamed, Harry. I was embarrassed and furious with myself for giving up so easily, for letting it fall on your shoulders once again to make the sacrifices to save others. And cub I wanted so badly to stay by your side in the hospital wing. Do you have any idea how much it broke my heart to see you so buried in guilt that you had to be magically put to sleep to stop your crying? I hated myself for putting you through that Harry, but that awful Umbridge woman with her bloody educational decrees giving her access to any student in the hospital wing, she wouldn't let me or anybody else stay with you."
Harry had let his head fall back onto Lupin's stomach at some point during his speech, his eyes closed as he let Remus's hand stroking through his hair center him.
"How did you find me?" Harry asked.
"I haven't a bloody clue," Lupin said with a shaky laugh, and Harry opened one eye to look at him quizzically. "As soon as Umbridge caught wind that you had run off during the Hogsmeade trip, she started making noise about expelling you if you didn't return with the other students. You'll never believe it, but Snape was the one who acted first—he tracked down the twins and had them write to Charlie through the journals, I hadn't even realized they had given one of theirs to Charlie and Sirius while they're in the chamber. He met Sirius in Myrtle's bathroom and gave him the polyjuice, had him sneak out to Hogsmeade through Honeyduke's and come back to the castle, and made sure that he was there to meet him and give him—er, you?—detention for leaving the village, before Umbridge could. As far as Dumbledore or the stupid toad are concerned, you were only gone for a few hours. Which was fine when we thought you'd be back after calming yourself down, but it's been three days now cub. Gamp and Diggory and I have been looking everywhere for you, as best we could without raising alarm anyway, but I had finally decided I needed to tell Dumbledore what was happening so that we could get a full search underway. When I got to his office, though, he wasn't there. I had just wandered over to pet Fawkes while I waited and was talking to him about what was going on, then the next thing I knew I was here."
"I believe it," Harry murmered tiredly.
"You said I'd 'never believe it,' that Snape was the one to make sure I didn't get in trouble, but I believe it. He's a good man, Remus, truly he is." It was said with such earnestness and conviction that Remus could only stare down at his remarkable little cub in wonder, thinking that the boy would probably never understand just how amazing his capacity for love and forgiveness really was. Remus opened his mouth to say just that, when a sound of to his right suddenly caught his attention and he whipped his wand out and craned his head to the side, startled to find his wand pointing straight towards a ragged, terrified child, standing about ten feet away from him and staring with wide-eyed fear at the wand.
"It's okay, he won't hurt you," Harry said gently from his lap, and Remus felt his arm being tugged down by his sleeve before he had even processed this new plot twist, hesitantly allowing Harry to lower his wand to the ground. After a small whimper, the boy darted towards the four men still enclosed by a ring of fire.
"Wait!" The child froze at Harry's sharp order and began to tremble, tears silently rolling down his cheeks. Remus startled as two jets of water suddenly shot from Harry's empty palms and began to douse the flames, covering the hot ash on the ground several times over before Harry finally let his trembling arms fall to the ground. "Go ahead, it's safe now," Harry managed to say through his harsh breathing.
"Harry, you shouldn't have—"
"He's just a little kid, Remus, and he's scared. He shouldn't be kept from the people who make him feel safe." Lupin frowned in response, watching as two of the men wrapped the little boy in a tight hug between them, a third laying a hand on his head and the forth smiling indulgently at the child.
"And they don't deserve to get away with what they did to you," Remus growled softly, knowing that the werewolves would still hear him, but hoping the child wouldn't notice. When the little boy's head whipped around to give them another scared look, Harry felt his heart sink at the implication. "He's a werewolf. He's a werewolf! Which one of you turned him?!" Harry was shocked to find the other man suddenly on his feet despite the arrow-head still lodged in his chest, eyes flashing amber as he pointed his wand at the circle of men.
"None of us!" The oldest one snarled, the one whose voice had given Harry his numerous 'get up' orders, though Harry was smart enough not to share hat observation with Remus. "We would never hurt him, not any of them!" Harry was about to ask who 'them' was, but when he looked up he found Remus staring wide-eyed in the direction the boy had come from and he watched as five more children crept cautiously out of the trees, the oldest of them appearing to be no older than twelve or thirteen.
"Who are they?" Remus asked, and though his voice still held threat, he had stopped shouting and his grip had loosened on his wand.
"They're the lucky ones," one of the men said quietly, kneeling down and opening his arms as the children scurried forward to the adults, clothes torn and muddy, feet bare and blistered.
"They're the ones we found in time to save," another added, lifting the youngest child—a baby, probably a year old, from the arms of a ten-year-old girl.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, and was surprised to see that that when the leader of the pack answered him, he only held his eyes for a moment before looking away guiltily.
"I've lived in these woods since I was bitten as a young man. My fiancé didn't want to marry a werewolf, and she left me; my family disowned me; I couldn't find work… I found an abandoned muggle house and began fixing it up the best I could. I hunted for my food, and learned to live off the land. I had been on my own nearly ten years when I stumbled upon Dillon and Ethan here wandering through the forest, near starved to death."
"They were abandoned here," Lupin said softly, and finally his wand was lowered to his side. Harry gave him a confused look, and Remus shook his head sadly and looked back at the cowering children. "They had been bitten—turned—and their families left them…"
"…left them to die," the youngest of the four men snarled harshly, and as Harry looked closer he realized that the man was probably not much older than himself in reality, hardly a man at all and maybe even still a boy himself.
"Harry!" It took the little Seeker a moment to realize that the pain in his chest wasn't just from the heartache of these people's harsh realities, but an actual, physical ache that had sent him to his knees, his many injuries making themselves known as the last of his adrenaline drained away. "Easy cub, eeeaaaasy. Let me lay you down." Lupin's brow was furrowed and his eyes bright with concern as he looked Harry over. "What the bloody hell did you do to my cub?"
Harry was quiet as Madame Pomfrey poked and prodded and took notes on her little pad of parchment the next day. Not just because he had a sleeping three-year-old cuddled against his side, but also because in the last 24-hours, he had heard so many tales of horrific childhoods that even the Dursley's didn't seem so bad anymore.
It had been difficult—to put it lightly—to convince Lupin to leave him and go for help, but Harry really wasn't in any condition to apparate, and besides, he couldn't very well show up at Hogwarts while another Harry Potter was sitting in class in another part of the castle. It was the only way, though, and Remus also acknowledged that he neeed to get the arrow-head in his chest looked at sooner rather than later. Once he heard the pack's story, he had also grudgingly admitted that he may not have acted rashly in their shoes either.
The day the Prophet article had gone out claiming that Lord Potter had relegated werewolves to the status of common magical creatures, the anti-werewolf portion of the magical community had rallied. With so many werewolves transforming over the years at Gio's home (the pack leader), it really shouldn't have been surprising that rumors had spread about his area of the forest.
They had been caught off-guard when the attack came. They were able to get the children out, but Gio's partner Abigail, and the only mother-figure the children had, had been killed. Their house set on fire, their belongings all up in flames, and their land no longer safe, they had spent the past six days trekking through the woods, hiding in caves and clearings at night as they constantly looked over their shoulders for their attackers to return.
They had no wands. Only Gio had been old enough to have a wand before coming to the pack, and his had been broken years ago. With no way to find a job to earn money, he had no way of replacing it, and so the pack lived without magic, despite all of them being witches and wizards (Remus had explained to Harry that if only magic-folk could survive a werewolf bite and transform, and Harry found himself thinking that he really should have done the werewolf homework Snape had assigned them third year).
When Harry had run into the woods right to where Dillon, Ethan, and Gio were out hunting to try and feed the starving children, Gio had seen red. Dillon and Ethan, too, who had been with Gio only a year or so longer than Abigail had, couldn't temper their anger when faced with the man they thought responsible for the attack that taken her from them just days before. They hadn't been looking to abduct Harry, they hadn't even know they were anywhere nearby.
After Lupin had finally been convinced that the pack no longer posed any threat to Harry—and were, in fact, deeply remorseful now that they knew the real story of what Harry had said and done—he finally agreed to leave Harry in their care for the night and return with medical help the next day. Before leaving, Harry had pulled him aside and told him to have Gamp use his accounts to buy clothing, food, and supplies for the pack. Remus was shaking his head as he apparated away, thinking that by the time he came back, Harry would have 'adopted' this strange little family in his mind.
He was right.
Harry looked down as Lyra sighed into her new soft blanket and wriggled in her warm pajamas, and his heart clenched as he remembered all of their stories.
Lyra, only a toddler when they found her a year ago. She was too young to be able to tell them what happened to her, too young to know her birthday to even tell them for sure how old she was. Gio figured she was apparated into the middle of the woods and left there.
Camden, or Cam. Six years old, and the one who had first crept out of his hiding place to try and reach his guardians past the ring of flames. His parents tried to keep him after he was bitten, but he had nine and seven-year-old sisters, and after a year of keeping him he finally escaped on a full moon, and his father decided that he needed to be "put down" in favor of keeping his daughters safe. Cam's mother couldn't stand the thought, and so had woken Cam in the middle of the night, taken him to the edge of the woods with just a small back-pack of food, and told him to run and not stop if he wanted to live.
The baby Abigail had named Justin. A family of muggle campers had come into the woods during a full moon. Another werewolf had attacked the camp, and bitten and killed the rest of the family. The baby was apparently a muggle-born wizard, because he alone had survived the bite. He had only been through two full moons, and Gio said he was worried about how long the little guy's body could take the strain.
Bailey, the ten-year-old who had been toting around Justin, was almost at a point to start Hogwarts, though none of them expected her to get that chance. Dillon and Ethan had said she was tough and untrusting, but she had to be. She managed to survive three months on her own after she ran away when she heard her parents planning on killing her during her first transformation. She was only eight years old at the time, bitten on her birthday.
Dillon and Ethan themselves had a heart-wrenching story. They were in their twenties now, and while not technically brothers, they saw themselves that way. They had been best friends growing up, and were bitten together. Dillon's parents wanted to keep it a secret and keep raising him, though they were scared, but Ethan's parents were talking of killing him, terrified that he would attack them all. Dillon's parents couldn't be convinced to take Ethan in, and were growing more and more scared by the other couple's terror, not wanting to be targeted themselves. The boys, 13 and 14 at the time, convinced Dillon's parents to take them far away together and leave them, that both couples had kept them hidden since the attack, they could pretend the boys were never found and had been killed. Dillon begged his parents to do this last thing for him—rescue his friend with him—and told them that then their consciences could be clear. They did it, and the boys always assumed that Ethan's parents had been grateful to have the problem taken care of for them. Harry had been blown away by the story, but when he imagined what he and Ron would have done in their place, he can understand that kind of devotion even at their age.
The other 'man' was named Trevor, and was only just barely seventeen. He struck Harry as aggressive, angry at the world. Harry had to get his story from Gio, because Trevor wouldn't talk to Harry. Apparently, he had had a loving family until he was bitten while playing in the woods by his house at age ten. His father used to walk him deep into the forest then tie him to a tree the day before a full moon, knowing he wouldn't escape until he transformed. Trevor eventually admitted that he was in denial at first, but did realize now that his parents were hoping he would die so the wouldn't have to make a decision about him—leaving him defenseless in the forest all day, never letting him know how to get back home, always seeming weary wen he would eventually find his way back… starting to treat him as a dangerous creature instead of a child… And then one day, he came back to an empty house, no sign of them, and in his anger he took off deep into the woods. Dillon and Ethan had found him and brought him back to Gio, and thus the family had started to grow.
The oldest of the kid-group was Aaron, twelve years old. From what Harry could tell, he was a shy, quiet child. Harry had to coax his story out of him, and only found out after he had fallen asleep that it was the first time he had told it to anyone. He was bitten when he was seven, and while his parents tried to love him as they had before, they were terrified all the time, trying to keep his condition hidden, isolating the family, constantly worrying, and though they tried not to resent him, the family began to grow apart. Then his mother got pregnant again, and spent all her time crying, wondering if she should have an abortion because she didn't want to risk exposing another child to him, but all she wanted was a little child to take into the world, raise, send off to school, watch become a successful member of society… so Aaron had run away, and refused to tell even Harry who his family had been. Gio found after a week and a half, already half-dead from not being able to care for himself in the forest.
It was the last boy, though, who had truly broken Harry's heart. He was eight years old, and his name was Harry, named by his parents for the famous baby who had ended Voldemort's reign of terror. At five-and-a-half, when he was bitten, his parents decided quickly that they had already survived a war and had another baby already, with the option of more; they wouldn't turn their lives upside down again to raise a werewolf. However, they didn't want to abandon him to his death, either, so they sought out areas known for werewolf presence and started wandering through the woods between moons with their son, calling out for werewolves to talk to. Gio heard them one day, and approached them. He hoped they needed advice on how to support their son, but right in front of the little boy they told Gio that he should take the child, that he 'belonged with his own kind.' Gio tried to refuse, but they said they would just find another area, and he imagined the child given to someone like Greyback. He couldn't risk it. Broken-hearted, he accepted the child, handed over by his father with a small trunk of belongings, before the couple apparated away without so much as a goodbye to their son.
"Hey Cub," Remus said tiredly, coming over to brush a hand through Harry's bangs and smiling at the little girl sleeping beside him. "Pomfrey says you're okay to be moved now. You ready to head home and let your anxious father see with his own eyes that you're still in one piece?" Harry looked at him, then looked around at the little pack sprawled out sleeping and keeping watch around him.
"Sirius will just have to manage a while longer on his own," Harry said, a determined look in his eyes. "I need to visit Aunt Scarlett."
Author note: Phew. Long chapter. Also, I am really tired so if my editing sucked, I'm sorry. I'm in need of cheering up though, so I want to post this before trying to sleep so that I can hopefully wake up to a couple of reviews, those always make me smile. Even the not-as-positive ones, at least they mean someone's reading my story and getting something out of it.
I really need to make some progress on my other story, but this one keeps being stuck in my head. Maybe now that I've finally gotten all the wolf-pack stuff out of my head and into the story, I can focus a little better. We'll see.
I hope you enjoyed the update!