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Snapegirlkmf - Two Hawks Hunting
Chapter 10 - In the Forest of the Night
In the Forest of the Night
After leaving Calais, Freedom, Warrior, and Hedwig took a direct route across the southern part of France and across part of Italy. They spent a night and a day in Rome, the Eternal City, to rest up before trying to fly across Croatia and the mountains that surrounded Romania. Warrior was still concerned over Freedom's health and wished to make sure he was well rested and fit for the flight across the mountains, where the cold could sap one's strength in an instant, and the wind could turn from friend into foe in the blink of an eye.
Plus, Severus had only been to Rome once before, as a newly fledged Potions Master attending his very first international potions conference. Back then, he had been twenty-one, awestruck at visiting a foreign country, and speaking with some of the premier master wizards in Europe and America.
He had received his Potions Mastery at a very young age, displaying a brilliance that few wizards decades older than he could match. It had taken him three years to earn it, as compared to the more usual five or six. He had apprenticed himself to Horace Slughorn, since the elder wizard had agreed to waive the fees normally associated with an apprenticeship. At that time, Severus had been broke, his father had died, and left his son with a mountain of debts that the young wizard struggled to pay off by moonlighting as an independent apothecary, brewing his stock in his basement and selling it in several potions journals. Between that and trying to make enough to live off of, Severus would have never been able to afford an apprentice fee. Slughorn was a thorough if less scintillatingly brilliant master, he taught Severus the basic tenets of a master, and then left the young man alone to create and invent as he chose, knowing he could not match his student.
Severus had developed several new potions during that time, including the Lung Repair Cordial, a Memory Enhancer, and a Neurological Poison Inhibitor, which won him his Potions Mastery. A year after that, he had been invited to the conference in Rome. But he had been so busy meeting other potions practitioners that he hadn't taken the time to drink in the sights.
Now, he indulged himself and his ward as well, knowing that Harry would never have this opportunity otherwise, having been deprived of a normal childhood. "Come, Harry," he said after they had washed up and changed into some decent Muggle attire. "Let us explore La Citta Eterna—the Eternal City, in English." He spoke fairly good Italian, having spent the full two weeks at the conference among those who spoke a mixture of Italian and English. "Travel broadens the mind."
Harry grinned. "Okay, Sev. I always wanted to see the Colosseum. We studied the Roman gladiators when I was in primary school. My teacher even made us build a Roman fort." He glanced around at the magnificent statuary and the marble facades upon the buildings they passed as they walked along the cobblestone byways.
The air was heavily scented with exotic spices, garlic, and tomatoes, as well as fresh figs and other fruit. Harry's mouth watered as they passed a fruit seller, and he stopped and gazed longingly at a plateful of figs and sweet plums. Severus turned to see where his ward had gone and snorted knowingly before reaching into a pocket and withdrawing some lira. He dickered a bit with the produce seller before agreeing on a price for two handfuls of figs and four plums.
The seller, impressed by Severus's haggling, and in Italian no less, threw in two complimentary slices of melon as well.
The two thanked the fruit seller and then strolled along the Via Appia, eating the succulent orange melon and figs, while also smelling the tantalizing aroma of pizza and paninis. Around them, tourists yelled and pointed and snapped pictures and locals smiled and rode motor scooters and bikes to and from work.
Harry noticed that Severus walked about with an odd familiarity, prompting him to ask his mentor, "Hey, you've been here before, haven't you?"
Severus nodded. "I spent two weeks here at an international conference of Potions Masters fourteen years ago. I shall never forget it. It was the last time I ever went abroad beyond Calais."
"But you still remember how to get to places?" Harry asked, surprised and amazed. "How?"
"I have a photographic memory, Harry," he reminded the young wizard. "And I roamed around this city with several of my colleagues, especially one young woman . . ." Severus trailed off abruptly, not wanting to get into that discussion and the woman he had met whom he had left behind.
"You had a girlfriend here?" Harry queried, unable to help himself. "Was she Italian? Did she attend the conference too?"
"She was half-Italian and yes, she was attending the conference with her teacher, Master Villaggio. She was not yet a master, being about two years my junior. And we were friends."
"Oh, yeah, sure you were."
Severus scowled. "Harry! My personal life is not a gossip column. Leave it go. The important thing is that I still remember how to get to most of the famous sights here. Things haven't changed all that much in fourteen years."
Harry followed obediently at his heels, examining everything with interest, and managing to keep his curiosity reined in, though he badly wanted to ask Severus who the mysterious woman was and what had happened to her. But he sensed that topic was not one that his guardian was willing to discuss right then and he didn't wish to mar their time here with a lecture or a quarrel.
They visited the Colosseum, the Forum—where Julius Caesar had been assassinated-, the Fountain of Trevi—Harry threw three coins in the fountain, as did Severus—who then told him the legend. "You know, now we'll have to return here one day, since we threw three coins in the fountain."
"Cool. I'd like to. Did you do that last time?"
"Yes. And here I am."
"Sev, is the fountain magicked?"
Severus chuckled. "Not by one of us," he murmured. "I think many of the ruins here have their own loci spirita, ancient powers, not to be understood by mere mortals like us. Perhaps that is what brought me back again."
Harry stared at the fountain, admiring the beautiful statues of Neptune and his daughters and the cool flowing water glistening with the many coins in its depths. Then he looked across the way and saw a gelateria. "Severus, can we get some ice cream? Please?"
His mentor raised an eyebrow. "You're hungry again? We just ate lunch."
"So? I'm a teenager, we're always hungry."
"Obviously." The Potions Master sighed. "Very well. It wouldn't be complete if you didn't have a gelato on your visit to Italy."
Harry's eyes lit up and he thanked Severus sincerely before racing across the street.
An old man watching laughed and called out to Severus, "Il tuo Figlio, egli è un tipico ragazzo, impazienti e sempre fame. Capice?"
"Si, signore," replied the Potions Master. "Egli è tutto questo e altro. Buon giorno." Then he followed his eager child across the street.
Harry ordered a medium-sized chocolate gelato with Oreo pieces and fresh strawberries inside it. Severus had a butter pecan one, slightly smaller than his ward's. They ate them slowly, savoring the luscious taste of the rich treat, while watching the sun begin its descent behind the Seven Hills.
They prowled the city some more after dusk, enjoying the cool breeze of the evening after the heat of the afternoon, ate pizza and pasta marinara at a local restaurant that Severus recalled from years before, and Severus allowed Harry to have a small glass of sweet Moscato di Asti while he sipped a mild pino grigio. They had cappuccino and tiramisu for dessert, it was the perfect compliment to a wonderful meal.
Over his cappuccino, Harry said wistfully, "We have got to come back here, Sev. There's so much more I want to see and do. I wish we could just . . .stay here and forget about you-know-what." There was an undisguised longing in the green eyes as he spoke, a longing to just be an ordinary boy for once on holiday.
Severus reached out and patted his shoulder. "I know. I wish that too, Harry. Perhaps someday . . .but you know duty comes first. After we have done what we must, we will have all the time we could want to return here again and do whatever you wish."
"Do you promise?"
"Upon my honor," said his mentor solemnly. "Finish your cappuccino, mio bambino. It's getting late."
Harry shot him a curious look. "Uh, Sev? What did you just call me?"
"An irrepressible brat," he answered slyly. Then he smirked. "Only teasing. Mio bambino means 'my child' in English."
Harry looked startled. He had known that Severus considered him a sort of family member, since he had signed the guardianship papers, but the man had never come right out and said it until now. "You really mean that, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I would never have agreed to guardianship over you if I didn't." Severus replied honestly. "I am responsible for you until you are of age and that makes you my child. Does it bother you?"
Now it was Harry's turn to shake his head, for there was a note of uncertainty in the other's voice that had not been there before. "No. It's just . . .I was surprised, because . . .you actually . . .want me. I've never . . .I mean . . ."
Severus's hand closed over Harry's cheek, cupping it gently. "I understand. Rest assured that I do want you. And always shall." His hand remained upon his child's face a moment longer before he withdrew it. "Finish up, Harry. We can't spend too much longer here, and we'll need to get an early start tomorrow."
"All right," murmured Harry swiftly, embarrassed at revealing so much emotion over a simple cup of coffee. But his eyes glowed and he felt warmth fill him at Severus's simple declaration. At long last he belonged somewhere. With someone who wanted him. Suddenly the future didn't look half so bad, and he could face the dawn with a new resolve to finish the quest he had begun and finally live a normal life when it was over.
They bid farewell to Rome the next morning and continued onward to Transylvania. It took them three days to cross the mountain range and fly across Croatia and into Romania. Transylvania was almost like a separate little country, with its own dialect and local legends, the most famous being about Count Dracula. The Forest of the Night was very near Dracula's castle, and Harry asked Severus if the rumors about the famous vampire were true or false.
Severus replied that he wasn't sure. "In Transylvania, they blend myth and legend with facts so skillfully it's hard to tell what is real and what is not. I have met wizards who would swear that Dracula really exists and others who say just the opposite. But I would say that given that vampires do exist, it is possible Dracula does too. And that he would not be likely to help us, so it's best to avoid his demense altogether and head straight for the forest."
They were resting upon a small set of boulders before continuing on to the Forest.
Hedwig flew on ahead and said she would scout before they entered the trees, she did not like going into a place like that unprepared. She was less tired than her two hawk companions because as a post owl, she was trained to fly long distances over all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of weather.
She circled the great forest, which extended for many miles and was bordered by the Transylvanian Alps on one side, noting that the wood was thick and dense in some spots and radiated an aura of warning. But not evil, Hedwig noted. Or at least, no evil that was not contained, for somewhere within the forest's heart was a perversion Voldemort had created.
The owl flew silently, her broad pinions stroking the air and hardly disturbing it. A flicker of movement off to the east on the verge where the forest met the land claimed by Dracula caught Hedwig's eye. She glided closer to see what it was that had caught her eye and saw to her horror, a pack of werewolves, some in human form, others in their misshapen wolfman form.
The werewolves seemed impatient, some were pacing, others glaring about and down the valley where the turrets of Castle Dracul were barely visible. The snowy owl hovered and caught several of them muttering about a trap they were eager to spring upon "that traitor Snape and the Boy Who Lived too."
Alarmed, Hedwig turned and flew back to where her master and his mentor were resting. Harry! Severus! There are werewolves lurking near the forest. Looking for you!
Harry nearly fell off the top of the small boulder he was sitting on when he heard Hedwig's news. "Bloody hell, Severus! How did they know where to find us?"
"How did who know?"
"The werewolves. Hedwig says she saw a pack of them near the forest and they were waiting for us."
Severus felt his stomach tighten in fear. He blurred into Warrior, so he would be ready to fly at a moment's notice. How many were there, Hedwig? Who leads them?
The snowy owl told him all she had overheard. Their leader seemed to be a tall rangy man with gray streaked hair and a beard with pointed teeth. All of them seemed afraid of him. But I didn't catch his name.
Warrior hissed angrily. That's all right. I know who he is. Fenrir Greyback. That's his pack of wolves out there. Lucius must have figured out I was a spy and sent Greyback after me.
Harry transformed, then asked, But how did they know to come here? We've got the only copy of the notebook that gives us clues about the forbidden objects.
I think it was in the nature of a lucky guess. Although, Lucius did know about the objects, we discussed them one time while I was a guest at his home, just after Voldemort died the first time. One of the places mentioned was around here, now that I think about it. The Dark One was fond of this part of the world, where the Dark Arts flourished, and vampires still roam at will. Warrior ruffled his feathers. He even has a base here, beyond the forest. Hedwig, where were they?
Near the eastern side of the forest, to the right. They looked very impatient.
Can we go around them? asked Freedom.
Yes. Since we have wings, fledgling, chuckled the owl. They do not know what they are dealing with.
Sucks for them, Freedom shrilled cheekily.
Don't get overconfident, fledgling. Just because they can't fly doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. If they have crossbows or some other missile weapon, they could shoot us down. Warrior warned.
Not if they have lousy aim.
Before Warrior could say anything further to Freedom about the red-tail's reckless attitude, Hedwig interrupted. Come, you two. It's nearly night and while I can fly in the dark safely, you two cannot manage half so well. And the werewolves consider the night their time as well.
Somewhat chastened by the snowy owl's inescapable logic, Freedom and Warrior soared up into the air, flying a good thirty feet above the earth. They followed the owl as she flew back towards the forest, and she circled and they saw the pack of wolves, twelve strong, not including Greyback, pacing and whimpering like chained hunting hounds. But none of them would move until their alpha gave the order.
Freedom felt a sudden need to do a flyby, but he controlled himself. Now was not the time for foolish stunts. He carefully flew behind Hedwig as she slipped away into the other side of the forest. Then she began to descend rapidly.
Soon Freedom found himself among the trees, familiar ones, like oak and maple and ash and some beech and hazel. Others were new to him, but they all radiated a strange aura. It was not frightening , but it was rather unnerving. Freedom felt as though he were being watched, but every time he flew in a circle and looked beneath or behind him, there was nothing there. There was a great age to this forest, it had stood for over a thousand years, since before Dracula was a legend, and several of the trees had become entwined as they fought to reach the sun.
Warrior saw many entwined pairs of ash, hawthorne, and willow as well as upright oak and stately rowan. Small birds had been perched in the branches, but they had scattered at the approach of the three raptors. It was eerily quiet, save for the burbling of a nearby stream further off to the right. Beneath the canopy of the trees, the dark descended much quicker than it did elsewhere and Freedom felt the old fear return and he shifted back into Harry. Somehow the darkness was less frightening as a boy, perhaps because as a boy he could cast a Lumos spell and banish it, but as a hawk he simply had to endure it.
Warrior switched shapes as well, and in moments Severus was leaning down to peer worriedly at his ward. "Are you all right? It's rather dark in here."
Harry swallowed, then answered bravely, "I'll be okay so long as I have some light and am next to you. Can I cast a Light spell?"
"Yes. But not too bright, mind. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves." Severus warned.
"Lumos!" The end of Harry's wand lit up. Almost immediately, he felt the icy fingers of panic slip away. "That's better. Uh, Sev? How will we know where to look for it? This place is huge, how can we find something that Voldemort hid?"
"The notebook said he had hidden it in a place where the trees speak on their own. Following that, we might have a chance of finding it."
"I hope so. I just want to destroy the damn thing and then get out of here and go home." Harry told him. "Bloody Voldemort! Why did he have to go and hide his stupid thingamajig in a place like this?"
"Because here is one of the last places someone looking for it might find it. Voldemort was not stupid, more's the pity." Severus said, then he beckoned Harry forward. "Let us go this way, towards the stream. At least we shall have fresh water for washing and drinking when we stop for the night."
Hedwig soared silently overhead, even the close quarters of the trees did not hamper her too much.
They walked for a good fifteen minutes before they came up to the stream, which ran noisily over some white river pebbles and silt. The soil here was rich and a deep brown color, Severus speculated it would grow whatever was planted in it. It was too bad he couldn't take a few samples back home to test. He was sure Pomona Sprout would love it. The forest floor was thick with hedges and creepers and thickets of mulberries.
Small animals scurried to and fro in the underbrush, fleeing the approach of two large threatening humans. Hedwig swooped down and caught an unlucky mouse for her supper, flying off to a nearby tree that overlooked the stream to eat it.
Harry knelt at the stream, dabbling his fingers into the water, and splashing some on the back of his neck and his face, which was chapped from the wind. He then cupped his hand and sipped some of the water. Severus was examining a rare species of plant called a red agate moss upon a tree, fascinated that it grew here, when there was a soft shushing sound and a voice that was curious and dangerous spoke.
"Trespassers! What do you here in the Forest of the Night without leave?"
From out of the thick underbrush opposite the stream emerged a medium-sized boy wearing tan leathers, his ragged dark hair bound back in a tie. He glared at the wizards that had invaded his home with suspicious amber eyes. He looked to be about seventeen, maybe a bit younger, his face was all sharp angles and a pointed elfin chin, he was tanned and lean. About his shoulder was what looked like a shoulder harness and Harry could see the unmistakable color of green fletching sticking up over his left shoulder. The boy was leaning on an unstrung bow stave and scowling in a most unfriendly fashion.
Harry started. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"
"I'll ask the questions . . .if you don't mind. This is my home. Outsiders are not permitted. Now tell me why you are here and if I find the reason good, I may permit you to stay." The strange boy said haughtily.
"Permit us?" Severus raised an eyebrow. He slid his wand into his hand and glared right back at the newcomer. "You look like a strong wind could blow you away, boy."
Stung, the boy drew himself up and his amber eyes flashed. "Shows how much you know, Hawk Man! We've been watching you since you first entered our territory. And you never even knew."
"Me and my pack. I am called Darkmoon and am alpha of my pack."
Harry stiffened. "You're a werewolf?"
Darkmoon spat into the dirt in disgust. As if that were an unspoken signal, more teenagers began to emerge from the underbrush, all of them wearing soft buttery leathers in mottled shades of brown and green, four of them had bows nocked and one, a slender girl, carried a dagger. Crouched near them were several huge silver and reddish brown wolves, snarling softly in warning.
"Pah! They wouldn't have us, even though we're half of their blood, the bastards! I'm no werewolf, stupid wizard. I'm a wolfen."
"A wolfen?" Severus repeated, unfamiliar with that term. "I have never heard of your . . .kind before."
"That's 'cause you and yours want us forgotten," growled Darkmoon indignantly. "We're beneath the notice or respect of wizards like yourselves!" The boy sneered again and spat into the stream.
"But what are you?" Harry persisted.
"We're half-weres, the children of a werewolf and a human witch or woman. And we don't take kindly to trespassers, like I said. This forest belongs to us, if it belongs to anyone." Darkmoon snapped. "Why are you here? You had better have a damn good reason for coming into the Forest of the Night, or else!"
Seven or eight arrows were suddenly aimed at them, and the huge wolves crouched, jaws wide, ready to spring and Harry and Severus froze.
"Look," Harry began softly. "We don't want any trouble—"
"Too late for that, Hawk Boy," laughed the wolfen tautly. "Now talk! Or shall I just kill you and be done with it?"
Well, Harry and Sev are in for it now. Or are they? Are the wolfen friend or foe?
What do you think?
Hot cocoa or butterbeer and candy of your choice to my reviewers. Reviews feed my muse, since I make no money off this. So please feed me! Thank you!
Sev's conversation with the old man translated goes like this:
OM:"Your son, he's a typical boy, impatient and always hungry. Understand?"
SS: "Yes, sir. He is that. Good day."
Special thanks to tonks-is-cool for requesting I tell more about Severus's studies as a Potions Master.