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Snapegirlkmf - Two Hawks Hunting
Chapter 12 - Mist and Shadows
Mist and Shadows
Freedom flew like an arrow released from a longbow straight through Sylvanor to Meadowsweet's house, reaching the Healer's dwelling a scant two minutes later. In a second he had returned to human form and was turning the latch and bolting inside. "Hedwig! Hedwig, are you okay?"
Harry? I am here, upon the perch near the window, came the owl's soft hoot.
Harry rushed over to her, and found his formerly stalwart companion a drooping wreck. Her feathers were askew and some were broken, she was huddling in as compact of a ball as she could get upon the perch and her eyes—her beautiful amber eyes—were dull and unseeing. "Oh, Hedwig, no! You can't see?"
Not right now . . .no. And my head is swimming and aches something fierce. I struck the window. . . I came looking for you, Harry . . .Need to tell you something important . . .Hedwig chirruped blearily. Head is fuzzy . . .can't think straight . . .
Harry stroked her gently. "Shh. Don't talk, rest. It can wait till you're better."
But the stubborn owl summoned all of her remaining strength and hissed, A post owl always completes a delivery. I discovered the place where the trees speak . . .it is shadowed by some dark force . . .I could feel it even as I flew, like a black sludge over my wings. When I went to investigate . . .a tree . . .attacked me, Harry! It swatted at me with its branches, nearly knocked me out of the sky. I fear . . .I have injured my shoulder . . .That is why I couldn't stop in time and smashed into the window . . .I am sorry . . .
"It's okay. I'm the one who's sorry." Harry said, feeling the old familiar pangs of guilt rise within him. "I never should have allowed you to come with us. You should have stayed home, where it was safe."
No . . .for then who-o-o would keep you safe, fledgling? Severus cannot do it alone. The owl's eyes closed then, for she was exhausted and hurting.
Harry continued to stroke her, feeling a sick sharp pain in the pit of his stomach and a strong desire to weep like a little child. Don't die, Hedwig! Please!
There was a sudden creak and the door to Meadowsweet's house was flung open to admit both Severus and the wolfen Healer.
"I tried my best to stabilize her, Severus, but bird anatomy is not my strong suit, I'm afraid. I was trained to heal people and learned how to heal wolves as well, but owls . . ."
"I have some experience with treating birds," Severus reassured her as he moved over to where Harry was standing. "Harry, move over, so I can see what I'm dealing with."
Severus ran his wand over the comatose owl, muttering, "Hmm . . .a strained lateral muscle in the right wing, some trauma to the head and breast from the window, and a concussion and pressure behind the optic nerves. That's why she's blind." He looked at Meadowsweet. "Did you treat her for shock?"
"Yes, I gave her a bit of an Anti-Shock Draft, and bound her wing," she indicated the white strips tying the owl's wing to her side, which had gone unnoticed by Harry in his concern over the owl's sight.
"Good. But we need to get that swelling inside her brain down," Severus said briskly. "Which means I need to make a potion to reduce internal bleeding and concussions. Where are your potions ingredients? Do you have aterna flowers and a tincture of willowbark?"
"Right here," Meadowsweet showed him where all her potions stores were and her cauldrons.
"Harry, come here and measure out two tablespoonfuls of crushed murtlap leaf," Severus ordered, setting up the small cauldron and filling it with water with a quick gesture.
Meadowsweet raised her eyebrows. "Well, that was quick. Usually I just use the rainwater barrel out back. The water is clean and sweet."
"Next time I shall, but right now time is crucial," said the Potions Master. "Here. Chop up this bloodroot, quarter-inch pieces, no larger."
While his apprentice and the wolfen chopped and ground, the Potions Master measured out various other ingredients and added them to the cauldron, stirring quickly or slowly, brewing entirely from memory.
"You're very good," Meadowsweet said, watching how deftly the Potions Master added things, a few drops of this with a dropper here, a double spoonful there. "Even my mother couldn't brew something this complex without a potions text."
"That's because he's one of the best Potions Masters in Europe, if not the best," Harry informed her proudly. "Severus, I'm finished. Can I add the murtlap now? "
"One moment," Severus held up a hand, counting off seconds in his head. He gave the contents of the cauldron one more stir then nodded.
Harry tipped the ground murtlap into the cauldron and immediately a sweet cleansing aroma filled the room. Just breathing it in made his spirits lift.
Soon after, Snape indicated that Meadowsweet could add the roots, then he stirred the mixture ten times clockwise and one and a half times counterclockwise before letting it steep for five minutes.
After it had cooled somewhat, he decanted it into a small vial. "And now we administer the potion," he said. "Harry, hold Hedwig still."
Harry came and held the owl while Severus expertly pried open the bird's beak and gave her two droppers-full of the Concuss-Ease Elixir. "There. That will take care of any swelling or internal hemorrhaging. You need to re-dose her every three to four hours, Harry. I'll make up a Pain Reliever now and also an Anti-Inflammatory draft for her wing muscle."
"May I help?" asked Meadowsweet. "I know how to brew those."
"Oh? Good. Start on the Pain Reliever then, if you would." Severus ordered, and the three settled down to brew their respective drafts.
Two hours later all the potions were brewed, Harry checked and saw that Hedwig was sleeping comfortably, and they heard the soft victorious howls of the rest of the wolfen returning. Meadowsweet tilted her head and smiled. "They have brought back a deer. We shall feast tonight." She indicated a pitcher upon the table. "Would you care for some cold moonberry juice?"
"Moonberry juice?" Harry repeated. "What's that?"
"A juice made from moonberries, of course," Meadowsweet answered. "I squeezed and pressed them myself. The juice is very good, moonberries only grow here in the summer and can be picked only by the light of the moon."
She poured them all a mug of a rose-tinted juice.
Then she went to the small pantry and opened it, pulling out a loaf of a dark brown bread and a crock of something. "Chestnut bread and honey," she announced. "Sorry I don't have butter, but we don't have any goats or cows here, nor wheat so the flour made from chestnuts has to do for bread. But how I miss regular wheat bread!" she sighed with longing, then spread honey upon a slice of bread and bit into it.
Harry and Severus seated themselves at the table. "Thank you, Meadowsweet," the Potions Master said before spreading his own piece of bread with delicate clover honey.
Harry, who had a slice halfway to his mouth, put it down at his mentor's frown and reminding nudge and said sheepishly, "Thanks, Meadowsweet for everything. I'm glad it was you who found Hedwig and not one of the others, like Vlad."
"You're welcome. But Vlad's not so bad, once you get to know him. He might be a bit gruff and snippy, but then he's had little reason to trust wizards. His mother was a Diviner, trained at some fancy academy for wizards somewhere in Russia, but when she found out Vlad was a wolfen, she threw him out quicker than you can say snapdragon. Not only that, but she told the Ministry he was no longer her son, and disowned him legally. So he has no love for your kind, and I can't blame him for it. He feels that if your own flesh and blood can betray you thus, then why trust strangers?"
"That's understandable," Severus said. "We don't wish to cause friction within your pack, Meadowsweet."
The wolfen shrugged. "Moon and stars, Severus, but conflict is part of life. If Vlad wasn't complaining about you, it'd be something else. He's got a good heart but very little patience and is happiest when he has something to unleash his anger on."
"Sounds like he could use a few anger management sessions, huh, Sev?"
"What do you mean?" asked Meadowsweet.
"Whenever I get really mad about something, Severus makes me spar with him—we put on gloves and box with each other, or punch a heavy bag. It's a great stress reliever."
Meadowsweet looked thoughtful. "I never thought of that. Usually when I am frustrated or upset, I go for a run in my wolf form or meditate. My mother was big fan of meditating. She said it cleansed the spirit like nothing else."
"She would be correct. I practice meditation as well, and am teaching Harry," Severus told her, nibbling upon his bread.
It was quite tasty, nutty and flavorful and the honey added just the right touch of sweetness. The moonberry juice was tart and sweet at the same time and yet was deliciously refreshing. He savored it slowly, unlike his ward, who had gobbled down the first piece of bread and was now halfway through his second, as well as his second cup of juice. Shaking his head at his apprentice's deplorable manners, Severus said, "Harry, you might want to pause for breath inbetween bites, the food isn't going to vanish."
"What?" Harry asked, and then nearly choked, causing Severus to smack him hard between the shoulderblades.
"And don't talk with your mouth full," lectured his mentor.
Harry flushed and mumbled, "Yes, sir."
Meadowsweet giggled. "You sound like my mother, Severus. She was always telling Erik—that's Darkmoon—to chew quietly and not slurp like a wild thing. Of course, we were wild things sometimes, but Mum said that was no excuse for uncivilized behavior."
"Your mother was right," Severus said, then ordered Harry to drink some juice. "Slowly, this time."
Harry did, his face fiery, and concentrated on eating, too embarrassed to make conversation for the moment.
Once their lunch was through, Harry re-administered the potions to Hedwig, then Darkmoon came by, asking how everything was with their new guests.
"Fine, except Harry's familiar was injured, but Severus and I are healing her," Meadowsweet informed him.
"Good. You can look out for the bird while we're gone, right?" Darkmoon asked. Meadowsweet nodded an affirmative. The wolfen Alpha looked pleased. "Okay. We had a great hunt today, brought down two fat bucks. We'll have roasted venison tonight and wild rice and mushrooms at the feast. And afterwards we'll leave for Shadow Vale." He was leaning casually back in his chair, tilting it so the front legs were up in the air. "I figure the quicker we leave, the sooner we can all return."
"That is true," Severus agreed. Then he eyed the wolfen's unorthodox pose and said, "You could fall over doing that."
Darkmoon smirked. "Yeah, my mom used to tell me that. Hasn't happened yet. Superior balance," he said loftily.
"Humph!" Meadowsweet snorted. "Don't be so smug, Erik. Because one day my foot might slip and shove you and your superior balance right on your behind."
"That'll be the day, Sasha." Darkmoon laughed, then righted the chair, his amber eyes twinkling. "Well, I'm off, got to make sure Vlad's not sulking and stirring up trouble. You know how he gets when his fur's mussed."
He rose and slipped out the door, moving like a shadow, with a grace Harry could only envy.
"It'll be a few hours till the feast begins," Meadowsweet declared. "So we have time to talk. Are all of the wizards at your school able to transform?"
"No, we're not all Animagi," Harry answered, having regained his equilibrium. "That's what we call a wizard who can shift forms—an Animagus. The plural is Animagi, from ancient Egyptian—magi meaning wizard and ani meaning animal. Sev and I are among the few who can do it. My form is a red-tailed hawk and his is a goshawk. But it's advanced magic and most wizards don't have the power or the will to master it."
"He transformed by accident and ended up breaking both wings the first time he attempted to fly," Severus told the wolfen.
"Moon and Stars! That must have been awful!"
"It was. I knocked myself out and forgot who I was. Sev saved my life and nursed me back to health and when I regained my memories I transformed back and became his apprentice," Harry explained.
They spent the rest of two hours discussing the way magic was taught at Hogwarts and what subjects were covered and Harry shared his experiences as a new teacher and laughed about some of the pranks his class pulled on him, because now it seemed funny, looking back on it. "But when I was in the classroom, I wanted to throttle the little brats," he admitted, smiling.
"Join the club," Severus said dryly, and they all laughed.
"I would love to study with some real Healers," Meadowsweet said wistfully, her eyes darkening. "But I know that's impossible, because I'm a wolfen and no Healer would ever take me as an apprentice. My mum taught me what she could, but it wasn't nearly enough. There's so much more I could learn, but I have no one to teach me. It's hard learning by trial and error, but I do the best I can. Lucky for me wolfen don't get sick like regular humans."
Harry thought it was quite stupid for the Ministry to deny the wolfen something like a decent education, and said so. "I mean, it's not like you're dangerous, like a regular werewolf, and go crazy during the full moon and try to kill people."
Meadowsweet smiled sadly. "You and I know that, Harry, but the ones in power . . .believe the were blood taints us, that we're . .. unsafe and unclean, was how they put it when they dropped us off here. "Live like the beasts you become, for that is all that you are," they told us, and that is how they managed to walk away without regrets."
"Because they thought what they abandoned was nothing more than a wild animal," Severus concluded, scowling. "We two are very familiar with such prejudices ourselves, being who and what we are. Someday, the Ministry will regret what they have done here and elsewhere. They cut off their nose to spite their face."
"All too true, Severus," the wolfen girl said, traces of bitterness coloring her tone. "But I have learned to accept it, for what else can I do? This is our life and we must somehow make the best of it. Darkmoon believes someday that may change, but . . .I doubt it. Unless something drastic occurs within the Ministry itself."
Privately, Harry knew the girl was right, having gone head to head with Umbridge and Fudge more than once. Their paranoia was what kept the wizarding world in the dark even more so than Voldemort's reign of terror. Ignorance and blindness were worse enemies than dark wizards, the boy thought sagely. He had learned that lesson well.
The talk shifted then to Quidditch and some of the other extra-curricular activities at Hogwarts, like Gobstones and the Herbology Society, the Debate Club, and other things. Meadowsweet kept them busy asking questions about the four Houses and the pros and cons of each, soaking up every bit of information like a sponge.
By the time their conversation ended, Harry had gone through nearly three pitchers of moonberry juice to slake his thirst from a throat gone dry with talking. As he got up to use the bathroom, he thought that Meadowsweet could give Hermione competition when it came to non-stop talking on one subject. But I like her, she's funny and smart and it's too bad she could never meet Hermione, I think the two of them would be best friends in a heartbeat.
Darkmoon found Vlad leaning against a tree, one boot crossed over the other, idly paring his nails with his belt knife. The auburn-haired wolfen bore a nasty scowl upon his handsome face and normally Darkmoon would have left the other alone to brood in silence and work his bad mood out on his own, but he dare not risk offending these wizards, and he did not trust his packmate not to quarrel with them, given the mood he was in.
"Penny for your thoughts, Knight."
Vlad looked up, bristling, until he recognized his Alpha, then his hackles lowered and he growled simply, "What do you want, Darkmoon? Come to peddle some more bull about how these wizards aren't like the others?"
"They're not, and you'd know it if you gave them half a chance."
"Ha! Not bloody likely, sir. I've had a bellyful of trusting wizards. All it ever brought me was grief." He spat on the ground and then looked away, the old hurt flaring like poison in his blood.
"Vlad," Darkmoon began gently, sensing his packmate's unease. "I know you don't trust wizards because of what your mother and those asses from the Ministry did to us, but I've spoken with Severus and Harry and they're as different form those Ministry bastards as night from day. Trust me on that."
The other's green eyes blazed. "I do trust you, Darkmoon. It's them I can't trust. Don't you get it? Once they get what they want from you, sir, they'll disappear and forget all about their promise to help you. I don't like them and I don't want them here, sir. Sylvanor belongs to wolfen and not humans."
"Vlad, they're not moving in here, only staying for as long as they need to find this magical object and then they'll leave. But in the meantime, Knight, they're guests and I want you to treat them as such. Got me?" Darkmoon growled and bared his teeth, the Alpha resonance coming off him in waves.
"Yes, sir," whimpered the other wolfen, flattening himself against the tree trunk and lowering his head submissively.
"Good." The leader said, then clapped his subordinate on the shoulder. "See that you remember it at the feast."
"Will they be there?" asked Vlad sullenly.
"Yes, now snap out of this blue funk you're in, Winterknight, because the look on your face could curdle milk, if we had any."
"Is that an order then?"
"Take it however you like, but don't start any trouble. When I'm gone, you'll be in charge of patrolling the border, since I know you're the best at spotting werewolf traps and tricks, but I'll pull you off and put Eris in charge instead if you start anything, Vladimir."
"You wouldn't! She's not half the scout I am, I don't care if she is descended from the line of Diana the Huntress like she says. I can out track her any day of the week and three times on Sundays. How could you even think of putting her in charge?"
"I won't have to if you behave yourself. Don't make me kick your ass, Winterknight." The warning in the other's tone was unmistakable.
Vlad huffed, shaking his hair out of his eyes. "Fine, O Fearless Leader. I hear and obey, sir. But even so, I don't think you should have brought them here. What if they have a hidden agenda?"
Darkmoon laughed. "Like what? Taking over our territory? Vlad, the only people crazy enough to live here, in the heart of the Forest of the Night, are us. Harry and Severus are here for one purpose and one purpose only—to find a magical object and destroy it. A worthy cause, for what's one less dark wizard in the world?"
"Why should we care? It's not our fight, sir. Let the wizards tend to their own and leave us out of it."
"Wrong, Knight. The dark ones made it our fight when they killed Araya." Darkmoon said grimly. "I'm not going to forgive or forget that. And this way I can help bring that wicked one down before somebody else gets hurt. Nobody hurts a member of my pack and walks away."
"What if they hurt you, sir?"
Darkmoon shrugged. "Part of the risk. Don't worry, Knight, I'm not going to play hero and get myself killed. But these wizards might be the chance I've been waiting for. The chance to get us all a better deal and maybe even a better life."
"Ha! It's a nice dream and all, sir, but never trust a bargain with a wizard."
"And how many bargains have you made with a wizard to know that?"
"None, and I intend to keep it that way." Vlad said shortly.
"Vlad, quit your bellyaching. I think these two actually know the meaning of honor. They're not all like her, you know."
Winterknight looked away, his expression as sour as if he had eaten a lemon, rind and all. "I hope, for your sake, sir, that you're right."
So do I, Darkmoon added mentally. "All right, you're dismissed. Remember what I said."
Vlad gave him a rather sloppy military salute that made Darkmoon roll his eyes and think exasperatedly, Winterknight, you'd make a lousy Marine, but you care about your family. His pack was very close knit, they had to be, for their own survival, both emotionally and physically. All of them were scarred by rejection and hurt by a world that no longer wanted them, and fearful that someday they would discover that they were worthless or worse, like their evil werewolf sires. Well, all except Darkmoon, whose sire had been honorable and decent. He wished he had known the man, it might have made things easier if he had some memories of a good father figure, instead of a hole in his heart.
Enough woolgathering, Erik, go and check on how Arborsong is coming along with the roasted deer and the vegetables and rice.
After that he would patrol the village one last time and then he would be ready to leave.
The feast went off without a hitch, as everyone, wolfen and wizard alike, filled their bellies with the savory venison roasted with wild garlic, thyme, and a bit of salt plus wild rice, mushrooms and other roots. It had been a long time since the inhabitants of Sylvanor had eaten so well and whatever was not eaten was saved and the other deer was carefully hung and smoked in a hollow log with wood chips to make jerky for the lean times in winter when food was hard to come by.
Harry and Severus sat quietly at one of the long tables in the roundhouse, watching the other wolfen laugh and joke while they ate, and in that moment Harry could almost imagine he were back at school during dinner hour. The only wolfen who approached them were Darkmoon and Meadowsweet, the others left them alone, even Vlad, whom Severus had pegged as a troublemaker.
Harry's face was shiny with venison grease, he had not thought he would enjoy the taste of the meat, but one bite and he found he was ravenous and ate until he could hold no more. He knew he would probably regret stuffing himself later, but it tasted so good, he just had to eat it. In fact, he couldn't recall food at Hogwarts ever tasting so wonderful and he wondered why.
"Because Arborsong knows his herbs and spices, that's why," pointed out the alpha. "What a chef he'd make."
The two wizards agreed, then Severus rose and said that they ought to rest before setting out on this new journey and told Darkmoon to wake them in three hours. He headed back to Meadowsweet's hut to sleep, for he knew Harry would need to be close by Hedwig, and they were welcome in the Healer's home.
The Potions Master set up their bedrolls while Harry spoke to his owl and gave her more potions, then settled down for a rest, knowing he needed it. This crazy quest was taking a toll upon him, loathe as he was to admit it, he was not as young as he used to be. He started to meditate, sinking into a half-aware trance.
Harry went to settle upon his bedroll, only to find that his stomach was queasy and aching. He went and used the bathroom, then returned to lie on his side, but his stomach refused to settle. He bit his lip, not wanting to disturb Severus over something so trivial as an upset stomach. You just had to eat that last piece, didn't you, Potter? And now you're paying for your stupidity. He scrunched into a ball and willed the pain to go away. But it didn't and he groaned involuntarily.
Severus came instantly alert, sitting up and looking about to see what had made that distressful noise. Meadowsweet had not returned and Hedwig was asleep so that left Harry. He glanced over at his apprentice's bedroll and saw his ward curled up, face pale and teeth clenched, obviously in pain.
"Harry? What's the matter?" he asked, going over to him. One lean hand pressed against the boy's forehead. "Are you ill?"
"It's nothin', Sev. I just . . .overate like a dumbarse and now my stomach hurts."
"Ah. Indigestion. Stand up, please. Lying all hunched over like that will only make it worse."
"But Sev . . ." Harry whined as Snape tugged him firmly to his feet. "I'm never eating venison again."
"Say rather you ought to never stuff yourself again," his mentor snorted, then summoned a Stomach Soother from his kit and gave it to the boy. "Drink that. It'll relieve you of the cramps and bloating."
"Hell, Sev, you make me sound like I've got PMS or something," his ward grumbled, but downed the potion without protest. He felt much better immediately afterwards. "Thanks, Severus."
"For what, brat?"
"This," he handed the wizard the empty vial. "And for looking out for me, I guess."
"That is my job, Harry, protecting you. You don't need to thank me for it."
"I want to," the boy said simply, then he went and lay down upon his bedroll, his stomach no longer feeling as though it were about to burst, and fell fast asleep.
Severus tucked the empty vial away in his kit and returned to his own bed, and this time he did not awaken until Darkmoon shook his shoulder.
That same afternoon:
Sirius opened the door to find Dumbledore standing on the doorstep, his purple fez set at a jaunty angle, the ever-present twinkle in his eyes making the Animagus wonder if the old man had taken some kind of Cheerful Draft. "Albus, come in. I wasn't expecting anyone."
He stood aside to allow Albus to enter, making a quick flinging gesture at his mother's portrait before she could go on a rant about allowing Gryffindors to cross her threshold.
"Hello, Sirius, my boy. I was in the area and thought I'd stop over and see how you were doing. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes. Healer Sandrilas has said I'm almost recovered. He said that next week, barring any . . .episodes, I can return to light duty at the Auror Department. Mostly filing reports and things like that, but in a month I might be able to resume normal field work." Sirius told the Headmaster, a faint smile upon his face.
"Wonderful, my boy! I am so glad you are finally getting the chance to live a normal life. And Remus? Is he at home too?"
Sirius beckoned the Headmaster upstairs and into the living room, where he called for Kreacher to get them tea and cakes. He gestured for Albus to have a seat upon the cozy sectional that Remus had bought to replace the outdated uncomfortable furniture Mrs. Black had been so fond of. "Antiques," the werewolf had said in disgust. "Pretty to look at but deuced uncomfortable to sit on. Let's sell them." They had and made a good profit, enabling them to refurnish half the house in a more modern and comfortable style.
"Remus is out at the moment, having dinner with Tonks," Sirius said, seating himself next to the older man and fixing himself a cup of Black Bohea.
"Oh?" Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Good, he deserves some time to himself. Do I sense a little romance going on here?"
Sirius laughed. "Perhaps, if Remus can ever get over his furry little problem long enough to allow Tonks to kiss him. I've been giving him some pointers. He never went out much in school."
"No, I wouldn't imagine he would have," Dumbledore remarked. "And yourself? I see you are here alone."
"Right now, that's how I prefer it," Sirius said evenly. Though he would never say so, he did not feel comfortable right now starting a relationship with any woman. Though Healer Sandrilas had declared him mended, his psyche still felt raw and he did not want to push himself too hard just in case. "How are things going with the Order? Any new leads on the remaining Death Eaters?"
"We managed to bring in a few of their more minor members and they are currently awaiting trial in Azkaban. But Bellatrix, Lucius, and Pettigrew are still at large. The Minister refuses to persecute Lucius, saying the Malfoy name is above reproach and an investigation of Malfoy Manor turned up nothing suspicious."
"Of course it didn't! Fudge is an idiot! Malfoy covered his arse, like always. What, did he think to find a mask and robe hanging in Lucius's closet and the Dark Mark upon the wall?" Sirius sneered. "The bounder knows how to slither away into the dungheap and come up smelling like roses, he always has. I'm telling you . . .he's as guilty as Mordred plotting against Arthur, Albus."
Dumbledore nodded heavily. "You and I know that, Sirius. But without proof, we cannot accuse or arrest. And right now he is in the Minister's good graces." He patted Sirius's knee. "Fear not, my boy, our time shall come." If Harry and Severus are successful, we shall be rid of the shadow for good and all. Pity I cannot share that information with you, but secrecy is their best defense.
"Let's hope it doesn't come too late," the other said darkly. He picked up a frosted chocolate cake and ate in two bites. He didn't feel like talking about the Order's failure to capture Lucius anymore, it was a dead end that did nothing but give him a sour stomach. So he switched topics instead. "Have you heard from Harry lately, Albus? Is he getting on all right with Snape?"
Dumbledore nodded quickly. "Yes. I paid a visit to Harry's relatives at the beginning of the summer, and informed them of his new circumstances. They were most . . .eager to comply with the terms I set for them."
"I'm not surprised," Sirius snorted. "They treated Harry like last week's trash, from what he told me. I hope you set them straight, Headmaster."
"I have," was all Dumbledore replied, but in his eyes burned cobalt fire and Sirius trembled a bit.
"Good. And how's he doing otherwise? I had hoped he might write me . . .but I guess he's been busy," said the Animagus, a hurt note creeping into his voice.
"From what Severus told me, he has taken Harry on an extended trip to Europe, so that might be why he has not bothered to keep in touch with you," Dumbledore lied smoothly. It was partially true, Severus would have stressed no communications while on the Horcrux quest, to prevent breaches in security, and the two would most likely have gone to the Continent at some point in the journey, retracing Voldemort's rise to power.
"Really? Old Snape finally decided to get out of the dungeon and see the world?" Sirius chuckled. "I hope he remembered to wash his hair and dress in normal clothes, so he doesn't shock the natives."
"Sirius!" Dumbledore chided.
The Animagus had the grace to color a bit. "Sorry, force of habit. I'm glad Harry is enjoying himself, that's something I never would have been able to do after . . .what happened. The kid deserves a vacation, and I'm happy Snape is treating him decently. More tea?"
"Yes, I believe I will have another cup," Dumbledore gestured and the teapot poured another cup for him. He stirred in four lumps of sugar and cream and took a sip. "It is a fine evening for a stroll. Would you care to join me?"
Sirius considered. He had not been out of the house in four days, because the full moon had just occurred and Remus had been taking the Wolfsbane and sleeping away the afternoon and nights. "Would you prefer human or canine companionship, Albus?"
The Headmaster looked at his former student shrewdly. "That is entirely up to you."
"Then I'd like to go for a walk . . .as Sirius and not Padfoot." Sirius decided. "I need a breath of fresh air."
They finished their tea and then Dumbledore preceded Sirius down the stairs and out the front door. The two men strolled along the Thames and chatted amiably about the latest Quidditch match, Britain had beaten Bulgaria, who had fallen off since Krum was no longer playing Seeker for them. The night was cool and crisp and Sirius drew in great lungfuls of air, relieved to be somewhere else than enclosed by four walls.
They walked down to Hyde Park and fed the ducks paddling in one of the man-made ponds there and Sirius enjoyed the feel of the breeze upon his pale skin and in his hair, which he had trimmed so it was no longer scraggly. Now he looked almost like his old self, a handsome disreputable rogue.
He gazed up at the crescent moon just rising and thought, Wherever you are, Harry, I hope you're enjoying yourself.
The Forest of the Night:
After bidding farewell to his packmates, Darkmoon morphed into a great black wolf with a crescent-shaped white patch on his breast that stood nearly as high as Harry's shoulder. The young wizard gaped at his new traveling companion, never realizing until now just how big a wolfen was in lupine shape. Darkmoon was the size of a small pony, all massive muscle and sinew, and yet as graceful as any deer.
The ebony wolf sat and flicked his ears at Harry and Severus questioningly.
"It's not safe for us to fly in the dark," Harry explained. "Hawks don't have very good night vision. So we'll be walking until daylight."
Darkmoon dipped his head in understanding, then rose, shook himself briefly, and loped off into the trees to the northwest of Sylvanor.
Severus shouldered his own pack and beckoned to Harry and the two set off after the black wolf, walking quickly and mostly quietly through the trees, following a dirt track bordered by a riotous tangle of berry bushes and gorse that had been cleared away from the path by Arborsong's talent so the wolfen could come and go easily from Sylvanor.
Though when Harry glanced back, he saw to his utter shock that the trail behind was covered over by creepers and looked impenetrable. He checked and called, "Sev, look at the trail behind us! It's gone."
The Potions Master did so and his eyes widened for a half of a second before he said, "That's a defense their plantshaper probably instituted to keep creatures from finding their way to Sylvanor. Very clever."
"I'll say. If I didn't know better, I'd say there was nothing back there except more gorse and trees."
"Which exactly what the wolfen want you to think." Severus said. "Come along, Harry, don't dawdle."
The two continued walking rapidly through the trees, and Harry stuck close to his mentor, for the darkness seemed to want to swallow him up, it was almost a palpable presence, hovering in shadowy tendril on and about the trees, mocking him. You're being ridiculous, Potter! he chided himself. You're nearly sixteen and still afraid of the damn dark.
But he could not control his instinctive desire to curl up in a ball and hide, waiting for the coming of dawn. Severus had allowed him to light up the tip of his wand just enough so they wouldn't trip over a root or a branch or other obstacle in the path ahead, but the illumination did little to banish the lurking shadows, and Harry felt the old fear rise and choke him.
He took several deep breaths, trying to stave off the panic fluttering in his chest. One, two, three, four. Breathe. You're safe, nothing's going to hurt you with Sev and Darkmoon beside you, and you're not trapped, you're moving and you can still see, you're not totally blind. Pull yourself together, dammit, and act like a Gryffindor. Anything but a scaredy-cat baby. He gripped his wand in one white-knuckled fist and forced himself to look ahead, not glancing off to the side, and trying not to notice how the tendrils of mist curled about the tree trunks and branches, like wisps of smoke, or ghostly fingers.
The air was thick and moist here, and Harry was soon sweating in his robes and long-sleeved shirt. But he dared not slow and ask for time to put his robes away and get a different shirt out of his pack. There must be a reason why Darkmoon was moving so quickly through this part of the forest, and Harry knew that time was of the essence.
The werewolves led by Greyback were still out there, still searching for them or for the object they sought. They must retrieve and destroy it before the werewolves found them. There came a soft screech, as of an animal hunting or become something's supper, and Harry started violently, nearly knocking into Severus.
"Harry! Watch where you're going, for Merlin's sake!"
"Sorry. I'm just . . .jumpy." He apologized, not looking at his mentor.
Severus slanted a glance at the young man, prepared to scold the boy for clumsiness, when he caught sight of Harry's parchment pale face. "Are you all right, fledgling?"
But Severus ignored that answer, knowing perfectly well that Harry wasn't fine.
"Try again, Harry. If you're fine, then why are you pale and shivering?"
"I said I'm fine!"
The other's eyes narrowed. "Don't lie to me. Now what's wrong?"
Harry stiffened and continued walking, his jaw clenched.
Severus gave him five minutes before he caught his shoulder and said, "Harry, remember what we talked about before? In the glen? That it was all right for you to admit you needed help?"
"I am here if you need me. But I cannot help if you do not tell me what is wrong."
"Isn't it obvious?" Harry cried. "You know . . .damn it all, Severus! You know . . .it's dark. . . I hate it . .it's all around me . . .smothering me . . .!" he began to gasp, his eyes growing wide as an animal's in a trap.
"Harry, listen to me," Severus said, speaking softly and calmly. "Look at me." He put his hand beneath his ward's chin and jerked the boy's head up, making the panicked child look into his eyes. "You need to stop panicking and breathe, child. I am here, the dark is not going to hurt you. There is nothing to fear from mist and shadows, Harry."
The boy continued to gasp and shiver, until Severus placed Harry's hand on his chest and said, "Feel my heart, fledgling. Feel it beat. Now breathe." He began counting aloud, and gradually the repetition made Harry's heart rate calm and he could breathe normally.
"Good. Very good."
Darkmoon reappeared suddenly, puzzled at the delay, and gave a soft growl of impatience.
Severus did not turn about, saying only, "Just a moment, we shall be along directly." He focused upon his apprentice, saying evenly, "Now, look about you, Harry, and see the mist and shadows for what they are—mere air. They cannot hurt you. Lumos!" Severus lit up the tip of his wand, illuminating the trees to either side. "See, they are gone."
Harry's emerald eyes blinked, and then he shook his head, shoving the terror that had possessed him back into the recesses of his mind. Oh sweet Merlin, I nearly fell apart! How could I DO that? I'm such a damn coward! He hung his head, mumbled, "I'm okay now, Severus."
"You are sure?"
Another quick nod.
Severus's hand closed lightly upon his shoulder. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our own demons, child."
Harry snorted derisively. "Oh, sure. Name me one person my age who still has nightmares about the dark and small spaces. I'm nothing but a bleeding coward."
Severus set his jaw. "You are not. You merely have a psychosis you need to work through. We will discuss this more in depth when we get back home. I can arrange counseling—"
"No!" Harry snapped. "I don't need a damn shrink. I can handle it."
Snape cast him a look of reproof. "Denying there is a problem won't make it go away, Potter. But now is not the time for us to debate this. We shall discuss options later. For now, I need you to renew your Occlumency shields. Put them up and make them tight. And stay within my sphere of light."
Harry obeyed, closing his eyes and Occluding. Immediately, he felt the last vestiges of the panic subside. For now. He opened his eyes and saw Darkmoon sitting patiently behind them and he went crimson. He was sure the wolfen had witnessed everything and he wanted to dig a hole and climb into it and never come out. Brilliant, just brilliant! What must he think of me now—that I'm some kind of weepy cowardly arse?
"I'm okay. Let's go," Harry said, trying his best to act as though nothing was wrong.
Darkmoon whuffed an affirmative then turned and continued onward, his bushy tail waving as he trotted off.
Harry walked swiftly, as if trying to outrun his own embarrassment and disgust, though he stayed well within the light sphere cast by Severus's wand. And he prayed fervently for the coming of the sun.
Silent as a shadow, Severus strode beside him, occasionally darting glances at his ward, trying to monitor him without Harry knowing it. And he cursed the Dursleys to deepest pits of hell and vowed to find a way to help Harry overcome this awful dread as soon as this quest was ended. Provided they all survived.
A/N: Well, how did you like this one? Review please and tell me!
I apologise for the slowness of my updates, but I am working on 3 stories at once and was writing Return to Prince Manor recently.
Next: Darkmoon reveals more of his past and the three seekers arrive at Shadow Vale, where a new challenge awaits them!
As an interesting side note, I'm having Broken Wings and Two Hawks Hunting translated into Hungarian by Tanja Solaris! Thanks again, Tanja!