"The unwritten law of triage is knowing when nothing else can be done, and actually accepting that."
~ A.K. Lovell ~
Chapter 24 ~ The Black Pool
Dublin, Ireland. Population in excess of 450,000 Muggles, 1,240 witches and wizards, and 451,240 innocents.
Since mediaeval times the locale had served as the capital of the free standing Republic. The Black Pool, or so the Anglicism had stated. Now the expanse of land it rested upon stood as one of the most populated pockets of isolation upon the earth.
5.8 million Muggles in the Republic of Ireland alone, another 1.7 million in Northern Ireland, and upon the entire United Kingdom land mass, 4,694 beings of magical descent.
The island contained the largest percentage of magical beings per capita of any place on earth.
It could soon contain the lowest.
At the mouth of the River Liffey, the bustling Black Pool of commerce lay in wait, as did a woman clad in the disgusting vise of Muggle apparel.
The rain had let up considerably in comparison to the early morning pelting, yet the harsh drizzle did nothing to mar the once striking beauty as she stood alone upon the Lucan bridge, dark hair flowing in the wind like a canvas born of the Renaissance.
In truth, had one possessing the skill sat to immortalize her countenance, it would have born striking similarity to a painting that had once hung centuries earlier upon the inlaid walls of Sarsfield castle.
The only dissimilarity between the canvases lay in the minute detail of the subjects' hands, her pale, elegant fingers gently uncorking a clear vial, tilting it's contents over the ancient brick viaduct until they churned upon the wind disturbed water below.
As the woman disappeared, seemingly without a trace to the eyes of Muggle passersby, the beginnings of the curse began filtering into the water system of downtown Dublin.
The Black Pool would soon reawaken a Black Plague.
* * * * *
Because of it cities have been erected, and fallen. Homes have been made, and broken. Mere mortals have been resurrected, and forgotten.
It holds the capability of silencing the strong, immortalizing the weak, dashing the dearest of dreams and destroying the darkest of fears. It's sheer power is unfathomable, and it is due to this overwhelming emotion that the human spirit is capable of being broken.
For one raven haired man, the pressure born of hate and preserved by his love was upon him as it had never before been. The blank, deadened eyes of Seamus Finnigan haunting him even as he breathed in the reassuring presence of the young girl clutched in his arms, his face turned from the world to bury against her skin, his only respite from the cruel reality that was his hell, and life.
It has been said that it is only strength of character that separates the weak from the strong, for their ability to cast feeling, attachment, and love aside… Therein rests their unfaltering ability to do what must be done, in the darkest of times.
Wordlessly the girl had taken him by the hand, silently leading him through the thick coppices and bramble, disregarding the way the coarse briers tore her skin, snaring her clothing. Her silhouette seemed incapable of feeling, and the young man's envy of her skill was thickening, for each thorny prick dragging across his skin sung the guilt he felt, crying for his intervention in what they had left behind in Hogsmeade with the tug of a portkey.
The man felt guilty of abandonment, and murder. Though in his heart, he knew which was worse.
The young man had been forced to leave his friends in the rapidly growing battle ground, for Voldemort's evil had reared again, and again he had come out upon the lesser side, trapped as he was in the darkened forest, incapable of helping anyone.
How was this pathetic wizard supposed to defeat the darkest of them?
It has also been said that strength of character is best not determined by one's indifference, by their ability to distance themselves from the situation at hand, but by their ability to feel the pleas of the weak as if they were their own burdens. For it is in these individuals that the rarest of souls are found, for the few who walk upon the earth with burdened and broken souls are often the most capable of loving, and saving the rest of us.
His footsteps were sinking into the damp earth, following in the girl's tracks as they pushed their way through the thickets, stumbling into a small moonlit clearing, a murky pool of water collecting near its edge.
It was perhaps the saddest, and cruelest of ironies, that the two brave souls standing torn and battered, bathed in the blue hues of moonlight filtering between the night sky's mottled clouds, were the perfect exemplifications of both sides of the spectrum.
Both had been through hell itself, and survived, yet only one had come out fully capable of loving, despite the world crashing around him.
The other was still learning, and it would perhaps be the breaking of the other besides her that would finally teach her how to again, care without restraint.
* * * * *
October 31st, Halloween, 1996.
It would forever stand as the day of infamy, as the night when Aurors had fallen upon the town in striking force, scattering Death Eaters to the far flung corners of the Earth, to wherever their alcoves of safety lay, leaving the scarcely varnished village under the jurisdiction of the Ministry.
There was much to sort out.
It had taken so long for them to reach it's inhabitants, for Hogsmeade had not been the only town to fall under attack this day. And being the only all wizarding village in England, the Aurors had came to it's aid last, for Muggle areas had few defenses, while the citizens of Hogsmeade had at least been armed.
Unlike the innocent Muggles who had been found, lifelessly sprawled upon city streets, magical beings had held the power to fight back.
And fight they had. As the Aurors had spilled forth from the forest the villagers had risen up, only for those drabbed in the visage of hell to disappear as quickly as they had come.
No others had been able to conquer the anti-apparation wards that had been erected, but the Death Eaters had found a way.
Throughout the UK, from Dundee to Belfast, from Diagon Alley to Dublin's Aingingein Marketplace, from the Orkney islands above Scotland to the towns bordering the English Channel, magical recesses of homes and beings, small pockets of isolated homes and wizards, and places of commerce had been taken over.
They had all been targeted, held captive until night had fallen, and each surviving being of magical descent present professed to have felt the same effect. A cold, worse than death quickening of the blood that had seeped into their very souls, raising the shackles of animals and hairs of humans, eliciting the screeches of owls and cries of children had fallen just at dusk, and for those present the time falling immediately after, as towns had risen up in defense, fighting back as the Death Eaters fled and Aurors arrived, it would be remembered as the time of silence.
Something had happened that day, for the Death Eaters had swarmed into the villages and private homes, avoiding only the Muggle populaces, and killing only those Muggles who strayed in their way, and the few wizards and witches who had persistently fought back before the arrival of the Aurors.
Thirty four dead, one hundred and sixty injured, and that was in England alone.
Most had been Muggles that had strayed in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Seamus Finnigan had been amongst the fallen, the only innocent to have died in Hogsmeade, killed by the killing curse erupting from the Imperioused wand of Ginerva Molly Weasley.
Ginny Weasley now lay, near catatonic with the grief of her actions, with the knowledge of her unwillingly dealt sins, in the hospital wing of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
She had been able to fight strongly enough to save her brother from the killing curse she had fired upon him, but she had not been strong enough to save her boyfriend.
It was a thought that would haunt her for the rest of her life, and while she remained silently mute under the care of Pomfrey, Dean Thomas sat upon the cold corridors of the hospital wing's hall.
The noise of the hall was deafening, reverberating with the frenzied footfalls and echoes of frantic parents unable to locate their children. Very few had taken credence to Dumbledore's assurances that there were only three children within the hospital wing, two of whom Dean treasured above life itself.
He hardly felt the pain as another large father trampled upon his foot, and he pulled his legs closer to his chest, wishing to sink into the wall for all he was worth.
Seamus was gone...
Ginny was no longer speaking...
Kalliandra, Harry, and Hermione were missing....
And no one was letting on what had happened to Ron....
Silently tears of shame poured from his eyes, the newly appointed Gryffindor beater finally succumbing to the overpowering emotions.
It was then that the sandy haired mother of Seamus stumbled into the hall, nearly knocking Luna Lovegood to the floor, her deadened eyes remarkably similar to how Ginny's had been when he had found her, crumbled and shaking besides Professor Tres' unconscious form in the kitchen of Madam Puddifoots.
Pressing his forehead to his bent up knees, shame dealt it's final blow, for he now knew the truth.
He was going to hell, if this was not already it.
* * * * *
Somewhere, deep in the forest, Harry calmly observed the sky. The autumn leaves struck a stark contrast to the night's dark backdrop, and deep gray clouds blotted out all semblance of starlight, save for the few persistent pinpoints and the sliver of moonlight fighting their way through the mottled mess.
It was exquisite.
Though no amount of beauty, nor staring, could drive the disturbing thoughts from his mind for long, and with a resigned sigh he knelt before the small pond, his knees sinking into the damp earth besides Kaylens.
"Are you okay?"
He heard her words, yet failed to respond. Instead his eyes remained glued to the wavering personage upon the water's surface. Staring back at him were the accusatory jade eyes of one whose loved ones were either gone, or in peril. The man in the reflection was one he did not recognize, for it was a man who had killed without regret, and who would do it again.
The inky black image was revealing how he had become all he had once abhorred, and it was a thought for which he was ill prepared.
Never looking up, he finally spoke.
His cupped hands plunged into the spring, scattering the damnable reflection from its surface, rippling the weeds extending near the other embankment.
A long time passed, the sound of light splashing besides him mingling with sounds of the night, as they both rubbed the blood from their hands in the icy water.
Upon its inky surface his reddened blood swirled, pooling from his reopening wounds. Though the pain was something that could not reach him, numbed as his senses were from the hypothermic waters.
It was the feeling of her hands carefully wrapping around his own, that finally pulled him from his near cataleptic state. His eyes rose from the water he had hoped to drown within, falling to rest upon her calm countenance.
Her crystalline eyes held his, concern flickering in the dull moonlight.
"We need to do something about this." She whispered, her breath crystallizing upon the cooling air.
There was no doubting what she meant, for his hands were pained at her mere touch, intertwined as they were with her cold ones, beneath the impenetrable spring's surface. He reveled in that silence, grimacing only as she forcibly withdrew his hands from the mercifully numbing waters. The harsh sting of the cool night air sent pinpricks of pain shooting through his wounds, burning his arms in a way contradictory to the evening's breeze.
The barest trace of disquiet lingered upon her concerted face, for she was studying the gashes along his calloused hands, the ones he had received as he fought to cut the bonds binding them within Rosmereta's small pub.
That small pub now held some of the most important people in his life, and he had never felt farther from it.
The sharp sound of cloth ripping catapulted him from the ill fated road his thoughts were traveling upon, and where his hands had just been, enclosed in her own, now lay a strip of shredded cloth. She had torn a shred of cloth, from his cloak, and was wrapping it tightly around his palm, winding it up and over his wrist where the deepest of wounds stretched.
Cringing he did not impede her concentrated progress, though his voice betrayed his skepticism. "Do you know what your doing?"
Sparing not a word, the last strip was tugged tightly in place. With a satisfied sigh she tilted her head to the side, a curious expression befalling her. "Well…" She replied faintly, her cold thumb tracing along his skin around the makeshift bandaging. "You'd better hope so."
He scowled at her, flexing his wrists testingly. The movements were stiff, but would suffice.
"Not bad…" He muttered, glancing at his torn sleeve. "Just had to destroy my cloak didn't you?"
She offered no further reply, lazily trailing her hands within the cool waters once again, her eyes falling shut.
Unconsciously his eyes were drawn to her, following her hands effortless progress upon the glistening water, and for the first time he noticed the ambling play of magic before him, for her fingers were playing lithely across the water's dark surface, a dull glow radiating at the threshold where the static surface finally broke, allowing her fingers entry, rose up from its depths.
He regarded the interplay, a slow curiosity rising as flecks of magic trailed beneath her hands, coloring the light swellings she was creating. Ripples, swelling out in successive rings, bore the sparkling only a scant ways before the light tumbling within the waters faded away.
And it was not for the first time, nor for the last, that he again realized how little he still knew about the magical world.
He leaned towards her, curiosity crossing his features, for how could the girl who could not incant perform the display before him? His question rolled from his lips quietly, and though her face remained averted from his, her reflection upon the rippling water betrayed her faint smile.
"What are you doing?" Was what he had whispered, steadying himself with one hand upon the dew stained grass.
Her hair fell loose from behind her shoulder, tumbling to veil her face. "You know…" She replied softly, "I'm not entirely sure."
"Experimental magic? And you call me reckless?"
"Well…" She whispered, her reflection smiling, "Insane is probably a better term."
"A pity then." He quipped lowly, looking across the water, its very surface vibrating with life. "For we're trapped in the woods without a semblance of sanity between us."
She murmured in agreement, withdrawing her fingers from the water, flicking the clear droplets from them in his direction.
His grunt of protest was ignored, for her watchful eyes had flickered out across the rippling water, gazing searchingly into the shadowy forest. And for the thousandth time since their first meeting, he wondered if she could see things he could not.
As if in response to his thoughts, a light furrow creased her brow, barely discernable as the clouds moved to obscure the cool moonlight, throwing shadows across her countenance. And as a gentle breeze sent the reeds protruding from the embankment swaying, her demeanor stiffened, her shoulders relaxing only with the cessation of the plants' hypnotic motions.
His question was met not with the expected disdain, but with something else.
"Yes." She whispered darkly.
Her cold intonations were disturbing, and his eyes joined hers in sweeping the tree line for any sign of malevolence. Yet just as before, when he had checked upon their arrival, there was none to be found.
A thought occurred to him, and finally after the wind had risen in intensity, sending the reed tips tilting so as to dip into the pond's surface, he spoke it aloud.
"Are you familiar with port keys?"
She turned a questioning expression to him, her hair scattering like a feathery halo about her face in the blustery breeze. Such was the disturbance of her thick mane that he could not tell whether she nodded yes or no until it had died down.
Only then did it occur to him that the object of their very displacement could also be the object of their rescue. His hands scrambled in the deep folds of his thick cloak for the Kunnskap, and finally he dumped it upon the cold earthy mud, taking care to never allow it's dulled golden chain to touch his flesh.
Kaylens eyes filled with understanding, "It's how we got here."
He nodded, reaching for her hand with his bandaged one. Though when his fell atop hers, she did not take it.
His eyes caught hers, "Trust me." He whispered.
Steadily the hesitation within her eyes vanished, and slowly she turned her hand around, allowing his fingers to interlace with hers. Squeezing her hand as gently as his limited mobility allowed, he guided her to the Kunnskap with him.
"Take it with me."
His eyes having never left hers, he saw that she understood his meaning, for the Kunnskap had been their portkey there, and had it been somehow re-activated, they could take it back to Hogsmeade together with a simple touch of their fingers to its surface.
He absolved to never leave her alone, not anywhere, not ever again.
With baited breath they touched the chain.
Sharing a half disappointed, half relieved smile, they exhaled the breaths they had both been holding.
As he re-gathered the chain in his hands, she was the first to break the impenetrable silence.
"Your portkey doesn't seem to be working."
He cast her an irritable glance, examining the runes carved into the pensieve's vial. Unsurprisingly, not one depiction cast a shred of light onto the situation at hand. Maybe, just maybe, he would take Hermione up on her offer to teach him ancient runes when they returned.
"It must be conditional," He finally decided. "It's the only solution."
At this Kaylens' brow creased critically, and he explained further.
"You know how most port keys are touch sensitive, taking people back and forth between two places?"
Her head bobbed lightly, another cold gust sending her hair awry. This time she did not bother fighting with it, and let it lie as it fell.
He fought back a small smile as her nose wrinkled, her long strands clearly tickling it. "Well…" He continued, "A conditional port key only activates under certain circumstances. You can be touching it, but it won't take you anywhere because its 'condition' is not met." He glanced down at the vial, slipping it into his cloak once again. "Dumbledore made this for me, so I'm guessing it activates when the wearer is in mortal peri…"
He trailed off, not realizing the expression that had befallen his face until Kaylens concerned words drew him back to the present, away from the snarling teeth and growls of Hogsmeade's back alley.
He had not known until that day, until he had felt the telling tug behind his navel, that the Kunnskap doubled in purpose, and his oversight of Dumbledore's secretive method of ensuring his own protection could have very well cost Kaylens her life.
She was saying his name, yet he barely heard. For how could his life, his very existence, be worth the endangerment to others that it brought with it?
His mouth went dry, and a cold, unnerving feeling spread through him. Forcing his eyes to raise to hers, he saw the confusion swirling within them.
"Kaylens…I didn't…." He was suddenly avoiding her eyes, the shame of his oversight darkening his features. "I swear I didn't know…"
The inexplicable urge to drown himself within the unfeeling pond took precedence, but the urge was driven from his mind by her hand reaching for his.
He found himself staring at the back of her smooth hand lying atop his, and it was some time before his eyes darted to behold her.
She was smiling. In fact, she seemed to be laughing.
"It's okay," She whispered, voice tinged with amusement. "I know you weren't trying to leave me to fend off the wolves myself."
And despite her tone, he felt himself pale.
"But if I had… If it hadn't snapped and you had not been holding on I wou…"
She was positively clamping upon her lower lip, "Now who's the one stuttering?" She intoned, shaking with light laughter.
He merely stared, feeling her fingers slipping between his own, willingly interlocking, yet he was not daring enough to look.
"Kaylens…" He murmured, eyes closing in pain. "This has been a disaster."
"It could have been worse." She whispered, the irony of her words mocking the disaster they had lived through.
And then it happened. Everything he had been fighting back suddenly came swimming frighteningly close to the surface, and the brief thought of whether or not she truly meant it flashed through his mind.
"It could have been worse."
Hogsmeade had been taken, Dean could be dying, Hermione was injured, and the others like innocent Ginny Weasley, the sister he grew to have, were under the Imperious.
And then there was Seamus…
She knew about all of this, yet could sit there and say that.
Harry's icy green eyes flew open, narrowing onto her. "How…how can you possibly say that?"
Unapologetically she held his gaze, her expression falling. "Because it's the truth."
He swallowed, every fiber of his being disagreeing with each of her uttered syllables.
"Seamus is dead," He finally whispered, regaining control. "We abandoned the others. We failed them. Or did you forget tha…"
"No we didn't."
He stared, unable to reconcile the rising grief and guilt that had swept upon him as suddenly as a tidal wave, with her professions.
She shook her head slowly, jaw setting determinedly in acknowledgement of his repetition.
"No Potter," She countered. "Luna and Weasley needed a distraction, and that's exactly what we gave them. All we can do now is hope they took advantage of it. If we had not done that then we would have failed them."
Lifeless blue eyes…
"What if it wasn’t enough?"
Her eyes flickered searchingly across his face, her brow creasing concernedly. "Do you really have that little faith in them?"
Her voice was as serious as he had ever heard it, and as gentle, yet the bitterness could not be kept from his voice as he pulled his hand from hers.
"I don't know anymore." He whispered gruffly, not knowing which was worse: The hurt expression upon her face, or the knowledge that he actually believed his words, for he did not have faith in his friends.
At least not when it came to their avoidance of bodily harm. The Department of Mysteries had proven that much, for they had fought bravely, yet their ineptness… Both had fallen almost immediately, first Ron, and then Hermione.
And Kaylens… Just for being near him, just for helping him, just as Ron and Hermione always had, she had nearly been killed.
"I'm of no good to anyone." He realized somberly, vocalizing his thoughts. "Not to anyone. Not to Ron, not to Hermione, not to Seamus, not to…"
Failing to catch this his insensible vocalizations of self-loathing continued, unheard to his own ears, yet perfectly clear to the girl besides him.
"How dare you."
This time he heard her, her voice vibrating dangerously, his eyes instantly flying to her furious expression.
Deep within her eyes something frightening was stirring.
"How dare you say that," She breathed quietly, her left hand shaking ever so slightly.
This shaking was her only sign of emotion, for her deadened tone was perhaps colder than her adopted expression.
"In case you didn't notice Potter, you are worth something," She whispered in continuation. "Because if it wasn't for you your friends would have never made it out of Hogsmeade, and not only that…"
She stood abruptly, brushing her hands on her jeans furiously, glowering down with chilling intensity.
"If it wasn't for you I would be dead right now Potter. But perhaps I don't count." Her fiery eyes burned a searching trail across him. "Not to you at least."
Her last words were the coldest of all, and the absence of her hand, no longer within the confines of his own, struck him in a way he was ill equipped to explain.
He had willfully pulled his hand from hers in anger.
Scrambling to his feet he closed the distance between them, catching her around the arm before she could make it any further. She struggled, her icy glare fixated furiously upon him, freezing him to the core, yet it did not stop him from pulling her to him and holding on.
He did not let go, wrapping his arms tightly around her form, stroking her hair until she stopped struggling.
"I'm sorry…" He whispered constrictedly, "I swear to God I'm sorry…"
She uttered not a sound, dropping her face against his shoulder, allowing his to bury within her hair. He only pulled her closer, warmth sinking through him as her hands burrowed beneath his robes, snaking around his midsection to hold him back.
"I never meant for you to think..." He swallowed, breathing deeply as he whispered into her hair. "To think I didn't care Kay…"
"Damn't Potter…" She interrupted harshly, her voice barely heard, muffled as it was against his robes. "Is there anything you don't blame yourself for?"
His throat vibrated oddly. "Not really," He ground out, a hand raising to tangle within her tresses. "Though with good reason…"
Her form stiffened, his forehead falling against hers as her face swiveled to regard him. Instinctively his arms encircled her shivering form ever tighter, prepared to do anything to prevent her from leaving.
Her glistening eyes turned up, both anger and assurance swimming contradictorily within them. "Potter…" She whispered, "No good reason exists here. You did all you could."
"Well…" He murmured gratingly, "It's a matter of opinion…"
A soft murmur of disapproval came from behind her closed lips, the changes upon her once impassive face startling. Unconsciously his eyes fell shut, his hands moving across her back comfortingly. Slowly he breathed her in, clutching her by her sweater, twisting it in the process as an exasperated sigh escaped her lips.
Against his skin he felt her eyelashes flickering shut, her warming palms sliding out from beneath his cloak, "Potter…" She whispered, rising her hands till they lay flat against his chest. "Sometimes I really hate you."
Nodding against her skin, he inhaled deeply, their unresolved conflicts fading from his mind. "You're in luck…" He replied, whispering despite their solitude. "Because the feeling's mutual."
"I'm sure…" She murmured back, face upturning as a blustery autumn wind sent her long tresses scattering haphazardly between them. His arms pulled her in closer, the loose sides of his robe billowing out and enveloping them both.
For the longest time they stood there, him shielding her from the darkness' icy claws, her shielding him from regression into the darkness of all he had been partly responsible for. And for the thousandth time since their paths had first crossed, he found himself listening to her admonishments.
Predominant amongst them was his newly bestowed title, a strained smile crossing his face at the thought.
"King of Idiocy…" He murmured, a solitary hand sliding from where he cupped the back of her head, falling to rest along her cheek. "I can't believe you called me that."
The delicate fingers lingering upon his chest curled, capturing the folds of his beer stained robes. "From my point of view it's fitting."
A sad chuckle caught in his throat. "So I've been told."
"Mrmm…" She murmured back. "And I'm sure it has sunk in as well as that froth you're covered in."
He shook his head, his nose tousling her hair further. "Just remember…" He growled quietly, "I owe you."
"Do you?" She asked, inclining her head to look questioningly upon him. "And I thought it was I who owed you."
Despite his lack of joy, he found himself smiling. "You do, I just owe you a drink, and I don't mean the kind in a glass."
Her eyes shone with understanding, "You mean the kind overturned upon my head."
"Just wait…" He whispered, his lips falling upon her exposed earlobe. "You'll sit down in the Great Hall, and when you least suspect it…"
"Does it count that you deserved it?"
His throat vibrated lowly. "And you don't?"
"You know…" He mused aloud, "You're awfully agreeable tonight."
"Well I don't fancy being strangled by you," She replied truthfully, eyeing him with amusement. "Alone, at night, in the Forbidden Forest… It'd be quite easy for you to get rid of me."
His brow furrowed at her words, a shrewd expression befalling him as he pulled away to regard her. "We're in the Forbidden Forest?"
God he hoped he had misheard.
* * * * *
The doors of the entrance hall needed naught to be thrown open, for in the havoc of parents coming and going, claiming their children before fleeing, the looming entryway remained passable to all.
Regulus Black strode through it, robes billowing ominously in his wake, looking for all the world as if hell itself could not deter him from his mission.
Only those who looked him in the eye would see the uncertainty that lay beneath the surface.
It was upon the main staircase that Dumbledore intercepted them, Tonks ushering Emily and a fully recovered Kenneth in front of her, due to their slightly drugged state.
Muggle repellant charms be damned, she had force them through the wards, for here they would be safe.
The door to Dumbledore's office slammed shut on an indignant knocker, Regulus wasting not a moment.
"He's attacked everywhere has he not?"
Dumbledore crossed the room, quickly climbing a small ladder to retrieve a small paperback, leather-bound text. "Of course."
Neither of the two men appeared uneasy with the other's presence. The unflappable elder appearing entirely unsurprised by the younger's sudden return to the living.
"Then his plan remains the same as before."
"Indeed…" Dumbledore replied calmly, descending his perch. "It's a shame the Ministry did not listen to the warnings."
Tonks cast an askance glance the Headmaster's way, steadying Emily's swaying form with a hand. "You knew this was coming?"
"I had my suspicions," Replied the Headmaster, squatting in front of young Emily, extending the text to her. The auburn haired child took it without a thought.
"My child…" Dumbledore requested kindly, "Would you do an old man the favor of reading a bit to him?"
Emily's head bobbed gently, opening the leather bound book with robotic motions, and as she began to read, the clouded look disappeared from her and Kenneth's eyes, as did their drugged states.
Ignoring Regulus' annoyed growl, Dumbledore responded to Tonks questioning look. "The only way to allow Muggles to feel at ease within our grounds, short of removing the wards, is to read from this book."
Tonks merely nodded, while Kenneth blinked confusedly. Emily, however, had already spied a squishy looking arm chair and wasted no time in making a bee line for it.
"If you don't mind, there is the small matter of a Dark Lord to attend." The sneer Regulus used paled in comparison to his tone.
Dumbledore merely smiled and pointed Kenneth towards the same chair, where the President promptly passed out, his small daughter in his lap. It was only then that Dumbledore's smiling exterior faltered, something far more serious flashing behind his half-moon spectacles.
Tonks remained silent, knowing full well she would better serve everyone by listening, for she was in the dark about what was transpiring. She, an Auror, was out of her realm with the discovery of the multiple attacks throughout the U.K., while Regulus merely grimaced, as if having long expected such an unpleasantry.
The last remaining heir of the Black family gestured to the sleeping family. "He's come after the family before?"
Both Tonks and Dumbledore nodded, while Regulus paced.
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may be a lot of things, but impulsive isn't one of them," Regulus said seriously. "If he's attacked them it's not coincidence, it's targeting. And I'm willing to bet it has something to do with his plan of eradication."
Her heart fluttered uneasily, "Eradication?"
Regulus paused mid-stride, "Surely your education was not that bereft of grammar to provide suitable excuse for your failure to understand such a short syllable word as eradication?"
Her dark eyes narrowed in annoyance, her tongue held in check only by the discipline born of years under the supervision of Kingsley and Mad-Eye's loose wand.
Regulus' equally dark eyes left hers duly, his pacing resumed, "At a time He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named desired merely the eradication of Muggleborns alone. The cleansing of our world would have sufficed, for then he would be free to rule it."
Reaching the wall he did an abrupt about-face, continuing undeterred upon his straight path. "His views eventually changed and he came to desire the deaths of both Muggles and Muggleborns, and if his plans remain similar to the plot of before, the plot I failed to assist in properly, than today marks the beginning of the plague."
Tonks breathed deeply, "There hasn't been a plague of precedence here since…"
"The Great Plague of London in the seventeenth century."
All eyes, including the drowsy Emily's, turned to regard the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black. Though while Emily gently tugged at her dozing father's sleeve, mumbling about the picture man in awe, Regulus glared in annoyance.
"Salutations Grandfather," He greeted with considerable sarcasm. "As always I am fortunate to have never been forced to suffer your condemnable, condescending presence in life."
Phineas ignored the insult, choosing to correct Regulus by reminding him that he was his Great-Great-Grandfather, and as such demanded a greater degree of respect.
"That irritable stone doorknocker demands respect as well, but that does not mean we give it to him." Quipped Regulus, his long fingers creating a hollow melody along the shelving.
The Headmaster's eyes twinkled at the sound of Crusantheus' protestations from outside the door. "Your presence has charmed everyone within earshot Regulus, I can only hope to earn such praise by the end of our meeting as well. I'm beginning to feel left out."
Simultaneously all of the portraits, Tonks, the doorknocker, Fawkes, and a merman sculpture snorted.
Regulus and Phineas surveyed the room with identically critical expressions, glowering at those uncouth enough to snort in their civilized presences.
"I've wasted too many years abroad to idly stand around and be chortled at. There is again, the matter of a Dark Lord to attend to."
Tonks sobered immediately, her eyes fixating upon the child and man under her protection, the ones Regulus himself was responsible for saving when she had failed.
Her mouth formed the words, her emotionless clip telling of her seriousness.
"Tell me more of this plague, Regulus."
And that he did, revealing the true reason for his defection from the ranks of the Death Eaters.
"Do you remember the coordinated attacks in my youth Headmaster?"
"The ones just before your disappearance?"
Black nodded somberly, "Yes, only on a smaller scale than the ones of today I shall imagine. On that day I was to deliver a vial into the River Thames, spreading the plague throughout the entirety of Muggle London." The man's voice betrayed not a hint of emotion as he confessed his deeds, his hands clasped neatly behind his back.
"It was only natural," He continued, "For He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to coordinate attacks upon wizarding villages, entrapping the wizarding folk within. The orders were to not kill nor harm the inhabitants unless absolutely necessary, and while the magical folk were trapped he unleashed a spell, a counter curse if you will, one that would grant all those within the wards at the time of its casting immunity from the plague."
"Wait…wasn't there a risk of the counter curse failing?" Another portrait, one by the name of Dilys Derwent, inquired.
Her cousin's dark glare was answer enough.
"So why risk wiping out the wizarding population of Britain, his home, when there were other places where he may have tested it?" Tonks asked, directing her cousin's dark gaze from the defenseless portrait to herself.
Regulus thin lips went taunt, "Nymphadora, you again underestimate him, assuming he places value in abstract concepts such as love and home." His eyes narrowed considerably, "He does not, and what better place to test an experimental vaccine if you will, then upon a populated island."
Dilys Derwent's eyes widened, and Kenneth let out a jolting snore.
"If the counter curse proved ineffective than the only wizarding communities lost would be those of the U.K." Dumbledore said sadly, "A reasonable loss to one such as Tom, considering his strongest resistance has always been in Britain."
Regulus nodded somberly, "If it was ineffective, only a small portion of the world's wizarding population would be lost, yet millions of Muggles would be gone with them. And since it was on an island, isolated from the main continents, the chances of it spreading to the other continents would be very slim indeed."
Dilys shook her head, "Not with Muggle transportation. Now-a-days it could spread…"
"Quickly," Regulus supplied. "There were plans to prevent this as well, to shut down major Muggle transportation networks until the experiment had run it's course. However, what those plans were, I was not privy to. We were on a need to know basis."
Listening to the conversation Tonks stomach churned. The cold calculation that must have gone into an endeavor such as that… The realization that people, who harbored such little regard for human life, existed was chilling.
Her parents accounts of such dark times were what had driven her to join the ranks of the Aurors in the first place, even if she herself harbored no personal memory of those days.
She had been only seven upon the ides of June, when the towns had been held during the day lit hours for reasons never discovered.
Regulus Black was now revealing the undisclosed reasoning behind the 24 deaths that had occurred that day. For his job had been to unleash the Plague that night, once the wizarding communities had been safely and effectively immunized.
The Plague had never been unleashed, for Regulus Black, the trustworthy son of a noble pureblooded family, had never shown. And now that same son was setting the vial, the same vial that he had kept for years in his possession, upon the Headmaster's desk.
"Whatever it does, it was rumored to make the Bubonic Plague seem like the flu."
It would be the deadliest plague to befall the planet, and according to Regulus, the same plague would have been unleashed under similar circumstances.
Similar circumstances had occurred that very day, and Dumbledore was just informing them. Fawkes disappeared in a fiery puff of smoke, sent to summon Severus and the best of healers to began examining the deadly contents of the vial.
With an ashen face Tonks took it all in, only one thought resonating within her head.
God help us.
* * * * *
"Kaylens?" He questioned hesitantly, waiting for some response. Yet she only regarded him quizzically, nodding slowly in response to his question.
They were in the Forbidden Forest, and her with her foolish naivety had not thought once to mention it before now.
They were in the Forbidden Forest…
How in the hell could she have know that?
His expression instinctively hardened, as did his hands upon her, for temporary isolation within a woodland was one thing, but isolation within the Forbidden Forest was an entirely different matter.
Eyes sweeping the forest's menacing tree line defensively, he remained unresponsive to her questioning eyes. His only reaction was the slight loosening of his arms around her form as he silently prayed their safety would hold out.
Unsatisfied, yet helpless to improve matters, his arms fell to her waist, hands stiffening along her spine. "Kaylens…" He whispered lowly, "Why did you not think to mention this earlier?"
Her chest rose against his, her slow breath crystallizing on the cooling air.
"What good would it have done?" She whispered back. "It wasn't worth mentioning."
Swallowing hard he regarded her through narrowing slits. "Perhaps I'm wrong," He said lowly, "But when something concerns our safety I'd consider it worth mentioning."
"If I had told you before, what would you have done?" She whispered dryly. "We're in too deep to risk travel, especially in the darkness."
"I like the dark."
"So do arachnids."
His eyes narrowed further, "How could you possibly know about them?"
Lifting her chin defiantly she met his gaze, "Hagrid."
He nodded, voice heavily laced with sarcasm, "And I'm sure he's in the practice of telling all his students about Aragog."
Her expression defied his test, for her eyes told him she knew exactly of what he spoke as she shook her head. "No, but I was like him Potter. I can't do magic, just like he was forbidden to after his expulsion, so we had something in common…"
Grinding his teeth to prevent an interjection he listened warily.
"The only thing that saved him was being able to work with the creatures of this forest Potter, did you know that?"
He shook his head disbelievingly, "You can't work around them without a wand, it's too dangerous. And unlike you he at least had his…"
"Umbrella?" She whispered shrewdly. "No. Not at first."
"And what does this have to do with you not telling me where we were before now?"
"Everything, because when I first came here Hagrid showed me how the forest was divided into quadrants of each magical species' territory."
He inclined an eyebrow questioningly, encouraging her to continue.
"This quadrant is rather near their nest."
His blood grew cold in memory of his last experience, hands tightening along her back further. "You still should have told me," He whispered.
She smiled sadly, "Since when did I have to inform you of everything within my head?"
She shrugged impassively, "I'm surprised you didn't know. It was your port key that took us here, so I assumed you had known where it had taken us."
Exasperatedly his eyes fell shut, chest rising as he inhaled deeply, "Did I just imagine telling you Dumbledore made it? Or did I not already relay that I had no clue that the vial was a port ke…"
"You told me that recently," She interjected. "We were here in silence for hours. How was I to intuitively know that you were unaware of our location before then?"
"You should have said something the second I told you I had nothing to do with the port key Kayle..."
"Considering that you were in mid-apology I'm going to disagree," She whispered, leveling her gaze to his. "It's not often that one sees the great Potter apologize about anything and I wasn't about to interrupt that."
His hands dropped at her words, for the conversation had turned in a strikingly different direction. She merely took a step back, regarding him from a safe distance with masked eyes.
"It's the truth Potter. It didn't even occur to me that you were clueless about where we were until a second ago. Before I was busy being concerned that you were actually capable of showing some semblance of human emotion…." Her eyes narrowed, tones drowned in sarcasm. "Asides from anger or suspicion that is."
With that she dropped down to the ground, becoming utterly fascinated by the swaying reeds as he was left with naught but her back to regard.
This was not how it was supposed to be. She was the one who's emotions were constantly masked. She was the inhuman one, not him.
By the time he was done telling her that, in not quite succinct sentences, he was reasonably sure that her expression would betray hostile intent towards him.
Though as he moved to stand besides her kneeling form, suddenly the escalation of their argument seemed worthless as he glimpsed her torn expression. Turning away from him, the back of her wrists began wiping at her eyes.
It was a long time before either again spoke, the only sound the howling of the wind between the forest's trees.
"No…" She whispered, "Don't bother. Just realize that some us do not have the luxury to leave our feelings unmasked."
Only one word came to mind, and he spoke it, unable to articulate in any other way his question as to why she had until this very day refused to show any semblance of her true self to him.
Her head bowed low, the ends of her long tresses dangling loosely in the rippling water. Finally, a small stretch of eternity passing, she again spoke.
"If you had the choice between keeping people safe, or putting good people at risk, what would you do?"
Her words were chilling, and he found himself standing still, frozen in that moment, heart thudding louder than it ought. Never before had someone uttered the words, or given voice to the question that so oft haunted him.
Not in the way she just had.
She turned on the wet grass, her glossy orbs rising in a determined way, betraying all the pain she had until now kept so carefully hidden.
"How can you let yourself care for others, when it could destroy them?"
* * * * *
Dean felt empty as he numbly shoved past the Fat Lady's portrait. Whether the password had fallen from his lips or not was something he would never know, and something the Fat Lady would keep to herself.
He addressed his dorm mate in a monotone, unable to look the boy in the eye, even as Neville smiled sadly, hauling his trunk down the stairs.
It was well after midnight, the majority of the students already gone, taken away by their families. Those remaining till the next morning, or indefinitely, as Dean was planning, would already be in their dormitories.
Save for Neville, who's gram had just arrived to take him home.
Neville shook his head sadly, "It isn't right. I shouldn't leave like this."
Dean shrugged, walking past him up the flight. "Then don't."
The other boy paused in his tracks, turning and nearly losing his trunk in the process. "It's not that simple."
Dean sighed resignedly, "It is Neville. Just take a stand for once. Don't back down." Like I did…
Neville's face furrowed anxiously, "And what happens if she doesn't let me?"
"We are at war Mr. Thomas, and soon you will be forced to choose a side!"
A strong hand stretched out to rest against the cold stone wall of the tower, and Dean steadied himself from the onslaught of regretful memories.
"Dean what if she tries to make me?"
"Make your choice!"
His expression hardened, hand leaving the wall as he turned to regard his nervous looking dorm mate, whose neck was craned high to see where he stood higher up upon the stairs.
"Neville…" He said seriously, his deep voice echoing upon the empty walls of the tower. "No one can make you do anything. Not unless you are too weak to stand up for what you want," His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Or for what you think is right."
Swiftly he strode down, taking the stairs two at a time until he was again level with the nervous looking boy.
"No one can force you to do anything," Dean imparted, his dark eyes squaring off with Neville's. "Not McGonagall. Not Snape." His continued, his own internal anger growing. "Not even Voldemort himself."
Leaning in Dean let his dark stare drill into Neville's light one. "And especially not your Gran," He whispered fiercely. "No one can force you to do something you do not already want to do. So if you think staying here is the right thing, then you better do it, lest you regret it later on."
Neville Longbottom looked at him as if he had never before seen him, and gulped apprehensively, for in Dean's normally congenial eyes there was no pity.
"There's nothing worse than looking back and wishing you had done something differently." Dean imparted intensely, straightening as a tabby cat bounded down from the girl's dormitory. "And I would think that someone who could face down Death Eaters, defending himself the way you did back in Hogsmeade, would not be one for backing down."
With a last glance at the cat Dean trudged up the flight, hell bent on retrieving Ronald Weasley's things. How in the hell he was to get Ginny's was another matter entirely, but the only thing he really knew, or cared about at that moment, was the satisfactory sound of Neville's trunk dropping to become abandoned on the stairs.
Later, when Dean came out of the dormitory, he would be greeted with an empty common room, Neville's unrelenting shouts of being needed at Hogwarts filling the halls.
* * * * *
Inside Harry felt something breaking, for Kalliandra's words were hitting closer to home than she could ever realize, for what had haunted him had haunted her.
Deep in the forest, the impenetrable silence was again shattered by her cheerless voice.
"Once someone cares for you, and I mean truly cares Potter, no amount of resistance will be able to push them away." Her haunting words fell to the unfeeling ground, her face once again lowered. "Once you let someone in there really is no going back, and doing that…"
She paused, Harry's heart wrenching at the realizations befalling him.
"It's something I cannot do." She finally whispered, eyes again falling upon the dark waters.
In that moment, the wind stirring the grass around his feet, he realized how abysmally stupid he had been. Kalliandra's words had never rang truer. And though he felt as if he were missing some integral point, for how the words applied to her he knew not, he did know how they applied to him.
Ron and Hermione would never leave his side, not ever.
A long time ago they had said there had been a point where they could turn back, and they had not.
Harry Potter suddenly realized when that moment had been, for both of them.
"I think I can judge the wrong sort for myself thanks."
Ron's face had glowed with acceptance.
"It was my idea Professor. I went looking for the troll. I had read about them and thought I could handle it. If Harry and Ron had not come when they did, I'd probably be dead."
A sad smile tugged at his heart, for Hermione Granger, knowing them as nothing other than cruel taunting boys, had broken every moral she had that Halloween night.
And she had done it for them.
The point where he could protect his friends had long since passed. The time where they could have been kept safe was over, and if he truly wanted them to survive their best chance would be together, not apart.
He had been a fool to think otherwise.
Eyes blinking rapidly, he regarded the girl who had brought this to light, torn between whether to drown her or embrace her. Though all he could bring himself to do was quietly watch, paralyzed by the sheer thought of speaking when he was only just realizing how little he understood about her.
In that moment he was struck by the intense pain he had failed to before notice. Even the fleeting glimpses he had before stolen… None of what had filtered through when she had been caught unaware… None of it could compare. Not to the sorrow flitting through in every pained crease of her brow, in every shaky breath indrawn, and in every halting gesture.
The rather plain, disheveled girl before him, the one capable of holding so much in, was suddenly strikingly beautiful.
In a moment of indecision he crossed to her. Gone was the stumbling boy who had once been unable to articulate a coherent thought around saddened females. Now, in the face of necessity, drawn together by circumstance, he found that his concern suddenly lay with the only person he held the power to help.
Laying a hand upon her shoulder, the realization that her cloak was gone struck him. Once he had removed it, accessing her chest in the alley, he had never re-fastened the clasp.
It had been left behind, and in the rapidly chilling air she had let slip not one complaint.
Despite the stiffening of her shoulders beneath his throbbing palm, he knelt down, one arm snaking it's way around her quivering form. Goosebumps were rising across her neck where her tresses had been swept aside, her skin far too cool for his liking.
Lowering his mouth to her ear his breath traced along her skin, his chin falling to rest on her shoulder as he spoke.
"You're stubborn, missing your cloak, and did not think to say a word," He whispered, pulling her against him, trapping her arms against her chest with his own. "And….you look like hell, and I do not fancy having you not only irritable but sick."
"Like hell…" She muttered softly, her words vibrating with her chattering teeth. Casting his eyes to the water he could see her reflection, and distracted expression. "You should see yourself."
"I'll let you revel in that torture alone," He responded softly, the chilling breeze sweeping the clouds aside once again, revealing the sliver of moon residing there that All Hallows Eve.
Her light strands tickled his face, his eyes falling shut as he reveled in the strange sensation, only opening as he felt her turn to regard him.
Before she could speak his hand rose, silencing her.
"Thank you," He whispered, watching the anger fade from her eyes. Now only confusion, mingled with mild surprise, swirled within her fiery orbs. The crease of her brow was question enough, and he shook his head, mumbling how it was hard to explain, for how could he impart the realizations her single sentence had brought.
Unable to do so, he tightened his arms around her, pulling her to her feet before releasing her. Shrugging out of his cloak he spread it before them upon the cold earth, earning a puzzled look from where she stood, her own arms now wrapped tightly around herself.
Her lips parted slightly, though her protestation fell silent, for a thick woolen blanket now lay where his cloak had been a moment before.
Pocketing his wand he nodded satisfactorily. "Transfiguration," He offered by way of explanation, wrapping it around her shoulders, his hands lingering there. "If we remain here, we'll be safe?"
Haltingly she nodded, a golden tress falling loose from behind her ear, swinging freely in the light breeze that cast it across her face, her nose crinkling ever so slightly as the tress tickled her nose.
His hand rising to brush it aside, he watched her eyes turn to the forest, studying it with a barely concealed longing.
"We're welcome here," She whispered softly, "For now at least."
And against every ingrained instinct, he trusted her unquestioningly.
"Then here we'll stay."
Sliding his hands down her arms, taking her hands in his, he led her away from the water and towards a large oak with a comfortable looking trunk.
Within minutes a soft, smoke-free fire burned before them, his back to the oak and her resting comfortably against his chest, his arms encircling her tightly as she pulled the woolen blanket to her chin, covering them both.
Beneath the woolen fabric, where no eyes save theirs could see, two hands intertwined around a golden chain, a small vial carefully clutched between their palms, just in case.
A/N: Happy Belated Holidays everyone! And thanks to IchigoPan for the lovely opening image. :)
Also, par reader request I shall post in the recommended section whether or not a story is complete, and the number of chapters present upon recommendation.
Back in the Saddle by Steve34 Rated: 15+ Genre: Humor/Romance/Action
Completed - 28 chapters
They say that when life throws you for a loop, you have to get back in the saddle and keep going. Twelve years ago, Hermione Granger lost her fiancé and her best friend in one instant. Can a new foreign professor help her get back in the saddle? With a fantastic blend of action and humor, follow the Stetson wearing, spurred boot donning, southern drawled Professor Stone in his quest to drive his rather pretentious co-worker, Professor Granger, 'up the wall.' Only one phrase can sum up this story. "Giddy-up." Hermione Granger/OC
Dumbledore's Army and the Wizard Revolution by Darak Rated: 12+ Genre: Romance/Action/General
Completed - 23 chapters
With no contact from the wizarding world, Harry is forced to guess at what has been occurring, until Luna Lovegood makes contact. Together they seek out the Order at Grimmauld Place, discovering just how far the war has gone. Battling through the trap they unwittingly entered, they return to the ruined Hogwarts, seeking refuge with those who have fled to the once majestic walls for safety, and spearhead the reformation of Dumbledore's Army (considered rebels with a cause). But can this group of teenagers play a real role in Voldemort's defeat amidst the betrayal of those once thought loyal? HP/LL A completed sequel is also posted.
"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."
~ Jean-Paul Sartre ~
Chapter 25 ~ Condemnation by Choice
Some would believe that they had been condemned by fate, others that they had been condemned by choice. In the long run, those who believe that freedom can only be found by the choices one makes with what they have been given, are closer than either extreme.
Those who had cared for the dead and dying during the Bubonic Plague, risking exposure so that others could be spared, made the best choice they could with the dire circumstances life had dealt them. And though more than three centuries had passed since anything of similar proportion had struck civilized society, history would soon repeat itself.
Bathed in the inky hues of darkness, upon the shores of the River Liffey, a man with a fishing pole smiled into the moonlit sky. The rain had long since let up, and he basked in the early dawn's fragrant scent, enjoying the spray of the river splashing against the shoreline.
He would soon be the first to succumb to the world's greatest plague.
He did not know this, not that early morning as he sat upon the dewy grass, eagerly anticipating the morning sunrise he had awoken so early to see. He could not foresee this anymore than he could foresee that his wife and three children would be the next to succumb, leaving their once vibrant home devoid of laughter, love, and life.
They would all be dead within seventy-two hours.
* * * * *
Beneath a thick, dark veil of russet toned strands, two dark eyes fluttered blurrily. The visual centers of her brain were not ready to receive the signals traveling across her optic nerve. The pain signals were still far too overwhelming.
Despite this the girl's eyes fluttered open, peering into her new hell.
A fuzzy, rectangular outline, the color of a finely aged manu's pages...it rested besides where she lay, her body feeling unnaturally whole upon the smooth satin sheets. Somehow she was left with the lurking sensation that everything should not be quite right.....with what though....for certainly her skull was whole.
The girl's brilliant mind felt somehow...violated. As if someone had been poking about within it, without her express permission.
As if someone had been searching through her most cherished memoirs...
Again the names came to her, hitting her with the force of a heavily muscled serpentine tail.
Her pleasant delusions born of slumber were shattered, her lips parting with an indrawn gasp as the foreign, fuzzy room fell into focus, as did the woman resting within the high backed chair, legs elegantly crossed, a cruel, taunting expression stretched taunt across her lips. And like a predator stalking its prey, the woman's eyes were purposeful, triumphant, and locked upon her own.
Somewhere in her recovering mind the girl realized that the woman was intent on stealing her innermost secrets, and what better moment to do so than within one's waking moments, when their defenses were the lowest.
Voldemort' ranks were cruel and calculating, containing master tacticians whom she both admired and loathed with every fiber of her being. Yet despite this admiration, she would die before allowing them in.
Silently she swore this, and in the dimmed room the girl did the only thing she knew how to.
As the woman's arrogant laughter filled the room, for the girl was no match for the woman's training, a crucial mistake was made, for in that one moment of underestimation the Mudblood was able to push back, catching sight of what the woman was really after.
Lord Voldemort was in the room, unseen to the girl's eyes, and the girl suddenly understood that she was the bait that was to lure in the true prey.
Hermione Granger began screaming for her best friend to block out everything Voldemort showed him.
A cruel light cut through the air, and as the girl fell defenseless to the Cruiciatious curse, passing into another pain induced slumber, Harry Potter tossed violently within his own.
* * * * *
The small of her back hit the backboard of the chair, painfully.
Yet that was nothing in comparison to what she would do to Regulus. Over the past few hours, where they had been all but forced to remain holed up in Dumbledore's office, her opinion of Regulus had done a complete 180, followed by a 360. And now he had been presumptuous enough to physically force her away from the door, which she had been using in an attempt to vacate the premises.
She felt needed elsewhere.
She snapped her wand out, aiming at her infuriating cousin with every intention of ordering him to stand aside, when Dumbledore's voice thundered loudly, its ancient baritones echoing throughout the tower.
Breathing heavily, her dark eyes fixated furiously upon Regulus' complacent expression, her voice addressed the Headmaster. Unsurprisingly her tones were less than pleased at the information she had just gleaned from their impromptu meeting.
It had been the reason for her failed attempts to leave.
"Explain..." She spoke less than warily, "How you can justify refusing to allow me, an Auror in case you forgot, to retrieve Harry when you have just admitted that you know where he is? I can be trusted to find him!" Regulus scoffed loudly at this, receiving a swift kick in his unprotected shin.
Ignoring his grimace and failed attempts at dignity she continued adamantly. "Headmaster...one student has already been killed, and if Harry is out there alone he..."
"He is not alone."
She closed her eyes, drawing an annoyed breath between her teeth. "Oh?"
Dumbledore seemed vaguely amused by her reaction. "Of course not. He is with another student."
Tonks blinked, flabbergasted. Suddenly she was having a very hard time separating her sworn oath as an Auror to do all she could to protect the innocent, with her oath to the Order to trust its membership and its founder. Particularly when that same founder had just finished informing her that he had known the location of three of the missing students all along, yet had failed to inform the Ministry officials and Order members scouring Hogsmeade of that apparently miniscule fact.
"A student...and who would that happen to be?" She muttered, choosing to put it simply.
Dumbledore removed his spectacles, polishing them gently. "Kalliandra Kaylens."
Her eyes widened in hopes that she had misheard. "That girl Remus has been tutoring?" She nearly shouted. "She's practically a Muggle!"
Dumbledore cast a curious glance her way. "Sometimes you may be surprised at what non-magical people are capable of."
Regulus sneered, "Oh yes...I'm sure they are naturals at evading the Unforgivables of the Dark Lord's servants."
"Of course you'd know all about that wouldn't you Reggie?" Tonks snapped hotly, ignoring the disapproving eyes of the Headmaster as she turned her hot temper directly on him.
"What in the name of Merlin are you thinking Headmaster?" She questioned shrilly. "You've allowed half of the Order to think that Harry is missing yet tell the ex-Death Eater on the spot the second everyone is out of earsho..."
"I'm in earshot!"
"Shut up!' Tonks and Regulus shouted simultaneously as Regulus practically flew across the room, giving the already closed door a good kick. Crusantheus, the door knocker, could be heard swearing violently on the other side.
"Tonks..." Dumbledore said, sounding slightly amused, "I have my reasons for doing things."
Regulus' eyebrow arched so high Tonks swore he must have stolen Snape's patented look of smugness.
"Allow me to venture a wager..." Regulus interjected snidely, looking pointedly at her. "But I am guessing that Dumbledore does not trust everyone in this little bird society you have both spoken so adamantly about tonight."
It was ludicrous, yet she knew her cousin's point held a note of truth.
"Isn't it a shame, Nymphadora..." Regulus continued, pacing in front of her seated figure, "When you cannot even trust your fellow bird watchers with the whereabouts of the baby chicks?"
She scowled, forcing herself to look away from his look of superiority. Instead she observed what Dumbledore was doing, watching as the quills finished penning upon each scroll, then rolling themselves in succession, the ink already fading upon each.
It was a trick of the Order, used only in times where the utmost of security was needed, for only those bearing the mark of the phoenix would be able to see the truth printed upon those scrolls.
The use of it disturbed her greatly, for why would Dumbledore need risk penning instructions when he could inform each recipient verbally via flow?
"Headmaster..." She said warily. "Please let me retrieve Harry. As an Auror you have to understand that I cannot stand aside and allow Harry and Kalliandra to be put in danger." She stood, ignoring Regulus' attempts to block her path, and strode straight to the window overlooking the castle grounds. Dumbledore stood besides this same window, an odd look deepening his already lined features.
"Headmaster..." She said, eyes shining with urgency. "You know better than anyone what kind of people are after Harry. Just tell me where he is at, because wherever he is he could get...."
"Killed?" Dumbledore supplied, tearing his eyes from the dark scenery. "Tonks, I understand your concern. Yet if we never allow Harry to survive on his own how can we expect him to survive this war?"
She frowned, her silence his answer.
The Headmaster nodded solemnly. "The time when we could protect the children from the horrors of war has long since passed. Now all we can do is hope that we have prepared them well enough."
Tonks sighed sadly, watching as the quills began inscribing the names of the addresses upon the rolled papyrus scrolls. Harry's name was amongst them, but not Remus.
Turning to Dumbledore she questioned him with her eyes. "What if we haven't?"
A comforting hand touched her shoulder, Dumbledore's twinkling eyes again holding a sense of hope.
"If I'm not mistaken, I do believe you were always a strong proponent of giving at least Harry more freedom. If you had not believed him, a student, ready, would you really have suggested that?"
Swallowing she nodded, glancing towards where Kenneth and Emily slumbered, a loud snore from Kenneth the sudden draw of her attention.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Perhaps we ought to move them to my private quarters. I dare say they could possibly be more comfortable there."
She nodded vaguely, and within minutes was levitating the Irish President in a very undignified way, his arms and legs hanging slack as he sleep danced through the highly arched doorframe, leaving the office of the Headmaster and entering Dumbledore's private study.
Regulus followed behind, Emily in his arms, and the most peculiar expression upon his face. He rather looked as if he had drunk sour milk containing the elixir of life. Regardless the expression vanished as he placed her upon the couch besides her father, a look of relief overtaking him as he rid himself of the seven year old burden.
Her hands froze upon the woolen blanket, the one she had been draping across her charges sleeping forms, for Dumbledore's voice was no longer right behind her.
Trepidation shook her.
Turning, as if in slow motion, her brain recognized that except for her sleeping charges, that she was now alone in the room.
Both her cousin and the Headmaster stood just beyond the room's threshold, a look of resigned solemnity upon their faces.
"I am sorry Nymphadora...." Dumbledore's voice floated through the doorway eerily. "But there is something I must do, and I have a feeling that Regulus may be the only one willing to stand witness without protestation."
The study's finely carved door began swinging shut.
She bolted for them, not knowing why, yet knowing there was no time. Her feet flew across the flooring, her eyes catching sight of the papyrus scroll clutched within Dumbledore's aging hand, its addressee forever burning into the young Auror's mind.
Tom Marvolo Riddle.
It was only then that it finally dawned on her...what Dumbledore intended to do. And as she tripped, falling flat upon the floor, her eyes upturned, straining for a sight of the ceiling within the Headmaster's office.
Upon the tower's conical ceiling were the ancient words of power, and they were the last sight she had before the study door slammed shut with a resonating finality.
Lying stunned upon the floor her thoughts faltered, for upon the parchment bound for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named an ancient oath was surely inscribed. Dumbledore's magical signature was the one responsible for writing it beneath the structure of power, and thus she knew that Dumbledore had sworn to meet with the most dire of villains to begin the negotiations for the surviving student of his.
Beneath the door a fiery tendril could be seen.
The blood bound ritual had begun...
* * * * *
In the thick of night lightning flashed.
Shadows were streaking across the ground, illuminating the dark abyss surrounding those who slumbered far from the oncoming storm. There, deep beneath the darkened boughs of night, dreams both haunting and beseeching plagued the girl's listless turnings within the arms of Morpheus.
Yet something far more solid than the purveyor of dreams clung to the girl, smoothing away the gooseflesh rising upon her frigid skin, for even as the man she leant against dreamt his promise to safeguard was being unconsciously kept.
In his arms the girl failed to hear the oncoming storm, only awakening from her chilled slumber as the calloused hands around her tightened, the man's steady breathing falling and rising erratically, for REM was suddenly failing to suppress his voluntary muscular systems.
Something had changed...
Kally was flung to the ground with a start, her body hitting the dew kissed soil with forceful intensity.
Coughing, there upon the ground, she scrambled away, rolling and slipping as the sky thundered, the first droplet of the icy onslaught catching her in the face. Reflex born of one cruel monster's sadism, and a lifetime of paranoia, sent her scattering from her protector on instinct.
Sliding upon the dew kissed soil, scrambling to her feet, blinking back the dregs of sleep and the dark of night, her mind finally processing what was occurring she ceased to act. Standing there with the wind whipping bitterly around her, the rising air's chill seeping through her inadequate clothing, she laid eyes upon her unwilling assailant.
The mind numbing confusion that befell her, the kind that always seemed to accompany his presence, returned as she watched him. His bright eyes closed against the brewing storm, his face contorted, and even from where she stood she could see the frenzied peaks and valleys his heaving chest made.
It was happening again, the thing she had merely glimpsed that night in the common room, falling victim to it within the torch-lit corridors...
Without rational thought she ran to him, the one she barely knew, who had foolishly saved her life on more occasions than she cared to count. Dropping besides him, her knees sinking into the damp mud, she felt her fingers stall, uncertainty gripping her chilled form.
Something was amiss...this sensation...the uncertainty....it was foreign and fleeting...
Though life's cruelties had once taught her the demons of inaction.
Forcing herself, willing herself to act, she gripped his shoulders, calling his name as loudly as she dared. In the quickening breeze the blanket that had sheltered them billowed out, tumbling with the wind to lay sprawled across the wet ground.
"Pott-tter..." The chill crept into her voice, the wind stealing her words for its own cagey purpose. Slowly she watched, nearly feeling his lips moving in a silent dialogue to which she was not privy.
Beneath her fingers she felt the growing rigidity of his shoulder, a terrifying intensity radiating from him as the rain began to fall in thick torrents, rainwater splattering upon his sweat dampened brow.
When the life giving water reached his unsightly scar, a sizzling rose into the air.
Lightning criss-crossed the night.
Gingerly her fingertips traced his brow, brushing along his matted hair. Before the searing sensation within her flesh even registered her hand was recoiling, a repressed cry of pain caught within her throat.
In the darkness she could not see her reddened fingertips, but she knew the burns to be there.
Voice constricted, from what she knew not, for nothing in the magical world could now surprised her, she screamed at him. Foolishly she screamed, roaring in a contest to rise above the wind as she gripped his shoulder, shaking his already vibrating form.
His Adam's apple rose and fell, as if he too were screaming to be heard by one incapable of doing so.
"Potter..." She questioned, knowing her voice would not reach him. "What's happening to you?"
Thunder shook the sky, a carnal howl carrying upon the wind from a distance far too close. Her narrowed eyes flew to the forest, ill-equipped as they were to reveal its hidden dangers.
God Remus...where are you.... He would be able to see, to penetrate the night's veil.
Unconsciously, as her ill fated thoughts plagued her, her fingers coiled around Harry's shoulders, relishing the odd protection his proximity brought in the face of the unknown.
Teeth chattering she began a silent mantra.
Within her ears the steady rhythm of her heart pounded achingly loud, and further howls cutting upon the gusts of the growing onslaught sent a current running through her chilled veins.
Again the sky split open, rumbling as if hell itself were fighting to break through, and as if in some cruel unison with the sky pain erupted around her slender, unclothed arm.
Tight fingers now clenched callously around her wrist, her free hand slipping from Harry's shoulder, clutching at his fingers, prying them away from the crushing force of his strong hands.
In the eerie light of the storm she struggled with him, his sleeping figure writhing against her as if he were a man watching, silently reliving, the slaughter of all he held dear.
She too had learnt the truth of such horrors far too young....
A strangled sound resounded within his throat, her own constricting at the pained creases lining his sweat soaked brow.
"Damn you Potter..." She implored breathlessly, feeling his unwavering grip tightening further. "Come back..."
Thunder clapped across the expansive sky, her breath coming out in ever clearer clouds. "You're insufferable..." She gasped through clenched, chattering teeth. "Potter please... this hurts so much..."
Somehow, despite the howl of the wind, her frightened pleas broke through, reaching the God of Sleep, for Morpheus released his vice grip upon the King of Idiocy's psyche.
In a moment, in one short, sharp spasm, she was yanked against him, thrown across his legs as he jerked awake.
Frightened and cutting jade eyes flew open, staring through the cold rain at her, not fully seeing...
Yet pain and shame swelled within them.
Coughing, breathing heavily from her exertion and up swelling of fear for he alone, her words came unbidden.
Blinking the water from his eyes, his glasses long since flung to the ground, he swallowed painfully, his voice coming out in hoarse rasps.
"Kaylens..." He rasped, "He's got her."
"Of course..." She murmured sardonically. "Yes...that explains everything..."
With measured movements she slowly removed herself from where she lay upon his saturated legs, collapsing onto the muddied ground besides him. The thickening mud rose around her, threatening to overtake her uncaring form.
"Potter...." She finally whispered, allowing her eyes to flicker shut. "What just happene..."
"Don't make me lie to you." He whispered brokenly. "I won't. I can't."
Somehow, as she felt his form moving to shield her from the elements, she managed a response.
"Harry..." She murmured incredulously, "Then tell me. Who has who?"
Her eyes flickered open, and the sharpest jade in the world locked onto her own.
"Voldemort has Hermione."
* * * * *
Remus staggered from the bowels of the Forbidden Forest. From where he had been drug, and left.
"You're services are no longer required blood traitor. Our Lord shall summon you when our services are again....needed."
Lucius' words were chilling. Though not nearly as much as his deeds this night.
He remembered everything...
Even now the blood lust taunted him, alluring him with its putrid aroma rising from his tattered clothing.
Before him loomed Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, his slow gait leading him past the ragged looking Ministry officials.
He was just another injured bystander to them, and was paid no heed.
On the grounds a dusty creme tent flapped in the violent wind, Mediwizards roaming around the opening in the canvas. Within its illuminated interior he glimpsed haggard parents lining up with their children, bags in tow, as they waited for Ministry transport away from the scene of today's crimes.
No one would chance a walk to Hogsmeade, not now, not even with Ministry protection.
With staggering steps Remus made his way to the castle. He had a report to make, and a sin to beg penance for.
* * * * *
The certainty swimming within his eyes was astounding. Even in the dark of night, as he hovered above her prostate form, she recognized that.
Her lips parted, a silent question unspoken as his illogical assumption settled in, for how could one know the whereabouts of one they could not see?
They couldn't. He couldn't. And yet...
She believed him.
In the past he had been unkind and cruel, illogical and brash, and yet he had never given her a reason to doubt nor distrust him.
Everything that had passed between them before had been the indirect result of her own secrecy, of her own perpetuated lies, of her own sins...
He had been right to call her a Death Eater. Though she had not know of the title, she was as good as one.
Blinking the rain from her eyes she took a chance.
Her first chance.
"So...what do we do?" She asked.
His silence was palpable. The cracking of breaking boughs in the forest, their tumultuous descents to the forest floor, and their final soggy smack against it were all she heard above the wind.
His jaw remained slack.
"Potter?" She whispered, knowing he now read her lips, for her soft reply was inaudible.
His wet hair swayed as his head was shaken, slinging water upon her as his muddy hand curled around her arm. "You believe me."
It was a statement. Not a question.
Shivering, the bone deep chill taking over, she nodded. "S-shocking, I k-know."
His solemn regard studied her, eyes moving to where his hand lay. A perplexed expression broke his silence.
"Did I hurt you?"
His tone carried a note of self disgust, yet the corners of her mouth tugged gently upwards at his concern.
"C-couldn't if you t-tried," She stammered.
A hollow chortle escaped his throat, his hand rising along her arm, smoothing away the gooseflesh rising upon it. "Good..." He responded. "Because we have to leave."
Her face scrunched up, her blue-tinged lips no longer felt by her.
Grasping her with both hands he assisted in up-righting her, rubbing her arms vigorously. "We walk..." He whispered, "Run if necessary, and hope that nothing eats us."
As if on cue, from the depths of the forest's shadows, a wolf emerged.
Her shaky breathing froze Potter's hands upon her, his intuition alerting him of what she already knew.
* * * * *
He wanted to lie to himself, to tell himself that he had not committed the deeds that he had.
The truth persisted.
Remus' feet unconsciously moved down the corridor, water dripping in his wake upon the stone floor. He had not reported into Dumbledore. He had not alerted the Order of his return.
There was something he had to do first.
Remus pushed open the hospital wing door, leaving a muddy imprint where his hand had resided.
Silence greeted him within the candlelit infirmary, the only respite the sound of distant thunder as the storm rolled south, away from Hogwarts' grounds. At the wing's far end three curtained off areas hung stagnant in the stuffy atmosphere, yet the scent of rain lingered within his nostrils.
It didn't take the inner eye to know that his victim lay nearby.
His echoing footsteps led him to the first sectioned area, where he found what he was looking for.
Ronald Weasley sat upright, gazing out the window upon the sliver of quarter moon peeking through the storm clouds.
Remus' stomach twisted rebelliously as a voice broke the silence.
"You want to talk?"
Remus remained frozen to the spot, nodding as he felt the verdict of an elusive execution trial being handed down.
Remus was sure that they had already told the Weasley's youngest son his fate, and by now the changes would have already begun, affecting his senses...his scent...
His presence would confirm what the young Gryffindor most likely already suspected. Ron would now know the one responsible for condemning him.
Turning on the surgically clean white tile, Remus dimly remembered the reason for why the stone flooring had been overlain with the Muggle alternative, for even a strong round of scourgifying spells were not enough to remove the stain of blood from ancient stone. The past war had brought far too much of that within Hogwarts walls, and tile was much easier to clean.
Fleetingly, Remus wondered if his own blood were about to again, be removed from it.
His eyes rose shamefully to the boy he had cursed, his pride forcing himself to not look away as he awaited whatever hateful words were sure to come, for he was surely deserving of them.
Though none did.
"Ronald..." His voice came out thick and gravely, articulateness abandoning him. "Whatever you ask...This is the second time I've endangered you and I..." He faltered. "I am sorry..."
It took every ounce of his rapidly diminishing bravery to remain standing in the presence of one he had so horribly wronged.
Lightning illuminated the room, filtering in through the hospital wing windows, and Ron set his jaw. "You didn't mean to bite me, so don't worry about it."
Thunder rolled, vibrating the tiles beneath his soles.
Ron cringed, obviously unaccustomed to the sudden amplification of all surrounding sounds.
Such was the effect of becoming a lycan.
As the thunder diminished, his former pupil frowned pensively. "For the first time in my life Professor.. I'm different." The teenager extended five of his digits, frowning further at the sight of the abnormality lying just beneath the surface. "Everything...from now on..." He continued oddly, "It is all going to be different."
Shame nearly sent Remus tumbling to his knees. "All because of my recklessness... again...you could have been ki..."
"So could have you," Ron cut in sharply. "Yet that didn't stop you from doing your duty, Professor."
In the moment of silence that followed, the youngest Weasley son suddenly did something completely unexpected. A slow, sad smile crept across his features, and then Ronald Billius Weasley looked him directly in the eye.
"Whatever the reason was for sending you out to cavort with those other..." Ron swallowed hard, "werewolves... It had to be important, otherwise you wouldn't have been there."
Remus remained silent. He could not give into his own self-deprecating desire to turn and flee, he owed the new werewolf more than that.
"This is a war. Before you bit me I had no real talent to offer." The young man's words were slow, and for once, painstakingly thought out. "To everyone I was just...a hindrance, just another mediocre wizar..."
"Your power was never mediocre," Remus interjected painfully.
Ron shook his head, his fingers scrunching the stark white of the hospital sheets. "It doesn't matter...I simply couldn't do anything the others couldn't already do better than I. But now...."
Light blue eyes looked up, meeting his haunted ones. "But now Professor..."
Remus again nearly choked at the ill-bestowed title. "I haven't been your Professor for some time Ronald."
A rather dangerous expression touched Ron's mouth. "Well..." He said, flexing his fingers. "That's about to change."
And with reflexive speed, right where Ron's fist had been clenched around them, Remus realized that the hospital sheets now lay shredded.
Where Ron's fingers should be, there were claws.
Cold comprehension dawned upon him, for somehow the boy had inherited the ability to transform at will, yet the bloodlust Remus felt running within his own veins was nowhere to be seen within the boy's eyes.
All that lay there was a dangerous glint.
"My friends are out there, and I intend to find them." Ron avowed. "So..."
A carnal quality edged into the young Weasley son's voice.
Blue, ovular eyes, met his own.
"So Lupin... How'd the Order fancy a second set of ravenous fangs?"
A quick note: The medical and biology buffs may catch a few things in this chapter and the upcoming ones, so please be forewarned that any slip on the characters' parts regarding such things is entirely intentional. I want to show that they are imperfect and not entirely knowledgeable about certain things. It wouldn't be fun if the characters never made mistakes. *cackles*
Thank you to Njhill22 for all of your help with this chapter. I may very well have lost my sanity had it not been for the 5 am late night writing sessions that we had to resort to! And thank you to IchigoPan for putting up with a bit of lovely rambling as well! Now on with the chapter!
"Amidst hell there is always light, it is just a matter of finding it."
~ Unknown ~
Chapter 26 ~ The Reason for the War
It had taken her all of ten minutes to figure it out.
Breathing heavily, her mousy hair strewn about, she again rose her leg to drive the full force of her weight against the mahogany doorframe. The sound reverberated throughout the room, echoing from the ancient stone walls in a way that mirrored her increasing, self-directed anger.
She should have known.
Cursing she stepped back from the unmoving entryway, her feet stumbling clumsily across the uneven floor boards. Her dark eyes swept the high rafters criss crossing the cylindrical tower, at a loss.
Dumbledore had long since earned the title normally reserved for Remus alone, for that 'damnable man' had thought of every conceivable escape attempt and blocked her progress at every turn. One thing was certain: The Headmaster was surely against anyone knowing of his plan, and from the looks of things she would not be escaping any time soon. Certainly not in time to alert anyone before it was too late.
If only she had realized! Then she wouldn't be trapped like some mythical Rapunzel caught in a hellish fairy tale.
Her eyes landed upon the dark window frame, her mind briefly mulling over the possibility of growing her hair into a long enough plait to send Emily scurrying down.
She snorted. Even if the Bothans were not under an enchanted sleep Kenneth would surely skin her alive before allowing her to turn his daughter into an impromptu acrobatic chimpanzee. Of course Emily had seemed rather taken by that exhibit at the Phoenix Park Zoo...
As if reading her thoughts Kenneth growled a little.
Men... She thought angrily. Even in their sleep they shot down her ideas!
Turning her attention to the door frame she did the only thing she could think of, and rearing back her leg she charged. Only this time the door swung open as if in sync with the gods of clumsiness, and she found herself sprawled across the Headmaster's emptier office.
Rolling onto her back, flopping like a fish on the floor, her dark eyes fixated furiously upon her cousin.
"You..." She roared, kicking the door to the study shut with her feet. She was not eager for Kenneth nor Emily to hear this if they awoke at this rather untimely interval.
Regulus gazed down his nose in astonishment. "Cousin were you really waging war on his study door the entire time? You do realize that is hand-crafted mahogany?"
Growling she scrambled to her feet, "I swear to Merlin Regulus...you tricked me! You allowed him to..."
He scoffed loudly. "No one allows Albus Dumbledore to do anything cousin. He merely does it whether you are in concurrence with his decisions or not. Surely you would be aware of that by now."
"He's right you kno..."
"Shut up Crusantheus!"
Regulus cast an unnaturally sympathetic look at the door as she again rounded on him.
"He made the Unbreakable vow didn't he?" She demanded. "He's going to trade himself for Hermione Granger if he can isn't he? And you let him!"
"Like I could stop him? Besides, it wasn't that bad of an ide..."
"You could have refused to stand witness!" She hollered. "He couldn't have done it without one!"
Regulus' eyes roamed the room curiously, as if she were an inconsequential bug, before his eyes finally landed upon a small cabinet. "Well..." He commented, walking towards it. "If not I he would have found another person to..."
"The Order needs him Regulus!" She shouted, tailing him closer than a shadow. "We can't survive witho..."
Regulus spun to face her. "Don't devalue yourself cousin. From what he said he may have founded your little aviary organization, but he is no more important than the rest of you within it."
She gasped. "You jest?"
The perfect image of stone glowered back. "Do I look like one to jest?"
Her breath came in furious puffs as he began rummaging through the contents of Dumbledore's deceptively small liquor cabinet. A considerable time passing before he emerged, a tight, satisfied line straining his mouth, and a garnet hued bottle in hand.
She was barely collecting herself, her wand arm twitching dangerously as she seriously contemplated whether or not her cousin was an alien species.
"Le Vin de Chateau Latour..." Regulus commented admiringly, ignoring her as if nothing of significance had occurred. "Dix-neuf soixante-dix, une belle année."
Her teeth ground so hard she swore to God he would be receiving the dental bill.
"For the less refined in the room," He continued, his unfaltering eyes never leaving his recently procured prize, "Nineteen seventy was an excellent year."
A loud pop resonated within the room, the rising hue of her cheeks evidencing her increasing blood pressure. Merlin...she was getting as bad as Kingsley with that!
"This particular vintage," Regulus continued undeterred, "Presently runs over one hundred and twenty four pounds a bottle. Just imagine what it may have run once fully matured. A shame this Latour takes ten to fifteen years..."
Between her gritted teeth she managed a growl. Regulus ignored this, painstakingly choosing a rather worn and bright orange mug from Dumbledore's limited glass selection. His nose crinkled in distaste as the mug's emblem Go Cannons sparkled up at him.
"Allowing his vintages to go to waste..." Regulus grumbled disapprovingly, pouring the opaque, yet red fermentation into his mug moodily. "I would have thought better of the old man..."
"That old man has more moral fiber than you could ever wish to possess," She snapped.
"I don't doubt that," He replied evenly.
Her eyes widened furiously. "Why in the hell would Dumbledore take you into his confidence? You were a cowardous traito..."
Regulus' glass slammed down, shattering.
"NEVER PRESUME YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT NYMPHADORA!" He roared, eyes igniting dangerously. "I am far more familiar with each one of my treacherous, traitorous acts than you shall ever be. But know this..."
Regulus' bearing rose, despite his already rigidly erect posture.
"If it were not for those cowardly deeds of mine then the Muggle world would have been wiped out a long...time...ago." He hissed quietly. "My cowardly nature preserved the knowledge of what could have happened....keeping it safe until it was needed again..."
"You should have come forth with it sooner," She challenged. "As soon as you heard He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was back you should have..."
"Oh?" He snapped condescendingly. "And how was I supposed to know that my former slithering Lord had crawled back from the grave whilst in the Muggle realm Nymphadora? Particularly when those of you at the Ministry do your best to isolate our world from the Muggle realm? Well congratulations Nymphadora! Because despite Voldemort's best efforts at mayhem and misery your precious Ministry has done its job well! Not a word of his return leaked to me, even though I was listening for word!"
Seething venomously she leveled her wand at him, eliciting a derisive laugh. "Where's Dumbledore?"
"Why at a meeting with that slithering serpent of a Dark Lord I suspect. Surely you could have guessed that at least."
Her heart thudded unnaturally.
"Let me out Regulus."
"I wish I could cousin," He said, turning back to the wine. "But it was his desire for neither of us to leave until the deal was complete. Something about pesky, meddlesome, bullheaded Aurors..."
She growled, resisting the urge to attack.
Regulus merely snorted. "I would think that you, being part of his little aviary society, would by now realize that he knows what he is doing. Even I know tha..."
Swearing loudly she kicked the wall, rattling Phineas' portrait, forcing their long dead relative to hang onto his frame's edge for fear of being dislodged from it.
Regulus mouth twitched wickedly, ignoring the choice words that came flying their way as he addressed his cousin. "Now if you want to destroy the portraits then by all means, do so Nymphadora. However, in the interim it seems that your best bet is to relax and have a drink, because you clearly need one."
Scowling she slapped the proffered glass away.
Now it was Regulus' turn to regard her as if she were an alien species.
* * * * *
Elsewhere in the castle Remus had discovered that he had developed a shadow, one with a distinct limp and a blinding shock of red hair.
"You're sure about this?" Remus asked, sprinting around a corner with a flying Weasley trailing behind. Ron had just finished recounting what he had overheard the adults speaking about as he and Ginny had feigned sleep in the wing, and Remus was left with an uneasy feeling of coldness.
Not only were Harry and Hermione missing, but so was Kalliandra. Ron had had no information regarding Tonks, and knowing her profession....
Remus had felt slightly ill at the idea of any of them suffering while he had strolled leisurely down the castle's corridors, unable to go faster for fear of leaving the sick ward's escapee behind, which was precisely why he had thrown a levitation charm at the young man, sparing Ron the trouble of having to fight with his self-sizing crutches.
Molly Weasley would have him shipped to St. Mungos in individually plastic wrapped pieces if she ever caught wind of this.
Ron's face, screwed in careful concentration as he attempted to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling, shot him a withering look.
"My friends are out there Remus, and I don't intend to sit idly by while the Order hems and haws over what the best course of action is. I want into the Order, and I want to help."
"And if they vote against that?"
Ron grinned tensely. "I'll threaten to give them a friendly nip on the leg. After all, I've missed dinner tonight."
Remus nearly laughed, caught off guard. "Entertaining cannibalism are we?"
"Nah, Snape hardly qualifies as human so I seriously doubt it would count as cannibalizing. Especially since he's likely the only one to vote against me."
"You're forgetting your mother."
Ron paled considerably, his freckles standing out. "She'll just have to understand," He growled determinedly. "About Ginny too, she'll bounce back, and when she does she can help me find the bastard that Imperious-ed her."
Remus smiled sadly. Ron was more alike to Sirius than he would ever know. Perhaps that, more than anything, was why he had agreed to take Ron with him to give Dumbledore his shabby report.
As Ron had said, the good werewolves had to stick together, and he deserved to know of the underground werewolf activity as much as anyone.
The other werewolves could still be out there...
The thought spurred him into a faster sprint, and ignoring the Gryffindor's sudden protest Remus began dashing down the stone corridors, his concern rising exponentially at the unnatural quiet upon the school.
Snapping the password he and the floating Ron mounted the stairs to Dumbledore's office, a riotous argument increasing in volume as they approached. Forgoing formality he set Ron down hastily, grasping the door handle and tugging.
It was locked.
"Headmaster?!" He shouted, pounding upon it fiercely. "Headmaster I ne..."
At the voice his fist froze, inches above the cringing bronze Crusantheus, the argument within the office grinding to an unceremonious halt.
"Tonks!" He shouted with barely concealed relief. "Tonks wha..."
"Oh thank God!" Interrupted Crusantheus, moaning. "They've been going at it for an hour! I can't take it anymore!"
Remus was about to inquire as to 'who' precisely had been going at it when Ron's confused mutterings interrupted him.
"Since when did Dumbledore get a talking door knocker?"
"Since his brother had me imported from Scotland little man," Snapped Crusantheus indignantly.
Ron bristled, "Little?"
Remus dropped a staying hand upon Ron's shoulder. "Best not to engage in conversation..." He muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
Crusantheus' own dropped wide. "I heard..."
"We know!" Shouted two voices simultaneously from the opposite side of the door.
Remus' ears reflexively picked up, the familiarity of the unidentified vocalizations unnerving. "Tonks let us in," He shouted, frowning.
"We can't!" He heard her moaning, "Dumbledore made an Unbreakable vow and has left to speak to You-Know-Who and he's locked us in here! We can't get out and no one can get in!"
It took a moment for her words to process correctly, and apparently it did for Ron as well because simultaneously they both voiced aloud their thoughts.
A distinct banging could be heard from within the office, as if someone had taken to kicking random objects.
Again, the unidentified masculine voice floated beneath the door. "You might as well tell them..."
"Tonks who is that?" Remus interjected.
There was a pause.
A very long pause.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try me," Remus insisted.
He groaned, while Crusantheus snickered. In response Ron grabbed the knocker and began banging vigorously, only ceasing the hostilities when Crusantheus nearly bit off his fingers.
Remus ignored this. "Tonks tell me I misheard..."
"You didn't," She groaned. "Hermione Granger is missing." Ron paled considerably, his shoulders stiffening at the reminder. "You-Know-Who has got her, and Dumbledore thinks it's to lure Harry into telling him the prophe..."
"WHAT!?" Ron shouted, clearly having been deprived of this knowledge. "Tonks did they find Harry? He can't do tha..."
"Remus what the hell is Ron Weasley doing with you? Isn't he supposed to be in the..."
"Hospital wing," Remus supplied.
"I'd like to put him in the hospital wing," Growled Crusantheus menacingly, snapping eagerly with his jaw's hinge.
"Bugger off you rusted piece of..."
Crusantheus bronze tongue began clinking out a gleeful tune, clearly ecstatic at Tonks' reprimand. "Aha! Better stifle it Fingers or Ms. Windpipes in there will shut you up for me before you can say Hoggy, Hoggy, Hogwa..."
Remus finally gave in to the urge to silence the damn thing, unable to think. Crusantheus' sudden silence earned him a loud exclamation as the unidentified voice from within began praising the lord and maker.
He knew that voice...
"So Nympahdora you want to tell them or should I?" Asked the man, sounding as if he were clearly enjoying something.
Behind him Ron made a strangled sound of realization.
A loud thump evidenced the unidentified man's displeasure.
"If I get mistaken for Sirius one more time I'll hex that door knocker ..."
Crusantheus began pounding his handle furiously, a panicked look in his bronze eyes.
Tonks, on the other hand, sounded like she was tap-dancing. "Ah-ha! I'm not the only one who made that mista..."
"You're my cousin! You have no excuse!"
"Bugger off! We thought you were dead!"
"Really Nymphadora you have no creativity..."
Really...You Gryffindors have no creativity...
Remus' mind spun, an echo from the past striking a dissonant chord.
Staring at the locked door something clicked.
"Regulus! " He growled, smashing himself against the door. "I swear to God if you've harmed her..."
"Nymphadora were you and your friends hit with a paranoia charm? You can answer me honestly with full faith that this conversation will remain confidential."
"Oh yes, don't mind us!" Chimed in several unseen portraits.
"So you're a psychiatrist and a physician!?" Tonks spluttered.
"Tonks!?" He shouted through the door. "Tonks! What the hell is going on in there?"
"Apparently an epiphany," Drawled Regulus lazily.
"Shut it both of you!" Tonks snapped furiously, the sound of stamping feet reaching his perked ears.
He withdrew his ear from the door just in time, its entire frame shuddering violently as she kicked it from the other side, rendering Crusantheus cross-eyed.
Mahogany door or not, Remus suddenly wondered if that were thick enough to protect him from whatever hex the pissed off Auror had in mind for him. He knew her far too well to entertain any hope of escaping completely unscathed.
Sneakily, with stealth indicative of the low marks she had received on the Stealth and Tracking portion of her Auror examinations, a wand tip snuck beneath the crack between the door and floor.
Remus stared at this odd action, puzzlement the name of his expression. Unfortunately he hesitated just a second too long, for a hot stream of searing sparks suddenly ignited his trousers, a vindicated Ah-ha resounding from the pink haired wonder witch as Remus hopped around, nearly tumbling down the winding staircase in his attempts to douse them.
"Made her angry did you?"
As Ron snickered he had to forcibly restrain himself from snarling in the Weasley's general direction.
"Tonks," He groaned hoarsely, leg still steaming. "What on earth is wrong?"
"What's wrong!? What's wrong?" She clipped with disbelief. "You show up after nearly a month and..."
"Two weeks," He corrected, re-approaching the door as if it were a shark.
"Fine...Two weeks and..."
"Did the idea of talking it through like rational adults ever occur to either of you?" Regulus' muffled voice interjected curiously.
"Stuff a sock in it Reggie," She barked. "The fanged wonder has emerged from his self-induced isolation and now he wants to know what's wrong."
Another loud thump shook the door, his stomach wrenching as he practically felt her leaning against the other side.
Cautiously approaching he ignored Ron's startled stare, pressing his hands against the rough grain. "Tonks..." He whispered gratingly, "I....We don't have time for this now..."
"Gee, what a surprise!" She exclaimed sardonically. "Wolfy doesn't have time for me, who would've thought?"
Regulus emitted a low whistle, clearly closer than before. "Trouble in paradise Lupin? Honestly isn't she a little young for you?"
The distinct sound of someone being smacked echoed through the door and down the stairwell. The heavy sensation within his chest failing to improve.
"At risk of being hexed..."
Remus turned, eyeing Ron with barely concealed annoyance.
The Gryffindor swallowed loudly. "Harry's still out there and we have to find him. We could send Hedwig..."
"Dumbledore already sent Fawkes," Tonks muttered. "He's a step ahead of us as always, yet kept muttering about how Harry could fend for himself now."
Remus' brow furrowed. It was not like Dumbledore to leave someone unaided. Not at all.
"Slow to catch on as always Nympahdora," Regulus remarked condescendingly. "Did it ever occur to you that in lieu of sending a potentially slow scout..."
"I am not slow..."
"Of course not," Regulus snorted. "But rather than letting a search party gallivant around the area, risking further loss of life, he did the smart thing."
"Which is?" Remus could hear Tonks practically hiss through her teeth.
"He sent the fastest messenger he could," He responded smugly. "Surely you don't fancy yourself in the same class of speed as a phoenix, do you cousin?"
Remus' eyes widened in understanding. "He sent them a portkey."
Suddenly everything came together, and it gave him an idea.
"Ron, Tonks..." He stumbled to explain. "I have to..."
"We know," Tonks muttered. "You have to go."
"What's the hold up Lupin, you're quite good at that so get on with it already."
Cringing inwardly he turned and ran for the owlery.
"I'll just stay here then?" Ron yelled sarcastically after his retreating figure.
On the other side of the door Tonks growled, dropped cross-legged to the ground, banged the back of her head against the door, and extended a pointed hand to Regulus.
Her cousin smirked, filling her a well needed glass.
* * * * *
Harry's heart skipped unnaturally. His breath froze. Instinctual alarms ignited a fiery anger within him.
As if in response his calloused fists unconsciously coiled tighter around her shoulders, clenching the soaked folds of her torn sweater as if doing so could somehow dispel the presence lurking within the shadows.
It could not.
A feral growl cut through the wind, the frigid breeze snaking around them, biting bitterly against his skin, whipping Kaylen's soaked hair around her ashen face.
There was nowhere to run...but they had to try.
Like a phantom sound upon the wind came the smacking of monstrous claws upon slick mud, the telltale sound of a beast bent on savagery as it stalked its prey across water-laden hunting grounds.
They were its prey...
Holding her resolute eyes with his, watching as her visage screwed into that of grim resolve, Harry knew he had no choice.
Loosening his hold upon her quietly heaving shoulders, watching the bloody bandages binding his palms sway in the wind, he ground out a single command.
His dark whisper was met with immediate action, for she took flight, mud splattering beneath her feet as she fled for the tree line, her tattered sweater billowing in the wind as she went.
Lightning from the war torn heavens illuminated the desolate battle ground, sending her shadowy silhouette stretching across the matted stretch of grass separating them.
Tensely he watched her, standing his ground.
He refused to follow.
Around him the power of the storm surged, thunder shaking the earth as his scarred fist clenched tightly around the fateful feather of the phoenix that lay deeply imbedded in his faithful holly, his wand arm hanging loosely by his side.
Blinking the water from his eyes he watched in muted fascination. Kaylens was suddenly aware of her solitude, her feet halting into a tumultuous skid across the hunting ground as she fought to stop against the raging wind. The mud finally ceased to give, resisting her sliding feet as her form went slipping beneath the forest's threshold, the dripping canopy throwing shadows across her countenance as she whorled around to regard him.
Beneath the branches her eyes flashed dangerously, for his deception and what it could mean had finally struck her with frightening force. With the detached sense of an onlooker observing an unstoppable calamity he watched as her form went rigid.
She knew there was no time to reach him. His ploy had worked.
Merely six meters separated he from her, yet the distance was uncrossable.
It was how he wanted it.
The swift approach of the werewolf's claws beat against the suctioning ground.
The wolf was charging him, yet he did not move.
Silently his eyes plead with Kaylens, urging her to run.
She did not. Her glorious eyes regarded him with profound hurt and anger, reflecting the lightning shocking through the heavens.
He stood still, feeling death's swift approach for another moment, closing his eyes in resignation for whatever would come to pass.
It was stupid, it was brash, it was the act of a true Gryffindor.
He had known there was no time for them to both run, so he had sent her unwittingly to what he could only pray was relative safety.
If he survived this she would surely kill him, and an odd smile crept upon his cracked lips at the absurdity of the thought.
All of it transpired in a second, his eyes flying wide as the sky split open, roaring as the gods themselves sent their electric fists hurtling down to join the fray.
Lightning struck as he hit the ground hard, ducking as he felt the wolf springing into the air to seize him. Jaws snapped around thin air, right where the back of his neck had been a second before.
The wolf's rear claws slashed out, grazing his back, shredding the fabric of his shirt, just scratching his skin's surface. A pained moan shot from his mouth, yet it was unheard as a fiery bolt of electric death struck the tree line with fearsome intensity.
He was already screaming for Kaylens' to move.
A carnal growl emanated before him, the werewolf's flight ending as its colossal form crashed back onto the earth with one sickening splat of mud and rain, its colossal form skidding on the slick ground as if upon ice.
"Kaylens move!" He screamed, watching as a fiery shower of embers rained down from the split trunk upon her.
Her golden head disappeared within the smoke, a burning tree limb crashing to where she had stood only a second before.
His stomach lurched sickeningly, a choking scream tearing through him, silenced only as the wolf's snarling snout reared around to face him again.
His eyes darkened in rage behind his rain streaked glasses, his wand arm flying out, a cutting hex ripping from his throat as he dove to the side, rolling in the thick sludge.
A pained howl signified that his aim had been true.
Desperately, heart pounding, he again let the cutting hex fly, followed by an onslaught of silver particles as he staggered to his feet, stumbling backwards in a frenzy as the wolf's brutalized pelt sent its recoiling body to the ground.
The silver particles were lodging within the animal's open wounds, and the metal's toxicity was quickly infiltrating its bloodstream.
He felt no pity, only agony as a fiery tendril coiled upwards from the ablaze branch, igniting the soaked canopy.
"Kaylens!" He screamed, bolting for the tree line, watching in horror as smoke began pluming upwards.
It was his fault...she hadn't seen it in time...she had been watching his personal battle instead of running farther...
And he had sent her there.
The noxious fumes came hurtling at him upon an icy gust, choking his lungs, and her name, which his lips had been expelling, came out instead as a ragged cough.
His glasses were somehow lost, dirt and smoke particles replacing them to cut against his retinas, a numbing sensation overtaking him.
He did not see the blow coming.
A massive paw struck him down, sending him hurtling face down into a puddle, his panicked world morphing into a watery brown blur.
His wand flew from his grip, skidding out of reach as he flailed, feeling the weight of the creature atop him as it forced his body to make a new imprint in the malleable earth.
The shallow water lapped around his ears, his mouth flapping around the ill-tasting soil, body sputtering as his traitorous lungs continued their ill-fated attempts to expel the poisonous smoke fumes from them, inhaling water instead.
The spine-crushing weight of the creature was suddenly dispelled, his head snapping up to gasp for breath, his hand blindly summoning his wand to it. The wandless act was lost upon him as a beastly forepaw smashed besides his aching head, an inch shy of shattering his skull.
Above him a new wolf growled venomously.
Flipping onto his back, rolling out of the way, he saw a tree limb lash out, striking the beast hovering above him with a sickening crunch.
The second werewolf, the one he had failed to see in time, fell limp to the ground.
Emerging from the burning alcove of trees Kalliandra callously threw the branch at the creature, ensuring another blow to its head as she appraised her handiwork. A second later her burning eyes were fixated upon him, a furious expression crossing her soot stained features as he was left sputtering upon the ground.
"What the hell were you thinking Potter?!" She coughed out, her voice a harsh rasp. "This is the same stunt you pulled in Hogsmeade! Are you that daft?!"
Still gasping for breath he realized that he had been right. She was going to kill him.
A ridiculously warm sensation flooded him. "Y-you're..."
"Pissed!" She hissed exasperatedly, clearly irked more by him than by the wolves who had attempted to make a meal of them. "You are single handedly the most brash, idiotic, self-centered, suicidal individual that I have ever met! Next time, I'll let the wolves eat you!"
He blinked exhaustedly up at her, chest heaving with pained exertion as the disheveled, slightly charred girl above him ignored the insanely mud ridden, werewolf infested, ablaze world around them, contenting herself with staring him down.
He couldn't help it A small, relief filled smirk tugged at his lips.
"What," She grunted wearily, "Could you possibly find funny about this?"
He grinned. "A lot actually."
Her jaw dropped, flapping soundlessly as the wind sent smoke billowing in a dark cloud behind her, her hand instantly rising to shield her eyes from its thick residue.
"Kaylens," He commented, wiping mud from his face, "You're a rather angry person you know that?"
For a second she appeared to stutter. "Potter..." She threatened raspily, "I'm going to kill you."
He nodded solemnly, gingerly up-righting himself. "Well..." He grunted, pain searing his shoulder. "Get in line."
"Screw that. I get the first crack at..."
Her words ended in a grating cry, a chameleon-like hand having shot forth unseen in the billowing smoke, snatching her thick hair within its pitiless confines. Her soaked tresses were used as an anchor, the disillusioned man callously snapping her head back to expose the slender flesh of her neck to the splintered wood of a blackened wand.
Rain droplets splattered eerily in mid-air against the unseen adversary.
"Drop it Potter," Growled a voice as dark as the night.
The guttural growl sent something dangerous stirring within him, his forest colored eyes remaining glued to Kaylens' cringing countenance.
His brow furrowed as a strange idea began to take shape, his fingers loosened around the holly coated wand.
"Potter don't..." Kaylens' sharp cry was cut off as she was shoved forwards, nearly thrown from her feet by the Death Eater's swift prodding.
The Death Eater was holding her ahead of him, using her as a shield.
"I said drop it boy, or I'll make sure she stays dead this time."
Harry's hand went rigid, his wand falling into the mud.
The counter of the disillusionment charm was muttered as the villain advanced through the coiling smoke, holding Kalliandra ahead of him, the flames' orange light throwing the Death Eater's visceral face into stark focus.
Harry's blood ran cold.
Broussard's companion, the very one Harry had struck down with the killing curse that afternoon, the same one whom he had left for dead in Hogsemead's back alley, now stood shepparding Kaylens before him.
The dead man was alive and well.
"Ah....So you do remember me," The man hissed, eyes gleaming malevolently. "Perhaps you remember my brother, Broussard. I do believe you slashed his throat."
Kaylens hand shot up, yanking at the Death Eater's vice grip. "No less than he deserved you filth..."
A violent knee to the spine sent Kaylens crumbling to her knees, her form suspended by the callous grip on her long locks.
"To lose one's remaining family..." Continued the Death Eater with deadly calm, "In such a manner does not endear one to mercy."
"Now you know what it feels like!" Spat Kaylens, her hands clawing tightly at the man's massive forearms as he drug her forward.
The Death Eater ignored her, his foul gaze fixated upon him. "You're a foolish boy Potter...dabbling in Unforgivables... I'd kill you if I could..."
Harry vibrated with repressed rage, eyes darkening. "Then why don't you?" He challenged, "Get rid of the spare, and it'll be just you and I."
The villain laughed bitterly, "I'm not as stupid as some of the other lackeys boy. You'll have to improve your manipulations if you expect that to work."
"Fine," He spat darkly. "I'm unarmed, you're not. Care to let her go before that changes?"
"Wandless magic is a bit advanced for you bo..."
Something within him snapped, the unconscious magic he had drawn upon in moments of need finally snapping into place.
A shot of energy flew through him, the familiar wooden handle flying back to his hand, quickly summoned, drawn, and aimed.
Only where the Death Eater's heart had been now rested Kaylens, for the villain had yanked her forcibly from her knees to again shield him. Her cry of pain echoed through the clearing, rising above the crackling of burning wood.
"As intriguing as this is Potter, we came to deliver a message. Nothing more."
Harry's voice dropped to a growl, "Since when did a message entail taking my head off?"
The man's lips curled into a snarl. "It didn't. That was just fun."
"A rather perverse idea of fun, don't you think?"
"Considering what you did to my brother, I'd say I'm in the presence of similar company."
"He's nothing like you!" Kaylens shouted furiously.
A powerful yank sent her head snapping back, his insides lurching as the resounding crack of her protesting vertebrae.
"Quiet girlie!" Hissed the villain, spit dribbling as he spoke. "You're already an endangered species, I'd hate for you to go extinct."
"Ah yes," She spat scathingly, straining against the man's arms. "And I'm sure your precious master would be pleased with that."
Shaking violently he watched as she writhed against her captor, the callous man glaring vindictively down.
Hands coiling into tight fists, Harry began inching to the side, the sound of mud suctioning against shoe soles masked by the resounding thunder.
If he could get an angle around her, he could make his shot...
"And to think, I thought catching Veelas was the worst assignment...but no matter..."
It took everything he had to suppress his outward horror, for the man had already drawn and used the unseen dagger, plunging it shallowly into the flesh of her shoulder, dragging it across her skin. A second later the villain had a cylindrical vial held beneath her freely flowing blood, bottling it as her eyes scrunched in a painful grimace, her mind undoubtedly feeling history repeating itself.
"There, that oughta appease my Lord in the event of your untimely..." The man was running his wand along her wound, a black light radiating as her flesh sealed beneath it. "Well....end anyway..."
Blinded by rain, Harry's eyes went white with anger.
"You won't lay a finger on her."
In the shadows the man smiled. "It seems I've already lain several."
As he stood there, the running mud curling around his feet, he felt sick. He was cornered, for if he acted brusquely Kaylens was dead. And if he failed to act, they could both meet the same fate.
His hardened eyes narrowed, chest rising with stressful exertion, as the vile man continued speaking.
"All the Dark Lord wants is the prophecy Potter, yet if you continue this stubborn refusal that little mudblooded friend of yours will wind up dead." The man grinned evilly. "And we all know you don't want that to happen."
His wand shook, so hard was his grip upon it.
"Just think...what has your stubborn refusal gotten you thus far? Certainly it did wonders for improving that blood traitor Black's current state howeve..."
"Sirius was a good man," He heard himself hissing.
The man merely inclined an eyebrow. "Ah yes, I seem to remember him fancying himself as such even during our school years. He, the noble Black, always criticizing Broussard and I...the two Detreck brothers were worthless to him, even the one from his own House..."
Harry felt unwell, anger and hate vibrating unceremoniously within.
"Your father was much the same...both never sparing even a thought for the noble Black's own kin..." He continued, the same tone of superiority dripping from his words. "Sirius always wondered what finally sent Regulus to the ranks of the Death Eaters. Would you like me to tell you?"
Kaylens attempted to twist away, the massive man easily batting her attempt aside.
"The deciding factor you see, was Sirius' stubborn refusal to acknowledge his brother as an equal," He revealed. "The arrogant fool followed those resisting the Dark Lord blindly, never stopping to consider who was really in the right. He and the rest of those Gryffindor fools following Dumbledore never even understood our reasons..."
"Oh?" Harry shot out, "And how are we justifying cold-blooded murder these days?"
The man's teeth glinted in the firelight. "There's no need to justify anything, because the war hungry Muggles will not be content to leave our kind alone forever. It's kill or be killed Potter. The Dark Lord is simply acting preemptively, before those filthy Muggles get the chance."
"And what of the anti-Muggle wards?" Harry asked scathingly, thinking quickly. "If you're really as superior to them as you'd like to believe, then all of your 'pureblood' magic ought to prevent that, wouldn't you think?"
The Death Eater Detreck laughed. He actually laughed.
"Tell me Potter, with all of the inter-marrying between Wizards and Muggles, how would you propose keeping our world forever hidden? Eventually we will become exposed, and when that happens the Muggles will recognize the potential threat we hold."
Inching towards the heat of the fire, and its veil of smoke, Harry allowed him to talk, wracking his mind for a plan.
"Once that happens I'm quite sure they will be keen in showing us mercy. Perhaps the same kind that was given to the Jews of their second World War, or that which was shown to the indigenous people of the Americas when the new lands were discovered. Or to the witches of Salem..."
Kaylens cut him off.
"You can't possibly believe every Muggle is like tha..."
A dagger was thrust to her throat, silencing her words as blood prickled her skin. A sadistic look of calm crossed the eldest Detreck's face as he held it there.
"You see Harry, Muggles are unlike us," Continued the monster. "They have yet to conquer their animalistic natures, and for that they must be silenced, before they can silence us."
"And all of this entails killing Muggleborns how?" Harry pointed out, desperate to keep the man talking.
"Every war has casualties Potter, and in this one anyone sympathetic to those primitive creatures runs the risk of becoming one."
"They're not primitive..."
"Yet they wage war upon other countries, killing their own kind without thought, acti..."
"Since Death Eaters do the same thing I guess you would know."
"Our killing is at least educated, and justified by more than wars over boundaries."
Harry's voice shook with suppressed rage. "Nothing can justify cold blooded murder..."
"You would know then," Hissed the man, sneering spitefully. "After all, once a killer, always a killer, or am I wrong on that Potter?"
He remained silent, watching as Detreck slowly lowered his blade from her throat.
"Despite what you think, you are very much alike us Potter, and thus my Lord has a proposal of sorts for you."
Watching the tension leave Kalliandra's neck, her face slumping gratefully forward without fear of impalement upon the knife's blade, he grunted. "So what deal is it this time? Join him and he spares my life?"
"No, simply reveal the missing part of the prophecy in exchange for your friend's family's lives."
The man's eyes glittered evilly, acrid smoke billowing out with a change of the winds.
"In the Department of Mysteries, in the Hall of Prophecies, you remember the shelves upon shelves filled with the foretellings of seers past?"
"Then surely you were not arrogant enough to believe that yours was the only foretold regarding this war."
His shoulders stiffened, for he actually had.
From the forest's edge, scant meters away, resounded the cracking of a tree limb as it finally burnt away. It fell into the burning underbrush, sending a flash of fire bulging outwards on impact.
In the cacophonous roar of heat and flame all parties scattered, the smoke clearing in time for Harry to see Kaylens still in the villain's vice grip, her apparent bolt for freedom hindered by the man's muscular arm which had tightened around her.
Her elbow to his torso went ignored, the massive man's muscles protecting him. Detreck merely grunted, hauling her to her feet as the smoke dispersed, the rain beginning to smoother the flames.
"We waste time. In the hall of prophecies there is another with your name on it, or did that decrepit old man fail to inform of you of its existence as well?"
Somehow he managed to avoid snapping his wand, despite the shaking of his fists.
"When you find that, and divulge its contents, only then will our Lord release your precious Mudblooded friend."
"You're lying," Harry spat, the acrid taste of smoke on his tongue. "If I told you, he'd kill her anyway."
The man's lips curled. "Perhaps...but if you had something else to offer him, something in addition to that...something he very much desired...than perhaps once you'd revealed the second prophecy, he'd return her if your word was given to reveal another once the exchange was made."
Harry shook his head disbelievingly, "Since when has ole Riddle trusted my word?"
"How dare you defile his name..."
Harry nearly laughed, "Defile? Just so you know, as someone well acquainted with his Muggle father's headstone, I can assure you that is indeed his name."
Kalliandra's head was suddenly yanked violently back, the wand again to her throat. All thoughts of traumatizing the Death Eater with mockery of its leader flew from his mind, his eyes glued to her pale, soaked face.
"What else does he want to know?"
The eldest Detreck leered triumphantly, "When you find the prophecy regarding 'the daughter of a man of power upon Gaelic soil' you will have what he is looking for. There is no name attached, therefore it may be seized by anyone."
Through the wind Harry's yell seemed almost faint. "And if I don't find it?"
"Then that Mudblood of yours dies. Unless you find something better to offer."
With icy certainty Harry realized that the conversation was nearly over, Kaylens' fate hanging in the balance.
"You see boy, you may have defied our Lord thus far, but you can't forever. In the end he wins, you lose, and if Dumbledore's ill-thought resistance continues..."
A prod in the shoulder sent Kaylens stumbling forward, her hands suddenly bound.
"Then all these spares will meet the same fate as those noble parents of yours."
Kalliandra's eyes flew up, surprise flitting through them even in the darkness. He met them, painfully holding onto them, grasping for seconds through the downpour so she could see how sorry he was, for the past, for where his short sightedness had landed them, and still...for what he may have to do.
There was simply no time left.
Somehow, the concern swimming within her golden orbs conveyed what he needed to know.
His jaw set determinedly, he re-aimed his wand.
Kalliandra went crumbling to the ground, her limp form lying in a single mud-sodden heap, the Death Eater's face twisting in surprise as another stunner flew from Harry's wand.
He had done the one thing Detreck could not have counted on. Injuring a comrade, thereby removing her from harms way while simultaneously clearing the path to the enemy.
His stunner struck the enemy directly in the chest, a second before a cruel voice resounded behind him.
Harry fell hard, his body imprinting the soft ground as a thousand white hot knives sliced slowly, than brutally at his flesh. His vision was blinded, by mud, rain, and pain, yet he still saw the hairy man, half-way through the werewolf transformation, walking around him, reviving Detreck...
The werewolf Kaylens had taken out had awoken.
As he screamed, convulsing in pain, rolling in the slick stream that had become the clearing's grounds, he heard their arguing voices.
"....belongs to the Dark Lords, not us....we can't harm him....leave it to him....dealt with in due time....orders were....deliver message....leave them...."
The never-ending agony suddenly lifted, his tortured nerves still spasming as he somehow rolled to face them. His hand flopped around pathetically, fingers closing without strength upon thin air, searching for the familiar holly wood he had lost a hold of during his convulsions.
"You can waste time chasing after us, or her Potter. Think about it."
The wet air resonated with the sharp cracks of disapparation, his muscular synapses finally firing at his command. With soreness outshining the most grueling trials of human endurance he thrust himself up, his hands sinking into the muddy dirt, eyes frantically scanning the clearing.
Kaylens was nowhere to be seen.
Heart lurching sickeningly, he stumbled to his feet. Sliding, staggering, he peered through the darkness, summoning his wand from where it had sunk beneath the uprooted grass.
Lightning flashed, casting an eerie glow across the water.
Kaylens lay facedown, floating within it.
His feet moved, faster than he would have thought possible, plunging into the chest deep water. Quickly he propelled himself to where she lay submerged, floating just below the surface. Only her bound wrists, pushed upwards by the gentle water's lapping, remained emerged in the air, her hair fanning out behind her head
His arms quickly sought her, wrapping around her shoulders to pull her out, letting her dead weight fall hard against him.
His hand fell to her chest, his spoken words a whisper against the storm.
The warmth spread from between his fingers, his unconsciously done magic triggering no reaction in her.
The spell was removed, yet she remained unresponsive. He had expected coughing, shouting, something.
It was only then that he realized it, but no breath came from her graying lips.
Defense lessons had taught him about more than countering spells, and he was already turning her limp form to face him, using the water's buoyancy to cradle her as her face lolled back.
His numbing, pained fingers quickly wiped the plastered hair from her lips, a sick feeling rising in his chest as his eyes flickered across the vacant grounds.
The Death Eaters were gone....they would not come back.
Heart wrenching, he acted, pressing his mouth against hers as he pushed precious oxygen in, breathing for her, listening to the odd hiss of his breath making its way through her air passages.
Pulling away, waiting for the rise of her chest against his, he felt nothing.
Panicked eyes flickered over her peaceful face before his mouth once again descended, capturing her icy lips with his own in another breath of desperation. One arm was tightening around her, the other cradling her head as he pinched her nose.
Again he waited.
The rise in her chest as he had breathed had been barely discernable, and now there was nothing. A single thought flitted through his frightened mind. He was doing this wrong.
In that single moment of paralyzing horror he suddenly understood. Her air passage was clogged.
He had to clear it.
He was already turning her limp form around, allowing her back to fall against him as his fists sought her midsection. With a single, powerful drive he thrust them in and upwards, feeling her body spasm in a small shudder.
Again he repeated the motion, thrusting forcefully. Her limp form seized violently in response, her upper body falling forward as a racking cough shook her, the water expelling from her lungs. Harry lunged forward with her, arms wrapping around her chest, preventing her face from again hitting the traitorous water.
His forearms strained against her as she convulsed, choking on the wind, gasping as cough after shuddering cough shook her thin frame. Shivering in the frigid water his pounding heart calmed until she leaned loosely forward, gasping breathlessly.
Without a word he pulled her against him, clutching her quivering form flush to his own, her head falling against his shoulder. Her shallow panting caressed his skin, the rising of her chest against his reassuring him in an inexplicable way.
Slowly he fought to control the hitching of his own fast drawn breaths, for after everything he felt ready to crumble, only he suddenly found himself the pillar to which she clung.
Resting his chin atop her head, peering into the night, he silently prayed that what he had overheard was accurate. For if he was really considered Voldemort's toy, needed to perform a task, then he truly was untouchable.
In theory they would again be safe, until Riddle decided to again 'chat.'
As of now, if he were wrong, then their only refuge would be the water they stood shivering within, and he had yet to properly master the bubble-head charm for hiding beneath its murky depths. Now their only true protection lay within the veil of cat-tails rising high above the shimmering water's surface, obscuring them from all.
Icy wind howled, sending the reeds around them dancing.
Breathing unsteadily, the scent of burnt wood filled his nostrils. The storm was slowly winning the battle against the blaze, extinguishing the aflame underbrush and trees, and the light of the fire was slowly dying. Tilting his face down he watched the fiery orange glow reflecting from her wet cheeks, lending some warmth to her pale hue.
"Are you alright?" He finally whispered, his shivering hands smoothing her tangled, sopping hair from her face. She simply breathed against him, hair dripping across his shoulders, her entire form quivering.
Tightening his arms around her, he again whispered his query, his questioning lips brushing along her earlobe. "Kaylens?" He murmured shakily, breathing against her hair. "You okay?"
In his arms she nodded imperceptivity, his trepidation for her alone sending his heart thundering. His relief was palpable, as was the feel of her beneath his hands.
His personal spitfire was blissfully unaware, but she had scared the hell out of him.
Raindrops continued falling, heavy and strong, splattering against the water with hypnotic melody. Somehow, without reason, his knuckles were rising, tracing alone her jaw line, a drowsy murmur leaving her pale, cracked lips at his touch.
Instinctively his strong arms began enveloping her tighter, pressing her to him needingly, his reasons elusive. Surprisingly her delicate hands were responding, rising to press against his chest. Her gentle fingertips brushed his bare skin, sliding along his pectorals where his sweater hung tattered and loose, courtesy of the werewolves' claws and the forest's snaring bramble.
Beneath the rippling water a gentle tingling was radiating onto him, traveling wherever her cool skin fell into contact with his own, as if tiny bits of static electricity were passing between them.
Somehow he understood, for he was feeling her true magic. She seemed unaware that she was releasing any, but her telling signature was trailing across him in a maddening way, just below the rippling surface, veiled from his eyes.
Yet somehow, he could not look away.
Slowly, surely, the maddening sensation of her fingers tangling within his jumper drove the unconscious concerns from his mind, his bright eyes finally falling shut to the night, hiding beneath the dark, matted hair slung dripping across his scarred brow.
Upon his neck he felt her lips parting, an exhausted sigh escaping against his skin. His face dipped in response, burrowing within her rain scented hair.
"You know..." He disclosed softly, shivering in the wind. "You may be more trouble than you're worth."
A soft laugh, scarcely there, sent his skin tingling.
"Oh?" She breathed, her hoarsely spoken words tinged with amusement. "And you're not?"
"Point take," He conceded, a low laugh vibrating his throat.
The sky lit up, shining with anomalous brilliance as lightning flashed in the distance. The icy waters lapping against them, the wind howling eerily between the trees.
"Potter...." She mumbled, his hand rising to fall upon the smooth skin of her neck at the sound. "What happened?"
Her voice was barely a whisper, trailing away as his fingers went trailing down the smooth skin of her neck, feeling her pulse beating with regularity beneath them.
"Apparently," He murmured gruffly, her light breathing a feather tracing across his skin, "I can't leave you alone for a minute."
"I could say the same for you," She said breathlessly, shivering as his hands rose along the contours of her form. First his hands were gripping her waist, next rising along her sides, sliding to caress the skin covering her ribcage, just beneath her breasts.
His breath hitched with hers, her arms rising to encircle his neck, cupping the back of his head. Quickly her hands were becoming lost within his untamable hair, the same unruliness that he had so oft heard her criticize, yet now felt her reveling in.
The earthy scent of mingled mud and rain was somehow intoxicating upon her, drawing him in more than he could allow, more than he should allow. Yet he was, his lips already lowering to hers, the thickly strung tension of a thousand harsh exchanges vibrating between the two as his mouth fell upon hers, capturing her lips as he had when pulling her limply from the icy water. Only now her mouth was moving against his, the taste of salty sweat lingering upon his tongue. Her taste was mingling with the refreshing rain pouring upon them, cascading down their faces.
His clothing clung wetly to him as his hands sought out her tangled hair. He frenziedly felt her deepening the contact of their lips, the rough stubble of his chin scratching her in the process. A slight grumble sent his own lips trembling against hers with laughter, her hands squeezing his shoulders in retaliatory fashion. His own mouth was parting again, gasping, never relaxing the pressure against her lips as he fought for breath against her, feeling her doing the same.
A second later he again seized her, his lower lip being tugged gently between her own, an odd growl coming unbidden from his throat. For a tempestuous moment she quivered with seeming amusement before his agile hands responded, running along her neck's vertebrae, a startled whimper falling from her lithe lips.
"Kaylens..." He murmured, his arms desperately gathering her against him, his mouth deliriously relishing her taste. Suddenly he was ignorant of the rain pouring around them, aware only of her hands wicked onslaught as they slipped beneath his shirt's collar, sliding along the bare skin of his shoulders, caressing his back. His hair dripped into his face, and with rushed breaths their ill-concealed passions radiated, their mouths moving in a stormy fervor. Within his arms was the girl Harry had feared to have lost before he had known what it was to have, and he had no plans of letting go.
Slowly, panting breathlessly, Kalliandra pulled away. Her fingers still clung to him, the rain pouring freely upon her flushing skin. Water droplets were dampening her brow, and her fingers slipped out from beneath his shirt to linger upon his collarbone. Unable to let her leave he leaned his brow against hers, cupping her face in his hands, feeling her eyelashes fluttering open against his cheeks.
His own jade eyes flickered hazily open, meeting the deep hazel ones regarding him. She was blinking against the rain, her confused eyes revealing her barely concealed emotion.
Breathing heavily he leaned forward, brushing his mouth against hers, kissing her slowly. He was taking his time now...without the rush, without the desperation, without the fear of having nearly lost her. Thumbs running along her high cheekbones, carefully wiping the mud from her face, his lips moved needingly across hers.
Again they parted, her mouth moving in a soft, disbelieving whisper.
"You've lost your mind..."
"I know," He murmured, pressing his mouth to hers chastely. "You won't tell anyone will you?"
She smiled against his lips, shaking her head slowly. "No..." She whispered, amusement tingeing her intonations. "This won't leave the clearing."
"Good," He quipped, smiling deviantly. "I would have hated to Obliviate you."
"What makes you think I would have minded?"
Burying his lips near her ear, he emitted a low growl, "You would have."
Combing his fingers through her thick, mud-laden hair, he felt her slender form again began to shiver, her quivering more pronounced than before.
Wrapping his arms tighter around her form, he murmured his curiosity. "Does this mean you've forgiven me for stunning you?"
She grumbled indecipherably for a moment, before suddenly growing tense, her face swiveling towards the visible clearing, eyes flickering with sudden recollection.
"Harry...." She whispered seriously, all lightness gone from her voice. "What happened to the Death Eate..."
"Gone," He assured softly, "They're gone. They won't be back. Minus the dead one."
Her eyes remained adverted, warily gazing through the rain into the darkness of night.
"How can you be sure?"
He smiled sadly, the warmth within him slowly dissipating as his war filled experiences, the ones that had taught him the rules of engagement, flew through his mind.
"Because...." He whispered hauntingly, "They delivered their message. They had their fun. For them that was enough, for the time being."
"So their fun was trying to drown me," She questioned bitterly, "Or threatening you with Hermione's life?"
Her eyes flickered across his, her expression sending something wrenching inside.
"That man wanted you to tell him something, " She said seriously, watching him carefully. "Yet you wouldn't. Why?"
He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple rising strongly within his throat. "Because I'd rather die than allow them the information they need."
"Than what stopped them from forcing you to go with them?"
His hand rose, trailing across her cheek, her breath faltering at his touch. Without reason his brow was again pressed against hers, her face so close that he could see the brown flecks within her irises dancing with each flash of lightning.
"Even if they had," He whispered sullenly, "Even if they had tortured Hermione right in front of me, I still would never tell. Because the second I did we would have all been dead."
Distant thunder shook the sky, Kalliandra's eyes falling shut against the wet onslaught. His remained upon her, never leaving as her chest rose and fell against his. The gentle rhythm of her breathing was inexplicably calming.
"If the man is so ruthless..." She finally spoke, "Why would he offer you the choices he did?"
"Because as ruthless as he is, he's also intelligent. Voldemort knows his only chance in hell of getting anything out of me would be by offering an exchange: Hermione for the information, at a neutral location." He paused, breathing heavily, watching the stirring across her countenance.
"It's the only way I could ensure her safety," He finished solemnly.
Against his forehead he felt a light frown creasing her brow. A moment later her veiled eyes fell open, observing him guardedly.
"How could Voldemort possibly know what you're thinking?"
His fingers clenched and unclenched around her arms in a tense rhythm. "Because Kalliandra, Voldemort and I have been playing this game for a long time. And were both getting better at it."
Her mouth parted questioningly, his fingers rising to press carefully against them, silencing her queries.
"Please, don't ask. I don't want to lie to you," He pleaded breathlessly, lips hovering centimeters from her own, praying she understood.
Against him she nodded, wet droplets cascading down her paling face. This time it was she who sealed the scant space between them, her slick arms winding around his neck, her body pressing flush against his.
For some reason, as her parted lips allowed his tongue entry, he suddenly felt more afraid than he ever had.
The stakes had been raised that day, for with his best friend gone he suddenly had so much to lose, and it was the girl he remained intertwined with that had sent fissures running through his heavily erected walls.
Pulling away, gasping fervently, he suddenly was unsure of whether to hate her or love her for that.
"You're infuriating..." He murmured, nose nuzzling her cheek.
"Likewise," She gasped breathlessly, water-laden strands of hair falling over her eyes
They simply remained, hovering within the embrace of the other, until a flash of red crossed the night, circling to rest upon the pond's edge.
Whilst she stiffened, Harry almost laughed in relief.
The fiery phoenix was watching them silently, something suspiciously like an old rag dropped near its feet, its feathery head cocked at a peculiar angle.
If Harry had not known better, he would say Fawkes looked amused.
Fire and Earth by sagesolon Rated: Mature Genre: Mystery, Action/Adventure, Drama
The Weasley's and their adoptive family have worn through the rise of Voldemort and the Final Battle. There have been many deaths, but what happens on the brightest of day's has repercussions far and wide ranging. Now they are left to pick up the pieces. Welcome to a story of hope, where the survivors are left to follow the clues, attempting to solve the puzzle before the serial killer strikes again. While this is a relatively new story it contains one of the most intriguing plots that I have been lucky enough to stumble across. Pairing: Harry/Hermione
Hearts, Bars, and Scars by sagesolon Rated: Mature Genre: Romance, Action/Adventure, Angst
The final battle has long since past, yet to the Chosen One its repercussions sting as painfully as they did on the day he lost her. His only solace is found within his nightly escapes to the Muggle realm, to where he is unrecognized in the dimly lit pubs, to where he is no longer in a world that constantly reminds him of the red hair of his dreams. Yet when a Muggle as much in need of solace as he makes the mistake of sending a friend to ask for his phone number in a steamy pub, Harry suddenly finds a respite to that lingering despair. The only problem is how to explain his world to one content with magic card tricks? Well...the lure of a vacation definitely has its good points! This story has an almost film noir quality at its start, and it progresses into a very 'feel good', laugh out loud, read. Pairing: Harry/Muggle OC
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which transports Oxygen throughout the body. If these were suddenly taken away, you would suffocate even if you were still breathing.
Platelets are responsible for the body's ability to form blood clots. Without platelets, you would bleed to death from a simple cut on the arm.
Sorry for the impromptu biology lesson, but in writing this chapter I did not feel like explaining these basic concepts since I assumed that the characters, due to one too many hospital wing visits, would already know what these are. I also took a few creative liberties, so bear with me on those.
"Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles."
~ Samuel Smiles ~
Chapter 27 ~ The Companion of Grief
Near dawn she found him there. He was still awake, as she had known he would be.
Dean was flat on his back, staring at the rich, blood red canopy of his bed. His eyes had not moved from the canopy in hours, for fear of seeing the empty bed besides him, and they did not move as his bed hangings stirred in the eerie light.
Ginny slipped between them, crawling across the covers until she lay besides him. Wordlessly he had wound his arms around her small frame, an icy pain twisting within him. It was a heavy guilt, for he had his friend's warm comfort while her boyfriend had naught to see save for the cold white sheet draped over his closed eyes.
Seamus was gone, and it felt like a dagger had been driven through him.
It dawned a dark, gray-red dawn, and the sinister rain outside continued, pooling upon the window sills. He could not close the windows, nor block out the chilled wind, for when he had first seen Seamus' empty bed that night he had thrown open each pane, tearing the wooden panels from their hinges.
Now the water dripped onto the floor, the irregular rhythm serving to drive him closer and closer to the breaking point. It was a sound Neville seemed oblivious to, for his dorm mate's steady snores filled the air, and with each passing sound Dean felt the urge to smash something violently.
His fingers twisted in Ginny's red hair, reminding him of her presence. Though Seamus was gone, she was still there.
He had a reason to remain strong.
Still he did not look at her. Gradually her quiet breaths became regular, but his dark eyes remained open, staring at the canopy.
It was all he could do.
* * * * *
Harry watched as Angelina ran from the room, unable to shake the icy sensation slithering within him. He knew he should not care, he could not...
Yet he did.
Seconds after port-keying to Lupin's manor, as he had regained his footing in the candlelit foyer, Kalliandra had lost consciousness. His shivering body had clutched her against his chest, and that was how Angelina had found them.
It was becoming clearer, the harshly exchanged words between Kaylens and the headmaster...the ones he had overheard in the hospital wing... It seemed ages ago, yet they echoed hauntingly fresh within his head.
"Considering that I'm the one you can't cure..."
"Kalliandra, looking at it as a death sentence will not help matters."
"You're right. Nothing will."
Angelina had claimed that the physical stresses of the night had just finally taken their toll, saying how magical travel was often too much for a weakened body to take. She had told him everything was going to be fine, to not worry...
Her eyes betrayed her words for the lies they were.
"Harry, set her there. Help me get her sleeves..."
Angelina was back, having returned with a hoard of supplies. He did as he was told, laying Kalliandra on the faded couch. She sunk into the torn up cushions, stuffing bulging out at the additional weight. It appeared to be the only real piece of furniture on the first floor, and he too squeezed onto it.
He couldn't leave her.
Reaching down he grasped the cuff of her wet sleeve, rolling it up. With every inch of exposed flesh another bruise was revealed, his insides twisting at the thick, deep purple marks lining her delicate skin. In the dark of the clearing he had not even noticed...
Angelina knelt besides them, her hands moving methodically, with the calculated movements born of her healer training. His former teammate was now cleaning the inside of Kalliandra's elbow, inserting a small needle into the bluish line of her vein. He could only watch from where he sat on Lupin's worn couch, holding Kaylens messy head of hair in his lap.
"Harry hold this...hold it high..."
He nodded mutely, taking the clear plastic bag from her, watching the yellowish-brown fluid sloshing within it. Following Angelina's instructions he held it shoulder high, unable to remove his eyes from Kaylens' serene face. Her deep hazel eyes were now hidden behind pale eyelids, her face in desperate need of washing. A streak of mud still highlighted her cheekbone, a gray coat of ashes lending her a ghostly, freckled appearance.
Reaching down Harry brushed her hair aside, revealing a dried smear of blood hiding near her hairline.
A deep bruise was forming there as well.
In fluid motions his former housemate attached a long, clear tube to the IV in her arm with a quiet click, retrieving the fluid filled bag from him. With both of his hands finally free he found himself smoothing the hair away from her face, wiping the mud away with his thumbs.
He could feel Angelina's eyes on him. "She needs to rest Harry."
He did not answer right away, contenting himself to watch as Angelina wove her wand, the IV bag rising to remain suspended in mid-air. Slowly the liquid began dripping from the bag into a small, tube-like chamber.
Swallowing hard, his gaze rose pointedly to Angelina's.
"What are you giving her?"
Angelina never ceased working, and she was already shooing Harry's hands out of the way as she carefully grasped Kalliandra's other limp arm, tapping just above the elbow with her wand.
Kaylens' blue vein bulged just long enough for another syringe needle to be inserted, only this time Angelina was drawing blood samples, rather than starting a drip infusion.
"Angelina?" He prompted gruffly.
The young healer sighed wearily, "It's a mixture of red blood cells and platelets Harry." She pulled back on the syringe, and it began filling with a viscous, dark red blood.
Harry hastily looked away.
"Why does she need that?" He ground out, his voice hoarse with exhaustion.
Leaving the needle in her arm Angelina unscrewed the full syringe barrel, setting the blood sample upon a floating tray she had conjured. She made quick work of attaching a new, empty one to the needle as she repeated the process.
"How about you Harry?" Angelina asked dismissively. "Knowing you, you've probably managed to bang yourself up good."
"Don't change the subject."
Angelina's dark eyes darted up, "I'm not. But I'm a healer, that's why Dumbledore left me to wait for you two. I just had to check."
His tired eyes turned to his own hands. He flipped them over, observing his healed, calloused palms. The deep slashes the broken glass had left were gone. Fawkes' tears had healed them, dripping into his wounds when he had reached through the thick rain to take the port key.
Before he even had a chance to wonder why Fawkes had bothered healing such minor injuries, the phoenix had flown away.
"I'm fine," He replied staidly, realizing he meant it. No longer could he feel the stinging scratches, torn by the werewolf's claws, down his back. Even the bone deep chill the icy rain had left was gone.
All that was left was the sick sensation churning within his stomach, his only relief the girl in his lap, who was incapable of responding enough to ease his fears.
"What's wrong with her?"
In the empty, windowless room, Angelina removed the needle from her arm.
"Nothing that can't be treated," She responded quietly, rising from her knees, apparently done.
"That's not what I asked."
He did not miss the way her eyes avoided his.
"Nothing that I can tell you. For what it's worth...I'm sorry about that Harry."
He swallowed, the sound seeming much louder in the still air. He bowed his head, spying a spot of gray ash near the corner of Kalliandra's mouth. Without thought his thumb wiped it away, his stiff demeanor relaxing as a sleepy murmur emerged from her cold lips.
Angelina watched it all, silently placing each of the blood samples into a cool carrying case. For a moment her clinical nature vanished, a sad look overcoming her ebony features.
It was then that it all came together for Harry. Every little detail that she had let slip, every sign of fatigue, every word the Death Eaters had said...
"It has to do with what she is, doesn't it?"
Though he had asked, there was no question in his tone.
Angelina rose a skeptical eyebrow, "Then you do know?"
His eyes rose to hers, "Yes. That's why you couldn't tell me. Dumbledore isn't aware I know."
She sighed tiredly, but he was already continuing. "Ron and the others, you said they're fine and that they were taken to Hogwarts."
She just nodded, earning a hard look from him.
"Then why were we brought here?"
"I wish I knew. All I know is that the Order is finally utilizing the safe houses it's been setting up."
His brow crinkled, his hands unconsciously caressing Kalliandra's damp hair, which was strewn across his lap, leaving wet marks upon his trousers. "There are other places asides from headquarters?"
"Of course. Don't ask where, because I don't know."
His smile was strained, "Clever really...not letting any one person know too much about anything in case they're caught."
His lapse from the dark topic plaguing him could continue no longer, for the feeling of carefully controlled panic was rising.
Indicating the IV bag, he shot out a question. "Why does she need that?"
"Perhaps I'm not the best person to explain that."
"You're a healer," He said in a carefully controlled tone. "Who better?"
Angelina opened her mouth, as if to respond, but she never got the chance.
"Perhaps I can. If you would only allow me."
Harry's head spun, as did Angelina's. Neither had heard the person's arrival, and his heart was thundering at the fatalistic possibilities that could have resulted from such a lapse on their parts.
His eyes narrowed, anger mixing with relief as he saw another loved one intact and standing in the hall's doorframe. A bitter laugh broke his throat, and he gestured into the room.
"By all means Professor, it is your house after all."
Professor Lupin stepped wearily into the room, looking worse for the wear. But then again, Harry reflected, didn't they all? The thought nearly sent Harry laughing. Instead he bit it back, another bitter sound growling deep in his throat.
From the look on Lupin's face, Harry knew he had noticed. The deep lines on the man's face betrayed an inner pain, one Harry felt all too acutely.
It was the pain of loss. Only Harry knew Lupin had lost far more than he ever had. Of course, he was still young. There was time to catch up in that category.
As if sensing his dark thoughts, Kalliandra stirred. His attention was suddenly riveted to her, his hand on her cheek. Half of him hoped desperately for her to awaken, while another part feared that his one chance of discovering what ailed her would then slip away.
She was far too stubborn to burden anyone else with her pain. He knew that now.
It was startling how much could change in less than twenty four hours.
Harry's half angry, half questioning gaze finally rose. He was startled to discover Angelina's absence. Somehow she had slipped away unnoticed, leaving he and Lupin alone.
After having been ignored by him for over two weeks, he wasn't sure if he was happy about that or not.
"It's good to see you Harry."
"Is it?" He couldn't help it, but his voice was cold.
Lupin looked stung. "Of course it is."
"Well forgive me for being skeptical," Harry replied sarcastically. "It's not like you haven't spoken to me in awhile."
"I had my reasons."
He inclined an eyebrow, "You had reasons for believing Sirius all-but-killed my mum and dad too."
"That's below the belt Harry."
Remus ran a weary hand through his graying hair, leaning back against the wall. For the longest time neither spoke, the entire meeting arousing conflicting emotions within Harry.
He wanted to slug him. For what he had done to him, to Tonks, to Kaylens...by ignoring them simply to shelter them from his canine side. For having left him to deal with the pain of Sirius' death alone. For having had the audacity to walk in, saying hello, as if nothing were amiss between the two. For having sent not one owl that summer.
All of Harry's pent up frustrations with Lupin were finally bubbling over, conveyed in the single icy look he shot him.
Outside the cold, first of November wind rattled the sidings. The weather matched his black mood perfectly.
"I'm sorry Harry."
He nearly laughed. "Are you?"
"For everything," Lupin whispered chokingly.
Harry looked up, meeting the pleading stare of his father's last living friend. Suddenly he did not see the man who had inspired such a feeling of abandonment.
Instead...he saw his family.
He swallowed hard, remembering the rifts he and Ron had been through, and the one they were in now. All those years ago, when he and Ron had fought during the Tri-Wizard tournament, Hermione had called them stupid.
She had been right.
Life was too short to hold grudges.
The reminder of Hermione's plight, and the thought that Remus could be taken just as easily, sent him stumbling for words. "Just..." He started, forcing a strained smile. "Don't let it happen again."
Remus' light brown eyes were nothing but honest. Suddenly, despite his lingering fears for Hermione...for Ron...for Ginny...for Dean...for Tonks...for Dumbledore...for Remus....for Neville....for Luna...for Kalliandra...
It was all too much to take, but suddenly he felt that he may not be quite so desperately alone in facing all of it.
"Thank you," He said quietly, truly meaning it.
Remus simply smiled sadly, inclining his head towards the slumbering girl in his lap.
"How is she?"
Harry felt his brow instinctively furrow, his brain once again compartmentalizing what he could worry about, and impact, in the here and now.
"I'm not sure," He replied honestly. "But Profes....Remus, what's happening to her?"
The startled look upon Remus's face faded, his kind eyes regarding him carefully.
"I assume you already know then."
"Yes," He heard himself whispering, his voice filled with naked concern.
Remus studied him for a long moment, his eyes falling on the movement of Harry's hands as he stroked Kalliandra's long hair.
For some reason Harry did not care if Remus noticed.
The former professor's brow crinkled with both curiosity and pity at the connotations Harry's gestures conveyed. "Are you sure you really want to know Harry? Sometimes not knowing is best, for when you know..." Remus' gaze was suddenly far off, as if peering into the distant past.
"Sometimes Harry, the truth will simply haunt you."
Harry's throat constricted, the tears glistening within Remus' eyes far too clear.
"What if it already does?"
The elder man smiled sadly, "Then I'd say things between the two of you have changed. After all, she's out cold and you have yet to try and throttle her."
A sad laugh bubbled out of him, his gaze falling to rest on her pale forehead.
"Please...I...don't say anything...."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Harry found himself nodding with no particular reason. "Good...I...I've no idea..."
"What's going on?" Remus finished.
Harry spotted the man's knowing smile, and was finally able to let out the breath he had been unconsciously holding.
"Something like that."
In the still air of the windowless room, both men remained silent. Harry's eyes fell closed, his ears seeking out the soft sound of Kaylens' regular breathing.
Somehow, even with the growing uneasiness within, this calmed him.
With a decisiveness he did not feel, he finally spoke.
"I need to know Remus."
A loud sigh filled the room. "I was afraid of that."
And Remus explained. He explained how magical beings had come into creation, for somewhere in human history, human blood cells had begun mutating.
Most of the mutations had resulted in cancerous blood streams, killing those in possession of those variations. Muggles and Wizards alike still struggled against those diseases, leukemia the most prominent, but there were some individuals where the mutations became beneficial.
He explained how everything, both living and inert, contained a form of energy. Not all of it was measurable in the Muggle fashion, and it was this form of energy, the kind that would fail to register on electrical scales, that allowed magical beings to flourish.
It was magical energy, and over time some individuals developed the ability to manipulate it, without adverse affects.
Others were not so lucky.
There were people like Kalliandra, people like Reaches, who could delve into the magical realm. But doing so was dangerous.
In the case of witches and wizards, they developed completely new cells in their blood streams, and magical energy was conducted through their physical bodies via these. Thus their bodies were able to act like electrical circuits, and energy was able to pass through their magical cells without ever touching their other cells.
It was a perfect system.
There were occasions when witches and wizards would become fatigued, and such occurrences usually happened when the person was performing wandless magic, or a particularly complicated spell. And the reason for their exhaustion was quite simple really:
When one's body functions like a circuit, if excess magical energy is taken in and not released in the form of a properly cast spell, then that energy remains stuck in the body and has to go somewhere. And since magic runs quite literally through one's veins, that witch or wizard's magical cells would be the first to be essentially, electrocuted by their magical overload.
Fortunately magical cells are quite robust, and their plasma membranes are more than capable of absorbing such overloads.
Red blood cells, however, are not.
On occasion so much energy is not released from a wizard's body that it bursts through their magical cells, frying blood cells essential in the sustentation of life.
And when one's red blood cells are dying it is hard to circulate enough oxygen.
It was how Luna Lovegood's mother had died. She had suffocated, while still breathing.
Such deaths were a rare occurrence, because human blood contains far more cells than necessary for the sustentation of life. So when some blood cells are killed there are generally enough survivors to allow that individual to continue functioning in a normal, albeit fatigued, manner.
The first time Harry had tried the Patronus Charm he had overdrawn as well. He had been left winded, gasping for breath, just like he was after every Quidditch practice.
Yet he had partaken in no physical activity.
It was because he had lost red-blood cells, the very cells responsible for carrying Oxygen throughout the body, and his body was responding as it would in an Oxygen-deprived manner.
Reaches had never evolved that far. They had never developed additional cells in their blood stream, and the mutation allowing them to conduct electrical current lay directly upon their red blood cells.
If they overdrew, their first cells to be damaged would be the one's necessary in the transportation of Oxygen.
Their mutation was one that worked, but it functioned poorly. Wizards had evolved much more gracefully, for their additional cells provided a barrier to protect them against overdrawing. Ultimately it was this defense mechanism that had allowed the wizarding species to not only flourish, but to survive.
Unlike in him, the first cells to die in a Reach when they overdrew were their red blood cells.
For a Reach, the likelihood of suffering Luna's mother's fate was an almost certainty.
A cold feeling overtook Harry as all of this sunk in, for Kalliandra could easily die from overdrawing. She was only still alive due to the fact that her blood stream contained more red blood cells than it actually needed. Thus, she was capable of tolerating a certain degree of overdrawing, but the margin was slim.
For her, unlike a witch or wizard, there was no real learning curve. For her there was little room for mistake, for there were no cells to absorb the shock...
For her the only reward of overdrawing too much was death.
She would suffocate while still breathing.
It was why her red blood cells were being replaced even as Remus spoke. For every time she drew energy into herself she was slowly killing her cells.
Dumbledore was determined to replace as many as he could, as often as he could.
It was the only way to sustain her, to ensure her a longer life.
Suddenly he understood the intermittent bruising he had seen upon her throughout the year.
After Remus had turned...in the hospital wing...
Her platelets had been killed when she had overdrawn, to protect him from Remus...
She had passed out in Grimmauld place, from the effort...her body forcing her into unconsciousness in a last ditch effort to prevent her from doing further damage to herself..
The image of her lying unconscious on the floor of the Three Broomsticks flew through his mind.
He had known that she had risked exposure for what she was, but gods....She had risked death there, to protect people who hated her.
And he had once accused her of being a Death Eater.
Death Eaters knew no such selflessness.
A sickening sensation flooded over him, his hand rising to rifle through his still wet hair.
He scarcely heard Remus as he tried to lie, telling him it was not a death sentence for her.
Harry knew better, for what else could it be?
His grip on her tightened, as if holding onto her could prevent the inevitable. Remus was talking about treatment, about how if they maintained her blood count at proper levels that she would be able to live a normal, full life.
All it took was a single look into Remus' cheerless eyes to know that his friend did not truly believe what he was saying.
"Will she die?"
His own voice, his own question, sounded so far off.
"Harry nothing is certain...If she doesn't overdraw then we'll never have to worry about that possibility."
"Remus, will she die?" Harry felt his voice breaking, the familiar pang of loss welling within him.
As he met Remus' kind, glistening eyes, he knew the answer.
He wanted to croak out something, a form of protest that would quench the dryness of his throat, but nothing came.
"From what we know Harry, the others like her...eventually, they all overdrew."
The foolish recesses of his mind clung to that word, the ridiculous companion of grief stirring within him.
It wasn't until sometime after dawn when he finally fell asleep. The IV was long since removed from her arm, her sleeping form pulled into his arms.
At the moment Harry didn't give a damn about who could see.
LEGACIES: The Solidus Charm by the Dark Lord Nedved Rated: Mature
Summary: Every epic has a beginning, and for the young Magi who was Prophesized to have the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not, this is the beginning of his Legacy. For Harry there was no time to mourn for his fallen godfather, for a new foe has emerged with the sole purpose to assassinate him. The Dark Lord Nedved has created a tale of action, discovery, magical creativity and sacrifice that would leave the best novelist pounding on his door, begging for him to start working on original fiction. This epic tale has 5 different novels associated with it, two of which are completed, while the others are well under way. To attempt to describe them in any other way would be to not do them justice. Harry/Hermione
Authors Note: Hey folks!
All of you really are the best readers out there. I can't thank everyone enough for all of the well wishes and understanding that were shown when I announced that I would be taking a long sabbatical from writing. I really needed it, and am glad of it. Both my mother and sister had been diagnosed with serious illnesses this past summer, and all of the well wishes some of you sent via e-mail must have paid off because they have both made remarkable recoveries.
Secondly, thank you to everyone for the kind word's regarding Lexi's death. On top of everything this summer that was the final blow to drive all of my motivation for writing away for awhile, but it is now back full force. Since I am a bit frustrated at having taken so long between chapters in the past, I have now set aside one day a week to write so that I can get chapters out much more quickly, and on a regular basis. I anticipate this story being done by summer, and then I shall begin work on the sequel.
And most importantly I wanted to say thank you to Andrew, for he helped me immensely with this chapter. It had been so long since I had written anything that when I finally tried to write again I found myself suffering from a severe case of writer's block. Not only did he beta-read this chapter but he also offered wonderful suggestions to get this story back on track. Thank you so much!
"Dangerous is wrath concealed."
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca ~
Chapter 28 ~ The Power of Anger
As if in a nightmare the room's impenetrable darkness was broken. From the darkened hall a single candle appeared, levitating ominously as it preceded its owner into the blackened room.
The house's lower story harboured neither windows nor doors to the outside world. It was a constant reminder of the monthly monster that had once been contained within its very walls, whenever the moon had cast its full light upon the earth.
Now another more dangerous monster loomed in the room's shadows.
With a casual wave of their hand the figure crossed the carpeted floor silently, their silhouette pausing above the slumbering teens. The figure knew that neither would awaken until their sleeping spell had run its course.
Yes, the figure was powerful. Their sleeping charms were one of their strongest talents.
They could operate in complete safety. None within the walls would be the wiser to their actions.
Tonight they would begin their plan.
A syringe was filled, its needle swiftly inserted into the slumbering girl's vein. Kaylens' pulsating blood, bluish in tint through her pale skin, flashed silver.
A moment later the strange hue faded, a grim line of satisfaction stretching over the figure's shadowed face.
* * * * *
With a sharp click the door to Dumbledore's office opened.
Tonks shot out of the armchair she had been dozing within, knowing the locking spell's removal to mean only one thing.
"He's back," She whispered. Lounging in the armchair besides her Regulus nodded.
Out in the hall, suddenly visible as the door opened, was Ron Weasley. He lay slumped besides his discarded crutch on the floor, sleeping soundly.
Crusantheus hung on the door miserably, his knocker curled and contorted around his ears so as to block out the sound of the young Gryffindor's snoring.
"Kill me..." He squeaked. "Please."
As tired as she was Tonks couldn't help but smile as Regulus lazily took aim, an evil glint in his eye.
"No!" Shrieked Crusantheus. "I didn't actually mean it!"
Regulus continued advancing on the cowering knocker until a deep voice intervened.
"No need to fret Crusantheus. Did you forget that the killing curse has no effect on brass knockers?"
Crusantheus peeked out from behind his knocker hopefully, as Tonks spun around, rounding on the infuriating thing's rescuer.
Somehow Ablus Dumbledore was standing behind her, looking rather jovial.
"Morning Nymphadora. Fancy a biscuit?"
As if on cue a tray of biscuits appeared in his outstretched palm.
Tonks blinked dazedly, rubbing her red rimmed eyes with her fists. Surely this jovial
man had not just returned from a meeting with the darkest of dark lords?
Regulus, completely unflummoxed by their sudden intrusion, rose from his arm chair to carefully inspect the food offering. "I take it negotiations proceeded satisfactorily?"
"The exchange will be made in two months' time."
Tonks gaped, "Two months!"
"They probably need time to repair the little Mudblood," Regulus commented casuallly, directing his gaze to Albus. "I assume you requested that she be returned in one piece, and I can only imagine the fun they've had with her until now."
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Her wounds will need some...healing."
Tonks eyes widened in concern. While she still did not see how Hermione for Dumbledore was a fair trade, she had grown rather fond of the girl during her time at Grimmauld Place.
A pair of sky blue eyes regarded her carefully, their twinkling somehow dimmer than she remembered.
"I know what you are thinking Nymphadora," Dumbledore said kindly, as if reading her mind. "But part of the reason I made the blood pact here with Regulus, rather than in Voldemort's presence, was so that I could ensure Hermione's return on my own terms. He could have chosen to reject the blood pact had he so chosen, but he did not."
Tonks opened her mouth to ask precisely what those terms were, but his hand steadied her question.
"The terms were that if she were returned in the exact physical state that she had been in before the Hogsmead attack took place, that I would trade places with her, becoming Voldemort's prisoner."
"I bet he was only too happy to accept that trade," Regulus stated, smirking widely. "Imagine that...Albus Dumbledore, the Dark Lord's greatest nemesis, handed to him on a golden platter with a side of cherry.”
“Actually,” Dumbledore corrected, “I believe the expression is ‘served on a silver platter with a cherry on top.’”
Tonks spluttered, focusing on the sick sensation within her stomach. The war effort, the Order, could feasibly collapse without Dumbledore's leadership, and here he was bantering with an ex-Death Eater, wizarding world deserter right after selling his life to the devil.
“Dumbledore,” She said, voicing her far from calm thoughts aloud. “Why would you do this?”
Dumbledore's eyes locked on hers, losing their twinkle. "Nymphadora, we have lost far too many students to this war already. I could not stand by and lose another."
She swallowed the lump in her throat hastily. She should have known all along that the safety of others would always come first to Dumbledore. He would have done the same for any of them.
Love of one's friends was a powerful thing.
"So, old man," Regulus queried, taking a bite of his biscuit. "Find out anything else of interest during your little tryst?"
If possible Dumbledore's eyes darkened further. "We have to assemble the Order. The plague was unleashed in Dublin."
"Dublin, Ireland!" Tonks blurted rhetorically.
Regulus frowned, "As brilliant as you are, how were you placed in Ravenclaw again?"
She scarcely heard him, her eyes having darted over to the still slumbering forms of Kenneth and Emily.
Their home city was infected.
"So how'd you come by that fun fact Albus? I never exactly took you two to be old school chums."
For the briefest of seconds Dumbledore's eyes took on their old sparkle. "For all of Voldemort's prowess with Legilimency, he never quite mastered Occlumency. He has always surrounded himself with loyal followers." He continued, "And until recently he simply did not have the need.
Regulus chuckled. "So he's good, but you're better."
Tonks blinked. "But I thought he was one of the most brilliant students Hogwarts has ever seen?"
"Ah..." Dumbledore said, smiling again. "As is Ms. Granger, but even she cannot fly upon a broom."
Tonks gaped at him.
"We all have our weaknesses Nymphadora. Severus never would have survived his role as spy had he not been better at Occlumency and Legilimency than Voldemort. We should simply be grateful that this is one of Voldemort's few weak points."
Tonks frowned pensively. So He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did have weaknesses. They really were not fighting for naught.
With an air of finality Regulus clapped his hands together, making the already nervous Crusantheus bang his knocker rather loudly. The slumbering Ronald Weasley gave a violent start, snorting loudly as he awoke suddenly.
Tonks watched wearily as the redhead blinked groggily, eyeing the situation in front of him until his eyes landed on the Headmaster. It took a moment before a figurative light bulb clicked on in his sleep-befuddled mind
"Professor Dumbledore!" He exclaimed, scrambling to his feet, a flurry of wooden crutch and gangly legs sliding on stone. It didn't take long before Ron was flat on his arse once again, groaning from his fall.
Regulus eyed him mockingly. "And they call Hufflepuffs the duffers."
* * * * *
Harry's eyes snapped open, his dreamless sleep shattered by the sudden outcry of the girl in his arms. Through slightly blurred eyes he stared down the bridge of his nose at the messy mop of hair resting upon his chest. The warm feeling he ought to have felt vanished, a numbing one replacing it at the sight of her expression.
For Kaylens there was no peace to be found in the realm of dreams.
He swallowed hard, watching her face crinkle into an expression bearing striking similarity to what he had once seen upon Cedric's father, as the man desperately clutched his lifeless son to him, oblivious to the swarming crowd around them.
Such undiluted sorrow should never be seen upon a human countenance, yet he had seen it palpably far too often. Even on himself. The root of such anguish had been buried deep within him, growing since the moment he had discovered his true fate: Kill or be killed.
All thought of his calamity of a future was suddenly shattered as Kaylens lurched violently, a chilling cry cutting from her throat.
Harry gaped, feeling the hair on his arms rising to stand on end. Without thinking his hands gripped her arms, her skin beneath his fingers turning white with the pressure.
"K-kaylens..." He stuttered, scarcely recognizing his own voice. He gave an experimental shove, shaking her lightly in a pathetic attempt to rouse her.
And that was when she cried out again. That sound ripping from her throat. It resonated through the dark room, terrifying in its raw intensity. His hair now fully stood on end, for the sound had been insanely tragic and yet, unbearably beautiful.
It chilled him to the bone, for it was a sound no human could utter.
It happened fast. One second his arms were wrapped tightly around her, shaking her in an attempt to rouse her, and in the next her arms wrenched away. She shot up quickly, her eyes flying open in the dark room only to be slammed shut as she uttered a more familiar shriek of pain. His relief was short- lived as he grabbed onto her arm again, for she pulled away so violently that they were both sent tumbling from the couch to the floor.
His back struck the floor first, his knees having been tangled unnaturally in the blankets. He attempted to right himself, pulling his legs down until he was on all fours.
A swift kick to the back sent his face smashing into the ground.
He groaned, and ignoring the throbbing pain in his nose he rose his head cautiously, squinting at his surroundings. Where were his glasses? Slowly he reached a hand out, allowing it to roam across the soft carpet in his search.
And then he remembered.
His glasses were still lying in some godforsaken puddle in the middle of that damnable forest. By now they were probably some acromantula's chew toy.
Cursing he blinked rapidly, his eyes finally adjusting to the darkness and settling on the slightly fuzzy outline of Kaylens. She was sitting upright, some good five feet away, with her knees drawn to her chest and her face buried within them.
He swallowed hard, the only sounds in the room now were his rough breaths and her rapid, erratic ones. In stunned silence he observed her as best as he could. Her bare feet were sticking out from beneath a thick blanket, which despite their tumble still partly covered her, while she breathed as if having run a marathon.
Everything that had transpired between them came flooding back, a tense feeling twisting within him.
"Kaylens..." He whispered, reaching hesitantly for her, only for her to recoil, scrambling away like a frightened animal.
He stared in astonishment as her back hit the room's wall, a strange whimper coming from her throat. Of all the reactions he could have foreseen, this was the farthest from it.
And now she was having the reaction that he would have expected from any other girl, but not from her.
She was sobbing.
The sound of her crying tore at him in ways he hadn't imagined, for the girl who had stood by him, facing Death Eaters and werewolves without blinking an eye, had been reduced to this pitiable state by a mere nightmare.
Instantly he stood, crossing the room to her in four long strides.
"Kaylens," He said, tentatively laying a hand on her shoulder. She whimpered, shrinking away from his touch.
His brow furrowed determinedly. "Kaylens look at me," He commanded, crouching directly in front of her. Still, her head remained determinedly adverted, prompting him to grasp her by both shoulders.
Her head shot up, a furious clicking coming from her throat as she struggled away, lashing out violently. He dove back to avoid her flailing hands and feet, landing on his tailbone, eyes wide in astonishment.
She was making that sound again.
And he recognized it. A dark night in the Forbidden Forest, where he and Draco Malfoy had encountered the unexpected, had taught him that sound of pain.
The sound of the beautiful creature's dying cries had reverberated in his nightmares for months.
As had Voldemort's shadowy figure...
There was no hesitation in his movements as he wandlessly summoned his wand to his hand, immobilizing her arms and legs with a flick of his wrist.
Kaylens was conscious, but incapable of lashing out.
He crawled back to her, taking her delicate wrist and pushing the sleeve of her battered sweater up.
The bruising was gone.
He swallowed hard, recognizing the odds of such bruising disappearing overnight. Now he was only certain of one thing.
Something had happened whilst he slept.
Licking his slips nervously he cupped her chin, raising her head until he could see all of the confusion swimming within her golden eyes. His breath hitched in horrible realization at what he was about to do, but there was simply no other way.
He had to know. He had to know what had happened whilst he slept.
Until then he couldn't help her, and he knew that no one else would be willing to do this. There were strict rules against the unauthorized use of Legilimency. Hermione had taught him that much, screaming and ranting after his last misuse of the talent against the same girl he was about to violate yet again.
"I'm sorry," He whispered, brushing her hair away from her face. "I'm so sorry Kally..." He repeated, steeling himself for his crime.
Cupping her face he stared intently into her eyes, watching them flickering around in fear.
Her fear was warranted.
He only hoped he was wrong.
The overpowering wave that was her life flooded his mind, capturing his senses in a whirl of indiscernible events. He groaned, desperate to stop the twister-like effect of the memories swirling around him. It was different than the last time, so unbelievably different...
A cacophony of clicking, beautiful and powerful in its raw intensity filled his mind, only to be replaced just as quickly as it had come with a familiar scream.
He was seeing it again, reliving the afternoon when she had seen her own brother murdered right in front of her. Only this time the images were fleeting, distorted as if he were viewing it through a thick pane of smoky glass. It was as if the memories were no longer her own.
His heart clenched as he watched the man kick open the door for the second time. Kaylens’ small body was thrown backwards, her petite form sliding across the floor. It was as if everything were on the fast forward feature of a Muggle VCR. There was the knife, her screams, her brother...
As the gunshot rang out he could again almost feel what she had. The hot, fiery pain of the blade plunging into her flesh. The searing as it was drug in a deep line across her shoulder blade. The fear as she watched the blood pooling from her brother's
wound slowly stop pumping...
Suddenly all was black, misty, the powerful sound of a herd stampeding through her thoughts. Then all was green and brown and green again. Somehow he was running faster than he had thought possible, the trees whipping past him in a blur of green and brown and green again. He was surrounded by others of his kind.
His name was Lightning.
The images twisted again, surrounding Harry in a confusing whorl of forest scenes followed by scenes of her childhood. Silver horns flashed around him, gleaming as the herd ran beneath the moonlight, while golden hair flashed throughout her life.
Another memory slammed into Harry, crystallizing into near clarity. It was mid-afternoon, though the sun barely shone through the over-cast sky. Before him was a poorly kept yard, bordered on three sides by a thick, rising treeline and hills. Harry swiveled in the murky memory, feeling Kalliandra's recollection lurch dangerously as another memory threatened to bleed into this one. The sound of hooves, the sound of the herd on the run, pounded in the distance.
Harry fell to the dewy ground, watching as a man with golden hair, tinged heavily with gray, methodically stacked sandbags away from the house. Fog crept across the lawn, curling around his feet, each grunt echoing in the silent valley.
And then the children were led out, and Harry's soul shivered.
Kalliandra appeared to be the same age as in the last memory, only now she stood besides a small boy, barely older than her, digging her nails into his arm.
Their father pried her hands away from her brother, forcing a semi-automatic Glock 17, 9x19 mm caliber pistol into her small hands. Her legs had suddenly felt frozen, rooted to the damp ground. Harry could practically feel her heart's fearful thundering at the cold, unfeeling metal between her fingers.
The thick fog curled high around the six foot stack of sand bags, and as it began to drizzle her father aimed her small hands towards the stack.
Kalliandra pulled the trigger and cried.
As the gun was being passed to her surviving brother Kaylens' memories shifted again, swirling until he found himself peering through a thick grove of trees, stomping his hooves in warning as a hooded figure approached. The figure's hands raised very slowly, carefully removing the hood of their robe, allowing a cascade of thick, black hair to come tumbling around her shoulders.
The woman's countenance remained hidden by the deep forest shadows, yet Lightning was calming.
It was a virginal woman. She could be trusted. Lightning could tell.
The unicorn never saw the other cloaked figure creeping from behind, and that man's dagger soon shone silver with Lightning's blood.
Harry stood in the shadows drawing deep, ragged breaths. He could practically feel every inch of pain the poor creature was going through, the only sounds that of the screeching animal and that of the dry branches cracking beneath Harry's shifting weight as he watched, powerless to stop its pain.
The man bottled and corked a measurable amount of blood from the unicorn, leaving it only enough to barely limp away alive. A light chuckle escaped the hooded Death Eater at the sight.
Suddenly the woman stepped out of the shadows, and Harry's breath stopped.
Angelina stood in the dim light, depositing the bottles into a thick bag slung across her shoulder. Her Dark Mark gleamed brilliantly.
Violently Harry felt himself being tossed out, finding himself flat on his back staring up at Remus' shocked face.
Kalliandra continued to whimper.
* * * * *
"Would you mind repeating that?"
Tonks blinked stupidly. Somehow she had thought that being told that the "plague of all plagues" had been unleashed upon the citizens of Ireland would have had more of an effect upon its President.
Instead the newly awakened Kenneth Bothan sat behind Dumbledore's desk, clasping his hands, waiting for her response with an inquiring look upon his face.
She silently damned Albus for having left them to break the news to Kenneth while he went to call an emergency meeting of the Order. She wasn't good at this sort of thing damn't! She had at least expected a rouse out of the man at the news, but instead he was irrefutably calm.
It was quite obvious that Kenneth was insane.
"Basically Ken, all of your people will be dead within the week," Regulus stated with ironic cheerfulness. "But look on the bright side. At least you won't have to run for re-election."
Tonks’ dark eyes swiveled to her cousin, her mouth opening and closing like a gaping fish.
Kenneth, however, seemed entirely unperturbed.
"So," The President started with a curious frown, "What you are saying is that wizarding folk have no treatment against this?"
"Well..." Regulus mused thoughtfully. "We could always Avada Kedavra those who have already contracted it. That ought to slow its spread, right Nymphadora?"
Kenneth looked appraisingly at her cousin. "And this Avada Kedarva treatment? How effective is it?"
Regulus grinned like a jackal. "Supposing we were able to isolate those who had already contracted it we may find out its method of dispersal, while simultaneously establishing a quarantine and treating the pain of the already afflicted..."
"By killing them!?" Tonks burst in, unable to believe the wicked game Regulus played with the President's hopes.
"Ah," Kenneth said as if suddenly understanding. "The treatment has a high mortality rate. How high though?"
Regulus grinned widely, while Tonks contemplated murder for the dozenth time in twenty four hours.
* * * * *
"Harry! What in the name of Merlin did you think you were..."
Harry closed his eyes, grinding out his words. "Something's wrong with Kalliandra," He interjected. "I had to find out what."
The room's silence was broken only by Kaylens’ laboured breathing, and her clear distress drew Lupin's attention from him to her. He felt the former professor drop to his knees besides them, and he cracked an eye to watch as Lupin scrutinized her.
The Professor looked flabbergasted as he picked up one of her stiff arms. "Harry, you've immobilized her."
"For good reason."
Lupin threw a disgusted look over his shoulder, and snatched his wand out, clearly intending to remove the spell.
"Professor I don't think tha..."
His protestation was too late, for Kaylens had already lashed out, landing a strategic kick that sent Lupin sprawling flat on his back next to Harry.
"I told you," Harry groaned, shoving himself up on his elbows to note the pained expression of Remus' face. "Kicks hard, doesn't she?"
Lupin coughed harshly in response, choosing to ignore him as he rolled over to check on Kaylens. She was already scrambling along the wall on all fours, backing herself into a corner like a frightened animal. On her way she somehow managed to hit the only other piece of furniture, asides from the couch, and several small volumes came spilling down, scattering across the floor like rocks thrown from a distance.
The crashing sound only intensified the poor girl's whimpering.
Harry's eyes remained on her, watching as she curled her legs to her chest in a feeble attempt at self-protection. But he knew the truth...there was no protection from what plagued her.
But he'd be damned if he didn't try to help.
"Professor...." He started slowly. "What kind of curse does drinking unicorn blood entail?"
Lupin opened his mouth and faltered. Harry remained lying on his back, his upper body propped up with his elbows, silently hoping to God that the Professor would put the pieces together. Lupin had to believe him. He had to trust him. None of the adults, save for those dead and buried, had ever trusted him in time for it to actually matter.
It was why Sirius had died. And somehow Harry didn't think he could take it if the last link to his father failed to trust him.
Then slowly, ever so slowly, the lykan’s head turned towards him, and even in the dark room Harry could see the sudden knowledge flashing in his eyes.
Moony understood his meaning.
"Her bruising is gone," Harry whispered, driving another blow to any doubts the professor could have. "What else in the wizarding world could heal someone that quickly?"
Lupin drew a deep breath, shaking slightly.
"Harry...if what you're saying is true..."
"It is," He assured. "I saw memories inside of her mind that were not hers."
Kaylens' whimpering had finally quieted, casting the room into a deathly silence.
Besides him Lupin swallowed audibly, contemplating Harry's statements in the deathly silence that had descended. Kaylens was no longer whimpering, and he was unsure of if he missed the reassuring sound of her presence, or if was pleased at the obvious easing of her distress.
He glanced at Lupin, stunned at the torn expression upon his former professor’s countenance. Did the man believe him or not?
He sighed in frustration, snapping at Lupin’s unresponsiveness. "Why would she have those memories, Moony?"
Hearing his old Marauder name snapped Lupin out of his contemplative stupor. "It’s magically potent…unicorn blood that is. In fact it is so magical that their memories are often heavily imprinted upon it." He shook his head slowly, as if clearing a hazy fog. “To possess a unicorn’s blood is to not only possess their life stream, but their very being.”
Lupin sighed heavily. "There is not much precedent for this, but….in the early 1900's medi-wizards began experimenting with different treatment options for terminal diseases. One researcher, familiar with unicorns, sought to harness their healing powers by injecting his terminally ill patients with the animals’ blood. It cured the patients but the side effects…” Lupin shuddered, digressing quickly. "The blood was too hard to obtain to begin with. Unicorns don’t normally donate willingly, not to mentio..."
"What side effects," Harry interrupted hoarsely, closing his eyes. The feel of her in his arms flooded his senses, the woodsy scent that had clung to her all night coming back, overwhelming him with a tidal wave of fear. In his life there was no room for new attachments, yet the thought of her in pain…
He knew without a doubt that he would kill for her again, just as he would kill for any of those he held close.
He only hoped it would not come to that.
His eyes snapped open as Lupin's distressed voice filled the room.
"Most went insane."
Harry nearly choked. "Insane?" He grated out.
Lupin looked years older. "They never were able to distinguish between themselves and the animal again," he relayed. "Can you imagine it Harry? Having a lifetime of memories that were not your own suddenly shoved inside of your mind? Unicorns live for hundreds of years…it was only natural for those obtaining their blood to become confused. To them it would feel as if they had spent a longer time being a unicorn than a human being.”
The sick sensation twisting within him intensified. Kaylens’ mind had revealed exactly what Lupin now spoke of, and the thought made him nauseous.
And the curse…God he had nearly forgotten…
Remus read his mind, continuing his scholarly recitation of facts aloud. For Remus, who had lost so much, it was easier than dealing with the devastating fallout facing them in Kaylens’ crumpled form.
“When one slays such an innocent creature, seeking their blood’s healing power, it leaves the curse of the half-life. But when one is given the blood unwillingly, or when the animal is left alive, the curse does not lessen; it simply changes its manifestation.”
His throat constricted, but Harry managed to croak out a single word.
There was no mistaking the sick look upon Lupin’s face. “Harry, the only ones desperate enough to kill such an innocent creature are those hanging onto life by a thread. But the price…it is far too high for any sane person to contemplate, for the price for their atrocity is losing all ability to love. A life without the capacity for love is devoid of joy, happiness, family…” He shook his head, disgust etched in his every feature. “In a desperate attempt to save their own life they lose the only thing that makes life worth living for. Once they take that path they truly lead half a life, only experiencing the darker sides of the emotional spectrum.”
“Then the mediwizard, the one using it to cure his patients, did that happen to him?”
Lupin sighed indulgently. “There are ways to collect it, ways for it to be done without incurring the wrath of the curse but…those ways take time, Harry. Gaining the long term trust of a unicorn, let alone permission to inflict injury upon it, are not easy tasks.”
He swallowed hard. “What about Kaylens? That won’t…it won’t happen…” He trailed off, unable to vocalize such morbid thoughts aloud. No human deserved that. She didn’t deserve that.
Once again Lupin looked ill. “For Kally it will be different,” He said gruffly. “Instead, if she recovers, she will love, but her every experience will be shared with both sides of her, diluting the intensity of the emotions she feels, diluting her feelings towards others…”
Something about the words sent Harry’s heart twisting.
“Unicorns...they are such innocent creatures, incapable of sin, incapable of inflicting pain... Could you imagine having a saint following you around for the entirety of your life, correcting your every mistake? Well from this moment on she will be sharing her mind, her life, with memories of what true innocence is, for a unicorn is the true embodiment of that, and with it will come a gnawing guilt over the sins she has committed in the past. Between the confusion over her identity and her newfound guilt over even the smallest of transgressions…that alone could be enough to drive some mad.”
Harry’s mouth twisted into a frown, “So she can’t sin?”
“If only it were that easy, Harry. She can, and she will. But having this will give her a conscience stronger than most, and living a perfect life is an impossible task. Her life will be as close to normal as possible, only she will feel far guiltier about things she does than others.”
"A half life..." He whispered aloud, suddenly understanding. Kaylens truly would be cursed, for she would always be sharing her mind with memories not her own.
None of this was her fault, and the thought sickened him.
"Not all the mediwizard's patients went insane," He finally said, recalling Lupin's earlier words. "You said most."
Lupin shook his head. "They all went insane at first Harry. But only two managed to reclaim enough of their minds to function. Two out of dozens."
Harry closed his eyes, his voice filled with sardonic irony. "She just can't catch a break, can she?"
The Professor shook his head in response. "There's only one way to be sure."
Without warning Lupin snatched his wand out, summoning a small flashlight. Soon a metal blur came flying through the doorway, landing in the professor's outstretched hand.
Harry frowned at the action, not understanding, but in one swift motion the professor had it on and aimed at Kalliandra's face. Lupin clearly knew exactly what he was looking for.
Kaylens was suddenly shrieking again, and judging from the grim look on the professor's face he had found all he needed to know.
A metallic click sounded as the flashlight was turned off, and Kaylens' cries instantly died down, slowly fading to a dull whimper.
"She's sensitive to light..." Lupin stated. "There are only two conditions I know of that cause that."
"She's not a vampire..." Harry stated coldly, earning a reproving look.
"I wasn't even about to suggest it. But animals tend to have better nocturnal vision than us Harry. Lykans and unicorns are no exception, and when I was first bit..."He trailed off, his face twisting into a peculiar expression. “Once I was bit my whole body changed. My eyes were the worst though."
The professor suddenly adopted an almost whimsical expression. "Did you know there are more square nerves per inch in your eyes than in any other part of your body? Well there are. If you ever want to cause someone pain just jinx their eyes and..."
"Professor," Harry interjected, at the moment not carrying about the finer points of jinxing.
Lupin shrugged. "My bite caused a whole new layer of tissue full of light sensitive cells to grow across the back of my eyes, its called tapetum lucidum. It lets me utilize less light to see, so I can see with one-sixth the amount you can. But when it first happened...before I was used to it..." He shuddered. "Merlin it hurt. The slightest light felt like the sun was blasting me in the face. Hell, it had me in tears."
Lupin raised the flashlight, pointing it directly at Kalliandra, flicking it on and off with each syllable. "Just. Like. Her."
Kaylens' whimpers died down as the light was turned off for a final time, and suddenly Harry understood the flashlight. Unicorns had excellent nigh vision as well, and the flashlight was Lupin's way of confirming what he already knew.
Kaylens had a layer of light sensitive tissue growing across her retinas right now. No wonder she screamed at the light.
"Harry," The scholarly professor tone was suddenly gone, and the wolf was deadly serious. "Was she fine last night? Before she lost consciousness?"
Harry was quick to nod.
"Then sometime between then and now someone injected that blood directly into her veins. She couldn't have done it herself."
Harry's mouth opened, but his question of how that was possible died on his tongue.
He knew the answer.
There was only one person who would wilfully curse another within the house.
"Professor what's going on? I heard yelling."
Harry's eyes narrowed, every muscle tightening. Angelina had finally come, drawn by the incremental shouting. There she was, rushing through the room's threshold, drawing her cloak hastily around her as if nothing terrible were amiss.
If he hadn't known better he would have thought she truly was surprised at the situation she found. But he knew better. No one took that long to respond to screams like the one’s Kaylens had unleashed unless it was intentional.
"Why is it so dark?" Her voice sounded honestly confused as she flicked her wand out, lighting every candelabrum in sight.
His eyes flew to Kaylens, who had immediately began shrieking, clamping her hands over her eyes, screaming as if hell itself has sent its demons up to drag her into its depths. His chest constricted at her obvious pain.
Lupin lunged at her in a decidedly wolf like way. "Kally ,don't!" He was shouting, fighting her for control. She lashed out, and Lupin grasped her wrist in a single, fluid motion, quickly capturing the other as well.
The professor had already forced her hands down against her sides, kneeling on her legs in a vain attempt to prevent them from flailing. He was far stronger than Kaylens, but she was desperate, fighting to block the hellish light from her eyes as Lupin fought to prevent her from inflicting damage upon herself. Now he was yelling at Angelina to extinguish the candles, and Harry still had not moved.
He was too busy watching Angelina, noting the guilt flashing within every brown pigment in her dark eyes.
Her black eyelashes fluttered, and the betraying emotion was suddenly gone.
His blood boiled, his arms vibrating with suppressed rage as she began speaking, a panicked edge to her voice.
"What's going on?" She asked fearfully, rushing across the room to aid Lupin. "Remus!
What's wrong with Kally!?" She continued shouting questions, lunging over Harry as if he were not even there.
She dropped to her knees besides where Lupin and Kaylens wrestled, her ebony skin gleaming in the candlelight. Her dark eyes widened in feigned horror, her face a mask of innocent concern as she reached out to help restrain Kaylens.
And Harry lost it.
Her hand never reached Kaylens, her tainted fingers never touching her body. Before anyone could realize it Harry's hand had flown out, snatching the oversized sleeves billowing around the traitor’s wrist, and he tugged her callously to the floor.
Harry lunged to his feet, stamping the heel of his foot against the girl's throat, pinning her to the ground.
"Don't. Touch. Her." He growled, the world rippling around him.
Power swelled within him, the strength of his magic unleashed by the raw anger pumping through his veins, and the feeling...it was intoxicating.
Angelina's body undulated like a worm beneath him. She was choking, spluttering incomprehensible sounds, the shock clearly written across her face. Her hands were clawing at his foot, her fists slamming against his legs as she fought for air.
He scarcely noticed any of it.
"H-harry...st-top..." She gasped, her eyes rolling backwards, fingers going slack as her pleas went unheard.
"Harry! Let her go!" Shouted Remus, followed by a loud crashing as he and Kaylens tumbled into the bookcase, knocking it sideways.
Books went flying, scattering everywhere. The resounding crashing masked the dull thud of Angelina's limp arm hitting the floor.
Lupin let out a pained howl, and Harry's hand shot out. He felt the magic dripping from his fingertips like water.
With a flick of his wrist the candles went out.
* * * * *
The descending sun of midday zenith was partially obscured by the perpetual cloud cover, casting the not-so-distant Dublin-Wicklow mountains into a deep fog. Yet the man paid the ominous surroundings no mind, nor the racking cough that had swiftly descended upon him. Instead he stared out the windows of his South Dublin address, admiring the view afforded by his working class neighborhood.
With a small smile he leaned further back into his recliner, letting the smoky scent of fresh baking fish fill his nostrils. Meredith was cooking, and from the smell of it she was cooking the fish he had caught just that morning. They were bound to taste delicious. Everything his wife cooked always did. It was just a shame their middle child, Eva, had inherited his culinary sense, or lack thereof.
"Father, you feeling alright?"
The man turned to find his eldest son in the doorway, a concerned expression crossing Edward's freckled face. The man smiled, for the resemblance between father and son was striking. Edward had been the only child to inherit both the freckles scattered across his nose and the dark head of hair adorning his head. The other two of his children bore his wife's ash blonde hair and startling dark eyes. Edward however had his blue-green ones.
He graced his son with a warm smile. "I'm just fine m'boy. Just a bit of a cold."
"You sure father? Perhaps after dinner we should take you to the physician. Your neck looks awfully swollen."
Curiously the man rubbed his tender lymph nodes, shocked to find that they had doubled in size in just a few hours.
His son smiled cheekily. "Mother is of the mind to not let you go off fishing at such ungodly hours again. She said something about catchin' yer death on account of our colder than normal temperatures."
The man couldn't resist a grin. "Well perhaps yer mum is right. The thermostat dropped to 10 Celsius this mornin' before I ventured out."
"I'll tell her you said so."
The man's eyes widened in mock horror. "Now you'll be doin' no such thing boy! Because I'll guarantee that once yer mum's done houndin' me that yer'll be next."
Now it was Edward's turn to look fearful, and the man leaned back, smiling in satisfaction. The boy still remembered the time Meredith had wrapped him head to toe in a snow-suit, complete with two scarves wrapped around his head and oversized mittens. Oh! How the boy could hardly walk in that contraption!
"Father," Started his boy diplomatically, "I think I'll just be off to get a head start on my Algebra."
The man smiled in satisfaction as the door closed behind his boy. Yes, despite their humble surroundings his boy would soon grow into a fine man. And while he had never been able to provide all that he desired for his children, they did wonderfully with what they were given.
It was no small point of pride for the man that he had worked his way from the north side of Dublin to the south. While most of the people in his income class tended towards the northwest side of the city, here he was, raising his family is Tallaght. It might not be one of the wealthier districts characteristic of South Dublin, but its rich sense of history had captured his children's hearts from day one. He still remembered how young Eve's eyes had grown wide as saucers as he had explained the origin of the district's name.
Tallaght. Pit of tears. The very name was reminiscent of the mass grave dug there during the last Black Plague. Thousands were said to be buried just beneath the sewers, and that little bit of knowledge had had all three of his children off and running, screaming and laughing in increments as their young minds invented ghost stories along with it.
How proud he had been when Edward had shown him a story he had written. It had been about a young boy and his ghostly friend, a child who had died during the Black Plague. The ghost child had been buried beneath the fictional boy's home, and had appeared to the boy when another unknown illness ran rampant through the city. With the ghost child's help the young boy had been able to save the city, and his family.
The man leaned back in his chair as a bout of coughing shook his lean frame, a deep pain shooting through him. He clung to the hand rests tightly, waiting for it to pass, all the while thinking of the future.
Yes. An author would be a befitting profession for his eldest. Edward would one day make a fine novelist.
The man smiled, proud of his children in a way that only a father could be.
If only he knew how soon history were to repeat itself.
A/N: Thank you so much to Andrew, Njhill22, and Ichigopan for helping me out a lot with this chapter. Andrew not only helped to work out some of the plot kinks for this chapter and the next, but he also beta-read it for me, and therefore rocks. Njhill22 and Ichigopan are also awesome, because both of them helped me until 3 am when I wound up seriously stuck on how to write the next part. Thanks so much you guys!
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
~ William Shakespeare ~
Chapter 29 ~ No Longer Helpless
With a flick of his wrist the candles went out.
His heel remained solidly planted against Angelina's chest as shrouds of darkness shot out in all directions, like the spindly fingers of a corpse, until the entire room was engulfed in an inky, suffocating darkness. Harry scarcely noticed any of it, nor the thick scent of burnt wax as unseen smoke curled up from the extinguished candles.
Anger pumped heavily through his veins, and with a hate he had not thought possible he glared down at the girl beneath him. In the past his callous actions against his former house mate would have sickened him, but now....
Things were different.
His outstretched hand shook, his barely restrained magic crackling across his skin like static electricity, burning and searing at his flesh. Grimacing in pain he forcefully curled his fingers into a fist, tightening it, feeling the raw power seeping back in
A new feeling rose up within him. A dark, powerful, vengeful feeling.
Bearing the coldest of looks he crouched low, inspecting Angelina to ensure that she was indeed unconscious. He would not make the mistake of thinking a Death Eater subdued when they were not, but her death would do him no good.
He intended to find out all he could from the treacherous wench.
Then, beneath his foot, he felt the slow rise and fall of her ribcage, and his leg twitched with the suppressed urge to stomp the breath from her. For the first time he understood what Ron had meant when he had drilled him on the differences of fighting defensively versus offensively in chess.
From now on Harry was out to win, and if that meant taking down the opponent's pawns to do so he would show no hesitation.
Swallowing back a nauseous wave of revulsion he reached out, touching the tainted witch's skin and shoving her head to the side. It lolled over with a dull thud, revealing nothing. The Death Eater would not be moving for some time.
Still...they had all been fooled by Angelina's acting skills once. He would not fall victim to that again.
With calculated efficiency he withdrew his wand, a frightening look crossing his features. His anger still burned hot within him, the veins in his neck pulsing intensely as he thought of the witch's betrayal. Angelina had been his house mate, a teammate, but worst of all, she had nearly been a friend. Once she was a Gryffindor. And now....
She had betrayed the Order by taking the mark of that snake, and had all but killed Kaylens, possibly robbing her of her mind.
A growl ripped from his throat, the tip of his wand suddenly digging against the traitor's temple as he pondered all the spells he could use.
He stopped cold. Remus' gruff, panicked voice had cut through the air like a well sharpened knife, sending his wand arm tensing as his father's last friend fought his way out from beneath the books that had fallen atop him. In the aftermath of his own scuffle he had nearly forgotten Lupin's presence, and the thundering of his pulse in his ears had drowned out the low groans and whimpers from the other side of the room.
He had forgotten one other thing: That despite the lack of lighting in the room, Lupin could still see exactly what he was doing.
Harry's head snapped around as a soft glow cut through the thick darkness, his gaze riveted to the horrified expression crossing Remus' face.
His one-time Professor stood behind the overturned bookcase, eyes wide and staring.
"My God..." He whispered chokingly, "Harry..." His accusatory eyes flickered up to his. "What have you done?"
He sucked in a strained breath between his teeth. "Nothing she didn't deserve," He hissed staidly.
A strangled sound came from the Professor's throat. "But Harry...that's Angelina..."
"No kidding. Really?" He snapped.
A sudden scuffle and thud, followed by a sharp, inhuman whimper sent his wand jabbing into Angelina's head.
He hadn't needed the Professor's devastated whisper to know who was softly whimpering.
Heart wrenching, he fought back the hollow feeling in his chest. "Why don't you see to Kaylens, Professor," He grated out, his face a grim mask as he focused back on the former chaser.
"I will but...is Angelina okay?"
"I sure as hell hope not."
A loud swallow preceded Remus' next, tense words.
"What are you planning on doing Harry?"
"You know Moony," He said, voice vibrating with barely suppressed rage. "I'm still deciding on that.
Lupin's voice was strained, the cautious, placating note in it foreign to him. "Harry, I know something's wrong. But just think about what you're doing..."
A cruel, hollow laugh escaped his throat. "Oh, trust me Moony, I have."
"She's on our side, Har..."
He cut him off, spitting out the cold truth.
"She's a Death Eater, Moony."
From behind him came a loud, apprehensive swallow. "Harry...are you sure?"
A cold grimace crossed his features. "Yes."
There was an agonizing pause, and a sick, uneasy dread suddenly rose in his stomach as his racing pulse finally began to slow. He needed Remus to believe him. He needed someone in the Order to not just listen to him, but to actually trust him. And if Remus didn't...
"I'll bind her. She'll have to be taken to headquarters."
Harry's head bolted around, shock written on his expression. "You believe me," He questioned. And even in the dim light he could see the slight movement of Remus' shadow nodding.
"Harry," He said, sounding almost hurt. "I always believe you."
His brow instantly wrinkled in confusion. Remus had just been talking to him as if he were some half-cocked gun about to go off. "Then why..."
"Because I thought you might blow her head off before I could figure out why you had attacked her in the first place. It would have been a very Sirius-like thing to do."
The thought struck him hard. "Yeah," He managed. "It would have been like him."
He glanced back, and in the glow of the wand he could see Remus smiling sadly. He returned the expression, feeling shakier than he would have thought possible only minutes before, but that didn't matter.
Remus believed him. He did care about him after all.
His apologies for all those lost months, for all the time when he had been left to deal with the pain of Sirius' death alone truly had meant something, and despite everything a warm sensation wormed its way into him.
All it took was a soft whimper, from a corner behind him, to drive it all away.
He swallowed hard, finally turning and squinting in the dim lighting to see Kalliandra cowering in the corner, knees drawn feebly to her chest, her golden hair spilling over them and her face buried within them.
Slowly his blood pressure rose, his foot grinding down even harder against the wench beneath him. Angelina would pay. He would see to it. But right now she was not his priority.
Throwing a piercing glare at Angelina he shoved his foot beneath her limp body, kicking her over onto her stomach. A second later he was on her back, dragging her hands behind her, pinning them together with his knee as he snatched up his wand, pointing it at her exposed wrists.
"Bindovera," He hissed, watching the snake-like ropes stream from its tip, slithering around her arms until she was bound up to her elbows. Dropping his wand he gave them a harsh tug, satisfied in the way the dark girl's skin chaffed, reddening even in the dark light.
"Exuberant, aren’t we?"
He merely grunted in response, giving the ropes one final, callous tug as Remus began binding her legs.
A second later he was on his feet, an aching sensation spreading through him as he watched Kalliandra curling in the corner, incapable of remembering even her own name.
Gods...she wasn't in her right mind. And Remus had said she'd have to block out the unicorn's memories before she ever could be. How could anyone possibly...
And then it hit him.
She'd have to block them out.
The idea ignited swiftly, the things Dumbledore had taught him about Occlumency all coming together in a cohesive ball of knowledge. He had used it for himself, but could he do it for someone else?
He would be grasping at straws, but there was a chance...
Voldemort had given him plenty of practice at blocking unwanted memories.
His blood pumped purposefully, and he felt, more than saw, Remus rise besides him, looking morosely in the same direction as he.
"Well have to immobilize her again," He said regretfully, dimming the light from his wand as it sent Kaylens stirring uncomfortably.
"No," Harry answered immediately, voice filled with conviction. "I'll deal with her. You just get Angelina to Grimmauld."
Remus' brow furrowed at this, doubtful lines crisscrossing his face. His mouth opened, as if to protest, but his uncertainties went unvoiced. Instead a thoughtful, critical expression befell him as he studied Harry's tense, determined face.
The lines on his face suddenly deepened. "Are you sure?"
Harry nodded, tense with anger at the entire situation, and filled with the need to do something about it.
"Yeah," He responded. "I've stunned her enough lately."
Lupin's conflicted expression remained, but he nodded decisively.
"Alright, take this then."
A second later a small pouch was being pressed into his hand, a sandy material grinding within it.
"It's a port key. Pour the contents..."
"Into our hands," Harry finished for him. "We've used this kind before."
Remus eyed him curiously, tilting his head to the side. "Well then, I'll see you there."
He nodded, watching as Remus unearthed another pouch from his pocket. He watched him crouch next to Angelina, sending him one last, pointed look before dousing his wand.
Shadows spilled around them, enshrouding the room in darkness once again. Rifling a hand nervously through his hair Harry forced a strained, unseen smile, and a second later Remus and the traitor blinked out of existence, leaving him with a single insane idea, one that he never could have done in Remus' presence.
And somehow he thought Remus had known that.
For a moment he did nothing, simply allowing his eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. Then, slowly, the blackness gave way, revealing her vague, gray outline. Yet even in the shadows he saw the way her silhouette trembled.
He pulled his wand and immobilized her in one swift motion. Strangely he felt nothing, when even the thought of stunning her again had sent his stomach wrenching.
He crossed the room and knelt besides her, his rough hands gently cupping her face and turning it towards his. He felt sick, for he was violating her yet again. But God, what choice did he have?
For the second time that day her frightened eyes stared back at his, flickering with too many emotions to name. His thumbs gently brushed her hair away from her eyes, his heart thumping shamefully. She was like a frightened animal, and somehow this just felt wrong.
Yet he had to try. No one deserved this, and if his idea worked...
He might just be able to salvage enough of her to help her find her way back.
Staring into her eyes he hoped to God it would work.
"I swear to you," He whispered intently, "This is the last time I'll ever do this to you."
Licking his lips nervously he raised his wand, letting it hover inches from her skin. Closing his eyes he waited, allowing his mind to clear, calming himself.
Occlumency was not meant to be done with raw emotion.
His eyes snapped opened. He was ready.
The twister-like effect of her mind seized him without remorse, sending his senses reeling as an assault of enhanced sounds and smells attacked him.
Thunder cracked through the swirling mist, sending his body crashing face first into the mud, and he immediately knew there was something different about this memory.
He staggered to his knees, peering through the incredibly dark, moonless night. Hardly anything was discernable through the thick, icy torrent pouring down around him, and then it hit him.
Every other memory he had seen had had a worn contrast, the intensity of emotions and events diluted by time. Dumbledore and Snape had been too skilled for him to peer into recent events, and luck-of-the-draw had shown him things from Kayelns' childhood. But this memory was different.
It felt fresh.
The harsh, biting wind sent the looming forest moving with an aberrant life, and above him lightning flashed, crackling across the blackened clouds, briefly illuminating the gravel road running past him. For a second the forest surrounding him came into stark focus, as did the wooden house he had landed before.
Again lightning set the area aglow, a deep shout snapping his eyes towards the small lawn.
What he saw made his blood run cold.
His training with Dumbledore had taught him that it was one's most painful memories that were flung to the forefront of the mind when it was invaded.
And now he knew that Kalliandra was no exception.
A grating voice preceded the flash of light, and he had just enough time to see a dark haired man struck down. The man tumbled head first into the muddied ground, the sound of his body slapping against the mud drowned out by a thunderous crack.
A blinding hot, fiery ball blew through the house's siding, sending floorboards flying to litter the lawn.
From inside came the screaming, drowned out by a hedonistic laugh.
"Muggle, muggle, muggle come out to play!"
Bile churned in his stomach, though there was no time for it to rise as people began pouring out of a side window.
"Aw, the wittle, ittle Muggles don't want to play?"
That taunting, familiar laugh of his nightmares greeted him as Bellatrix Lestrange stepped calmly out the front door, the burning home alighting her face with a hellish glow.
One of the fleeing figures bolted towards a car, parked along the gravel road near the forest's tree line.
He never made it.
A fiery spell smacked into him, setting his skin ablaze.
He had seen others die, but never before had he beheld someone as they burnt alive. Even the pouring torrent was not enough to douse the flames engulfing the man's flesh, and the wind hurled a noxious stench against his nostrils.
A girl was rising from the muddied ground, thick grass stains streaked across her jeans, her brown hair matted against her head as she screamed hysterically. Her face was contorted into something inhuman, raw pain distorting incredibly striking features, and she appeared frozen in place.
Harry was screaming for her to move, but she never heard him. From around the corner of the home came two others clad in black, and a jet of searing purple light shot out.
Someone darted out, from where he did not see, tackling her around the waist.
The purple light missed her by inches as she and her rescuer went sliding across the ground, smacking into the side of the house with a dull thud.
The Death Eaters were on them in an instant, a loud crack resonating through the air as Harry ran forward, just in time to see a graying haired man's arm being viciously snapped. The gun the man had been pulling fell from his hand with a cruel slosh, the mud swallowing it whole. The dark haired girl was still screaming, clawing at her head as a burly Death Eater snatched her hair up, twisting it around his massive palms before dragging her across the lawn by it.
A sharp splinter broke the air, and the Death Eater assaulting the gray haired man went down. The older man struggled to his feet, slipping in the mud and cradling his arm.
Lightning split the sky, catching onto the gray haired man's few remaining golden hairs. His face split into a horrified expression, and Harry followed his gaze.
Kalliandra, eyes ablaze, came barreling out from the tree line, a man barely older than him hot on her heels.
Both had striking golden-brown hair, their hues muted only by the precipitation pouring down around them. And Harry suddenly understood that he was seeing her second brother for the first time.
"KIDS GO! GET OUT OF HERE!"
The shout came from a second floor window, and Harry finally understood who had done the shooting.
A middle aged woman with light brown hair was hanging out of it, pistol in hand, and over the noise Harry could hear Bellatrix laughing hysterically.
Lightning split the sky, thunder drowning out the second, third, and fourth gunshots.
Kalliandra's mother could no longer be seen. Only the dim sound of the fifth and sixth gunshots firing off in the room told him that her attention had been drawn back inside the burning house.
Inside the house, where he could not hear, came the sequential clicking of empty chambers.
A loud scream carried through the window, followed by a body flying through the window's opening.
The woman hit the ground with a sickening thud, leaving the gray haired man yelling something that the thunder drowned out.
No time was wasted. Kalliandra's brother came sliding aside her mother, grasping the gun from her still twitching hands, sobbing as he started rifling through her clothing.
A second later a new round was in his hand, but he never had a chance to load it as Bellatrix apparated in front of him, kicking the round from his hand, sending individual bullets scattering to the wind.
The strobe effect of the lightning shielded what transpired next, but when it flashed again Bellatrix and Kalliandra were sliding to the ground, Kaylens clearly having tackled her.
Her brother had leapt to his feet, and rushed to join the fray as his sister smashed Bellatrix's head into the ground repeatedly, screaming incomprehensible words.
Her brother reached her, grasping her by the back of her sweater and tossing her out of the way as he grasped Bellatrix's head in a vice grip from behind, preparing to break it.
The unheard pop of apparation prevented this as the burly man appeared behind him, swatting him away as if he were nothing more than an irritating child. Bellatrix fell to the ground, spitting brown water, her furious eyes rounding on the three remaining members of the Kaylens' family.
"Filthy Muggles!" She roared, shooting binding spells off at a furious pace, hitting the brother first.
"SEAN!" Their father's voice ripped through the air as ropes twisted around his son, sending him crashing to the ground right below the burly Death Eater's feet.
Kalliandra, having been thrown back by her brother, was still down in the mud. She didn't stand a chance.
Then her father slid in front of her, the ropes taking him right in the chest, and constricting around his neck and throat.
The house was quickly succumbing to the flames, the red light showcasing Bellatrix's fanatical smile as she tugged Kaylens' father away from her by his neck.
Her father was unable to claw at the ropes, for his arms had been pinned to his sides.
He was unconscious by the time Bellatrix had dragged him to her feet.
Another gunshot rang out, taking the burly man right in the head.
Kalliandra had gotten to her knees, hair plastered to her face, her arms outstretched and shaking.
Her hands held the gun, and Bellatrix regarded her with an amused expression.
The next shot was in Lestrange's direction, but a shimmering light halted the shot, sending the shell dropping to the ground less than a foot from her smirking face.
Kally looked stunned, and Bellatrix waggled a finger back and forth as if scolding a naughty child.
"Foolish wittle girls shouldn't play with guns," She cooed in a baby voice, suddenly beckoning towards Kally.
Kaylens was sent sprawling forward as an invisible force pulled the gun from her grasp, and a second later a new Death Eater was there, his foot on her back.
A gust of wind sent the new arrival's hood falling back, and Harry suddenly understood every word that she had uttered in the Three Broomsticks.
Ludo Bagman was there, standing on top of Kalliandra and looking rather out of place. Bellatrix fixed him with a death-like stare, her anger at his late arrival apparent, but there was no time for anything to be said.
Barely a second had transpired between his late arrival and his fall to the ground.
Kally had rolled over, kicking his legs out from under him.
Bellatrix rolled her eyes, and this time her binding spell did not miss.
Angry tears were rolling down his face, his fists taking swings at the crazed woman who had taken his Godfather. Somewhere his mind was screaming for him to stop, that it would do no good, but his subconscious' voice went unheeded.
And then the swirling, silver mist returned, swallowing up the images of Kally's brother convulsing beneath the unforgivable curse.
Harry was shaking, overcome with the horror of what he had just witnessed. And the memories were disorienting, rising up around him, swallowing him whole as they dislodged him from place to place in her life, never stopping long enough for him to gain his bearings.
Around him the crashing of hooves fought for precedence above the distant laughter. Hazy outlines flickered by, barely visible through the fog-like mist swirling around him. He was lost...
And then he saw himself, running from a Death Eater down the main, dusty thoroughfare of Hogsmeade. Red stunners shot out, smacking against a gutter, sending it swinging into the side of a second Death Eater that had emerged to block his progress.
She had saved him.
And that was all it took.
"ENOUGH!" He screamed, unsure of whether his voice only existed in her mind, or if his physical body were actually screaming it in Remus' living room.
Instantly he began focusing, searching for a memory, any memory, that was her own rather than some horned animal's. He fought to calm himself, squashing down the terror of what had happened to her to the back of his mind, and then he felt a change.
The swirling mist around him was slowing down, the uncontrolled torrent of the two lives combined into one mind becoming less disorienting.
He peered through them as they passed, one-by-one, searching for something that he could make out.
And then he found one.
He charged through the mist, falling out into the Forbidden Forest's clearing.
The one they had left before this had happened to her...
In the dim moonlight, cast from a sliver peaking through the clouds, he watched the replay of himself yanking his hand away from her. Hushed words were exchanged, and suddenly Kalliandra was rising from her spot besides the water, stalking away from him.
In a heartbeat his memory self was scrambling to his feet, going after her, catching onto her arm. She whorled to face him, an icy expression crossing her face, disappearing in shock as he swiftly pulled her against him.
He watched, an odd feeling twisting within him as she struggled against him, his only response in the way his arms wound even tighter around her, stroking her hair until her resistance ceased.
"I'm sorry…" He heard his own voice whispering, "I swear to God I'm sorry…"
And then her face was dropping against his shoulder, his own burrowing within her hair as her arms wound around him, holding him back.
It was as if a light wind blew, and then another memory squeezed through, the silvery substance sending the clearing image swirling.
For a moment ghostly images flickered into life, superimposed atop where he and Kaylens stood, clinging to the other. It was like looking through a film negative, trying to see what was beyond it.
The beautiful, alien clicking rose above his and Kaylens whispering, the foreign memories threatening to overtake this one, and the threat sent something ablaze inside him.
"No..." He hissed, his face contorting dangerously, as he began fighting to shove the foreign images that threatened to overtake her aside.
He couldn't allow them in. He couldn't.
Staggering odds were against him, but if he could only hold her in her own state of mind long enough...
Maybe it would be just enough to bring her back.
Grimacing he waved his hand, feeling the magic rising within him, rolling off of him as he tried desperately to summon something, anything that would block out those memories that were not hers.
The unicorn memories may have been weak, diluted imprints of the real thing, yet they were still there, fighting for precedence of her mind. And yet...
Fighting for the sanctity of his own mind against Voldemort had made keeping these silvery, diluted tendrils back a joke.
A determined expression crossed his face, a swift jolt rocketing through him as the bricks began to materialize. He stretched out his hands, willing them to begin stacking, watching them mount higher and higher, muting the sounds of a herd in the distance.
He would form a barrier between her memories and the unicorn's, and he'd be damned if he failed.
His hands were shaking again, a lone trickle of sweat dripping from his brow as he concentrated, directing the bricks to begin circling around him, stacking along the clearing's circumference.
And then, one-by-one, he began shoving the unicorn's memories past the wall. Each time one threatened to break in he shoved it away, a dull pain growing in the back of his mind, sending his head swirling as he refused to cease his efforts. His breathing grew ragged, his vision bespeckled with black dots as tendrils of the silvery mist fought to seep back through his hastily erected brick walls.
"No..." He whispered, and slowly, methodically, he shoved the last of the silvery threads through the gaps in the walls, feeling the muted sounds fading.
With a slam of finality he found himself surrounded on all sides by his walls, the memory still playing as if nothing had disturbed it.
Panting in exhaustion he crouched down, supporting himself on his knees, feeling his feet sinking into the dewy earth as he fought for breath. The walls might not hold for long, but for now...
Around him he could hear the distant calls of a herd, and he looked up shakily, watching dust crumbling down from the brick barriers. A lump formed in his throat as he watched the entire edifice shake, as memory after memory slammed against it from the outside, trying to break through.
He could feel his physical body shaking from the exertion, and as much as he desired to do more an unfeeling truth struck him.
He didn't know what else he could do.
And for the first time in her mind he withdrew willingly, the darkness of Remus' living room wrapping tightly around him. The moonlit clearing had been so bright in comparison and yet, his eyes had remained perfectly adjusted, his physical body having never left nor moved.
And she was still right there, inches separating him from her. His breath caught in his throat, the adrenaline he had been riding on struggling to remain high as he searched her face for a sign to show that some part, any part, of herself was back.
All he saw were the backs of her eyelids as they fell shut, a long breath escaping her lips.
At some point his entire body had begun shaking, a sharp headache nearly splitting his skull as he removed the binding spell from her, his magical exertions finally catching up to him.
But God, he didn't care. His hands rose to her face, a hand resting on either side as he smoothed a single stray lock away, tucking it behind her ear.
"Come on Kaylens..." He murmured, eyes bright and searching. His gaze was flickering back and forth across her face, watching her every movement, hoping against hope it had worked.
And then her eyelids opened, her eyes as disoriented as before. A choking sensation wrapped around his throat, his hands falling to rest on her stiffening shoulders. He had failed.
His forehead fell against hers in despair, the feel of her warm skin offering little comfort. He should've known it would not work, yet...
He never would have forgiven himself if he hadn't tried.
Slowly her legs slid against his, and his eyes squeezed shut, preparing himself for whatever out lash was about to occur. The memory of her recoiling away from him, scuffling away like a frightened animal when he had gotten too close, was all too fresh in his mind.
He waited for it with held breath, only nothing came.
His eyes opened, only to find hers staring back.
His muscles went taut with tension, his breath quickening as their proximity struck him. Her nose pressed against his, his hands firm on her shoulders, and a startling sensation churned in his chest as he watched her darkened eyes.
Within them something was changing, a flicker of familiarity residing there. His hand slid back to her face, anxiety etched in his features as her lips parted. Her mouth moved, as if trying to say something, only no words came.
He couldn't pull his gaze away if he tried.
"Merlin," He whispered, "I wish I knew what you were thinking."
She remained silent, but his eyes were drawn to a slight motion. Her hand rose, falling to rest on his unshaven cheek. She pulled away slightly, their foreheads no longer pressing together as her confused eyes flickered across his face, a curious expression befalling her.
His brow furrowed, a question forming on his lips.
"Kaylens?" He whispered, eyes searching hers desperately.
A distressed look crossed her features, her bottom lip drawing between her teeth, sending his heart thudding uncertainly.
And then she was nodding.
Instantly he reached for her, embracing her against his chest. She was trembling, enticing his own shaking arms to pull her even closer, the need to physically touch her overwhelming. Gods...he couldn't get her close enough.
The shock was finally hitting him, frightening him on too many levels to name as he realized how fleeting this could be.
She was with him again, but only until the walls he had created went tumbling down.
Merlin, how long did he have?
A tremor shook him, an urging need to get her to someone better than him, to someone who could do something, driving him.
He needed someone, someone like Dumbledore. He could strengthen the walls he'd put up inside her mind. He had to.
Fearing to release her for even a moment his arm tightened around her shoulders, his other reaching for the portkey in his pocket. A moment later his fingers were sliding through hers, his hopeful gaze locking onto her tormented one.
"Kaylens," He murmured intensely, "Stay with me."
And then, hoping that she was coherent enough to understand what they were doing, he dumped the sandy contents onto their linked hands, feeling that distinctive tug.
In that last second he threw his arms around her, wanting to shield her from whatever harsh landing they were about to experience.
"My respect is earned, not given."
~ Saying of the Ages ~
Chapter 30 ~ To Hell with Decorum
Harry had barely recovered from the portkey's ride when he felt hands hauling him away, separating him from Kaylens. He blinked, only slightly dazed, and found himself strewn across the dark wooden paneling of Grimmauld Place's study.
The hell of it was, he could hardly see a thing.
"How is she?"
In the dim light cast from the wall-mounted candelabras he saw Remus' shadow drop down between them, placing a hesitant hand on Kalliandra's shoulder. Harry could only see the werewolf's profile, but judging from his expression, Remus looked genuinely surprised when Kaylens did not immediately pull away.
Harry's eyes cut through the darkness, finding hers.
Something warm swelled within him when he realized that she was looking right back at him, scarcely a hint of confusion within her expression. Disbelievingly he watched the candlelight dance in her glossy orbs, and for a brief second he was able to believe that she may just pull through with her sanity intact.
Remus' sharp voice cut through the silent room, drawing both pairs of teenage eyes to the worried adult.
Harry found his voice quickly. "We need an Occlumens. Right away."
Remus' head jolted around, the reflective layer behind his eyes shining. "Harry, what did you do?" He asked uneasily.
His shoulders stiffened, and in that single loaded question he found his resolve.
"What I had to."
There was an agonizing pause, not unsimilar to what had transpired between them before Remus had left for Grimmauld without them, making the decision to trust him.
Harry only hoped Remus would not come to regret it.
A moment later Remus was on his feet, nodding at Harry. "Stay with her."
"The thought of leaving never crossed my mind," He replied honestly, scooting across the floor back to her. The sound of a swinging door, and the voices beyond it, drifted in, but Harry scarcely noticed.
"Kaylens," He whispered, reaching hesitantly for her. With trepidation his fingers slowly curled around her upper arms, whilst his eyes swept searchingly over her face. "You still with me?"
Taking in her every movement he watched her eyes flutter exhaustedly, her chest and shoulders rising as she drew in a fatigued sigh.
And then the insufferable girl fixed him with an exasperated look, nodding tiredly.
He released the breath he had been unwittingly holding, relief sweeping through him. Immediately his hands found her face, the pads of his thumbs moving along her cheekbones with a gentleness he didn't know he possessed. For a moment he simply stared at her, watching the amusement in her gaze only grow.
Merlin...he had been afraid that the swirl of the portkey would disorient her, causing her to lose whatever fledgling bits of sanity she had managed to grasp onto at Remus'. Hell...he vividly recalled their last portkey ride, and that alone had rendered her unconscious.
He stared at her, his eyes boring into her bemused, albeit sleepy, expression.
Suddenly her hand rose, her fingers curling gently around his own where they rested against her cheek. He squeezed her hand gently, finding reassurance he hadn't known he needed in her actions.
Had he been asked a month ago, he never would have guessed that he would be feeling Kalliandra Kaylens, of all people, squeezing his hand in hers. But more than that, he never would have thought that such a simple, innocuous gesture could send his chest stirring.
He swallowed hard, watching the hint of a smile form on her lips. His hand immediately flipped over, taking her cold hand more firmly in his, and tightening his grip on her.
"You're finding this amusing, aren't you?" He accused quietly, his voice unnaturally constricted.
Her mouth parted, only to shut again, her bottom lip drawn between her teeth as she began nodding.
And then he saw it. Amidst her expression was a flicker of fear, and for the briefest of seconds he saw her eyes clouding again.
"Kaylens!" He said sharply, dropping her hand and grabbing her by the shoulders, shaking her suddenly trembling form. "Please! Stay with me!"
Whether it was their physical contact or his voice, he would never know. But suddenly she had gained some sense of herself again, and she had hurtled herself against his chest, her entire form shaking like a leaf.
Harry had never felt more helpless in his life.
And Snape just had to choose that exact moment to walk in.
"What do you think you are doing now, Potter?"
If he wasn't so desperate for help he might have hexed him. Instead his uprising of fury was suddenly quenched as a single thought permeated his panic-ridden mind.
Snape was a Master Occlumens.
Still clutching onto Kaylens as if his life depended on it, he met the Potion Master's critical gaze head on.
"Professor, I need your help."
Snape's entire face crinkled indifferently. "Get off the floor Potter. I don't have time for your games," He clipped, starting to brush past them. Instead he paused mid-stride, eyeing them distastefully.
"And do remove yourselves from here. Undoubtedly you are both choked up about that know-it-all friend of yours, but really Potter, such displays are not meant for public exhibition."
The Slytherin Head of House flipped his robes, practically striking them as he continued striding across the room's expanse towards another door. Harry's jaw dropped, shock and fury mingling on his angry face. "Damn it this is not a joke!" He roared, watching Snape halt. "Kaylens needs help!" He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to calm down. Where in the hell was Remus?
"Professor," He finally ground out, as if the respectful term pained him. "This is not what you think. This is not a display. Something happened to Kaylens. Someone injected her with unicorn blood and I..." He plowed forth, ignoring the fact that he had not a semblance of a clue on how to explain the situation. "I tried something on her. I used Legilimency to get into her mind, to try and help, but..."
He hesitated, meeting Snape's emotionless expression. "I created a wall, similar to the ones they teach beginners in Occlumency, to separate her memories from the foreign ones. But I'm not sure it's working."
His sharp gaze locked onto the blank expression of his most hated Professor.
"She needs help. I need someone to reinforce the wall I made, and I sure as hell am not capable of doing it."
Unreadable as he was, Snape didn't appear to be about to help. But he didn't make any further attempts to leave.
Running his hands through Kaylens’ hair comfortingly, feeling her trembling slowly subsiding, he felt anger at Snape's unresponsiveness begin to stir.
Harry's expression suddenly grew challenging. "Now," He demanded, voice ablaze. "Are you a Master Occlumens or not?"
A flicker of annoyance crossed Snape's face. "Your attempts to appeal to my ego and better nature are pathetic, Potter, considering that I am secure in one and lack the other."
His blood practically boiled.
"Look," Harry spat, dropping all pretense of respectfulness. "You hate me. I hate you. I get that. But this isn't about either of us, and I'll be damned to admit this, but you are the only one here that can help her at the moment. Hell, I'll even give you a free shot at me. Just help her."
Snape's lips curled angrily, as if considering.
"Follow me," The former Slytherin finally sneered, snapping a hand towards the far door.
Harry's fist clenched as the man disappeared through the doorway, not bothering to wait around for an acknowledgement. Drawing a strained breath between his teeth he glanced down at Kaylens, and the tension drained out of him.
Her entire, mud-streaked face was crinkled in concentration. God...she had been so wrapped up in trying to remain in her right mind that she had barely noticed the tense verbal spouting match around her.
"Hey," He murmured, a rough hand reaching out and cupping her chin, forcing her to look up at him. "You still okay?"
Her eyes glittered with confusion, but she managed another nod.
He forced a smile. "Try not to hold this against me," He whispered, standing up and scooping the startled girl into his arms. "But frankly I'm not sure I trust your walking ability at the moment."
She uttered not a sound, simply nodding resignedly, eyes half closed. He swallowed hard as her head fell to rest against his shoulder, and he found himself carefully adverting his gaze from her as he crossed the room quickly, kicking open the door after Snape.
The fact that he didn't hit the man with it disappointed him only slightly.
"Put her on the couch."
His brow crinkled uncertainly. Was he really about to just hand her over to the same cruel, bitter man whom had wreaked havoc on his own mind in the past?
He realized that he had very few options at the moment.
He sunk down into the cushions, clutching her to him. Readjusting only slightly, so that her legs lay loosely draped over his own, with her head resting against his shoulder, he wound his arms protectively around her, sealing her in a vice grip that he was sure she would protest to if she felt up to speaking.
He didn't care though. There was simply no way in hell that he would be leaving her to face the Potions' Master's mercy alone. And irrational as it was, his exhausted, battered mind somehow equated squeezing her to easing whatever ordeal the Occlumens was about to put her through.
He tilted his head down, burying it in the top of her messy head of hair. "Let him do what he has to do. It'll help," He reassured quietly, hoping he would not regret placing his faith in the acerbic man's abilities.
He pulled away only slightly, his arms still looped around her waist, and her hazel colored eyes turned up, studying him intently.
"How very touching."
Harry's head jerked up, only to be greeted with Snape's mocking sneer, and an expression that clearly told him to get the hell out of the way.
"Move aside boy."
Harry's eyes hardened, his grip reflexively tightening around her. "No."
Snape practically twitched. "Insolent child, move. I will not be doing this with you in the way."
"The last time I checked," He retorted, "This only required eye contact. Even you taught me that much. And seeing as how I'm not blocking you from that..." He let his caustic reply trail off.
With a growl Snape leaned forward, grabbing Kaylens chin and practically snapping her head towards him.
The repressed urge to strike the man rose up, fury rifling through him at her distressed, shocked expression, but Snape's wand was already drawn and aimed, an intense look in his eyes.
An eerily calm expression suddenly befell Kaylens' face, while Snape's contorted into one of the utmost concentration.
Harry could only wait.
He dropped his head back against the wall, heaving an exhausted sigh.
The grandfather clock chimed. Kaylens' skin grew cold to the touch. Snape's dark, frightening eyes bored into her wide, doe-like ones.
He watched the clock
Twelve minutes and thirty-three seconds later, Lupin still had not returned.
But his two silent companions did.
Kally jerked, almost violently backwards, her back hitting the armrest of the couch. Harry barely managed to stop her head from smacking into the wall as she slid off of him.
Snape's movements were not nearly so sudden.
Unnoticed to Harry the man rose from the floor, a pale hand brushing imaginary dirt from his robes. And then slowly, almost methodically, the man's fingers tightened challengingly around his wand, his knuckles turning white with the pressure.
It took Harry a second to notice the man's penetrating gaze, but when he did an unsettling sensation overtook him.
The Potions Master was looking at him, a strange look in his eyes.
* * * * *
Blue-green eyes appraised the rather full waiting room of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital's emergency room.
"Father, this is for your own good."
"Couldn't this wait until Monday?" He ventured, trying to plead to his son's better sensibilities as his eyes took in the mass of people. "By the time we finish waiting in line it'll be tomorrow and the physician's office will be open anyways. Is this really where you want to spend your Sunday?"
The man turned around to find his eldest son's eyes narrowed in reproach.
"Father, you were coughing up a storm at home and..."
"It was just a small itch in my throat..."
Edward ignored him. "Dad, you collapsed at the dinner table from that small itch."
"Well really, I was actually just choking on some of your mother's cooking. It was positively unpalatable. Honest."
The boy arched his eyebrows skeptically, clearly not buying this. "Funny, considering how you were praising that fish filet just before your lungs seized up."
The man groaned. "Honestly, Edward. Do you really think that I would criticize your mum's cooking to her face?"
Yes. Wait for it. Ah, there it is.
His son was now full out laughing at him. Of course, he could hardly blame him. His wife, Meredith, could have been a chef had she wanted to. The woman had never cooked nor baked something sub par in her life.
But that wasn't about to stop him from trying to get out of this cursed, congested waiting room.
"Father," croaked out his son, "Aren't you a bit old for harboring phobias of doctor visits?"
He grunted in response, racking his pounding head for another excuse. Honestly, he really thought that his family was overreacting. His lymph nodes might be swollen, and indeed his head was pounding as if Xerxes himself were waging a small war with his neurons. But really all he needed was a good night's rest.
Perhaps he could blame the coughing fit and his wheezing on having tried some cigarettes while fishing that morning. Of course, Meredith would have his hide skinned and filleted before he would even have a chance to shout for help...
The man was caught unaware when his son rather abruptly shoved him into a wheelchair.
"Edward... " He hissed gruffly, only for his threat to fall on deaf ears as Edward bypassed the main line, shoving him to the second check-in window reserved for those experiencing either chest pain or shortness of breath.
And it was then that the racking cough again shook him, the knife-like pain attacking as if the Grim Reaper himself were holding the blade. He clutched onto the wheelchair's arms, gritting his teeth, an acidy burn working its way up his throat.
A painful stab began in his chest, sending his body jack-knifing forward, nearly out the chair. A sharp shout near him made him aware of the frenzy of activity that had begun beyond the check-in desk, and strong hands abruptly latched onto his shoulders, preventing him from falling face forward.
A foot shot out, kicking the wheelchair's brake into place with a metallic click, and suddenly the rocking, swaying motion that he had not even realized to be going on ceased.
The pain in his chest dulled down to a dull burn, and his hand flew to his mouth, feeling the sputum expelling with the next shuddering gasp.
He coughed once, twice more, before leaning gratefully forward onto his son's shoulder, gasping for air.
It was then that he noticed the man in the white lab coat kneeling next to him, and it dawned on him that the cold, metal feeling on his back was the stethoscope, which the doctor had already managed to slip beneath the back of his shirt.
Feeling winded, he looked at the physician's concerned face, and forced a weak grin. "Well," He gasped wryly. "I think it's safe to say, that I am short of breath."
* * * * *
Lupin bowled into the room, Dumbledore in tow. The forceful thud of the door flying open and slamming against the wall effectively causing Snape's white-knuckled grip on his wand to loosen.
Harry's gaze snapped to where Remus stood, asking him what had happened.
He barely heard him, suddenly feeling so, so incredibly stupid. In his desperation to obtain help he had failed to be patient, unable to wait for Lupin's return. And it only now occurred to him why it had taken the werewolf so long.
It would never have occurred to Remus to have gone to the nearest Master Occlumens for help. The trust between the old Marauder and Snivellus was nonexistent, so there was no way in hell that Lupin would have trusted the man to delve into Kally's mind.
So he had gone for Dumbeldore.
Harry already felt like an idiot. Snape simply seized the moment to express his agreement.
"Potter couldn't possibly have done this," He declared.
Snape's statement hung on the air as Dumbledore, looking only slightly weary, swept his gaze back and forth between the three of them. First his blue eyes studied Kalliandra, pity and curiosity mingling together on his lined face, before turning his kindly gaze to Harry. And then, finally, his spectacled gaze locked with Severus Snape's.
A strange silence filled the room as the two became locked in a staring match. It took Harry only a moment to realize what they were doing.
They were communicating through Legilimency, the two masters exchanging all of the information about the situation that they needed to know.
Remus seized the moment of privacy, kneeling in front of where he and Kaylens lay tangled up. "Harry," He began quietly, so as not to interrupt the two. "Please tell me you didn't let him..."
Harry grimaced. "I did."
The werewolf released an exasperated sigh, fixing Harry with an annoyed stare. "I'm not even going to ask what you were thinking. It's quite obvious that you weren't."
"He is a Master Occlumens," He argued, feeling almost dirty at having just defended Snape. "I wouldn't willingly allow someone to hurt her."
A flash of amusement temporarily replaced the critical look on Remus' face. "This coming from the person who personally removed quite a bit of her hair, in what Crusantheus assured me was a full-out brawl in the Headmaster's office."
Harry cringed. "You heard about that, huh?" He asked sheepishly, glancing to where Kalliandra lay, looking for all the world as if she were sleeping.
Remus followed his gaze. "Hermione actually wrote me about that. Something about wanting me to talk some sense into the both of you. Personally, I'm still trying to figure out how she knew I was tutoring Kalliandra in the first place."
"You were tutoring her?"
Remus nodded, looking at him curiously. "How did you think we were acquainted?"
"She was a professional groomer and Moony was in need of a cut?"
Lupin sent him a withering glare. "Of all the things to inherit, you had to get your father's cheek."
"I didn't realize it was his."
Remus seemed to consider this. "Yours is actually a bit more caustic," He related. "Unless Prongs was talking to someone he severely disliked, his comments were never quite so biting."
"So I'm bitter. Can you blame me?"
Moony's expression softened considerably. "No, Harry. I cannot."
Abruptly Lupin's attention turned firmly to Kaylens, his concerned look returning full force. Harry simply watched as Remus reached out, carefully brushing a lock of her persistently tangled hair away from her face, studying her like a concerned father.
Remus paused, as if considering something. "Well," He finally commented, "You two certainly look uncomfortable."
Despite himself, he nearly laughed at the absurdity of the statement. Not that it was lacking in truth, for when Kaylens had jerked back she had wound up with one leg still draped over his own, one hanging halfway off the couch, with her thin form half-slumped between him and the armrest.
And now, she had apparently fallen asleep in exhaustion.
Harry smiled strainedly. "Yeah, well...I wouldn't want to risk incurring her wrath by waking her, now would I?"
Nevertheless he found himself adjusting, to the point where he felt rather secure in knowing that if he let go of her, that she would no longer be in danger of sliding down to the floor.
Remus simply watched this, a crease forming across his forehead.
"Harry," He ventured. "What exactly did you do for her? Specifically."
Harry frowned, considering how to respond to this. However, he did not get the chance.
The two Occlumens in the room had started blinking again, their exchange, apparently, complete.
"As I said, Potter couldn't possibly have done this," Snape restated, ignoring the questioning looks Lupin was throwing at all of them.
Kally chose that moment to let out a sleepy murmur, stirring in her sleep. And somehow that small sound of hers reawakened Harry's fear that he had somehow harmed her mind in his attempt to help her in the first place.
"I didn't hurt her, did I?" He blurted out, earning a sharp stare from Remus.
Fortunately Dumbledore responded quickly.
"No, Harry. You did not."
Snape let out a sound not unlike that of an angry cat. "Albus," He disrupted, clearly in disagreement with the Headmaster's acceptance that Harry had, indeed, constructed the mental barrier. "The level of proficiency in Occlumency that one would have to possess to have done this would be staggering. There is no possible way that Potter could have done this." Snape hesitated. "I'm not even sure that I could have done this."
"What?" Harry shot out, startled by the admission.
"Would someone terribly mind filling me in on what exactly the three of you are talking about?" Interjected Lupin, sounding only mildly annoyed.
Snape acted as if the man had not even spoken, his dark eyes swiveling to Harry instead. "I don't know what you are playing at Potter," He snapped heatedly. "But you did not do this to this girl."
Harry's eyes narrowed, a slow burning anger growing at the Potion Master's stubborn refusal to believe him capable of anything.
The greasy haired man's gaze grew more challenging. "Who really constructed that barrier, Potter?"
Harry's teeth clenched. "I did," He ground out.
Dumbledore rose a placating hand. "Now Severus, lets not be hasty. Harry has been under my tutelage since the start of term, and he has improved greatly. Particularly in regards to his ability to construct mental barriers."
"No one improves that much in so short a time. Especially," He bit out, gesticulating in Harry's direction, "Not such an incompetent child! "
Harry's eyes hardened. "Like you would know, considering you're the one who refused to teach me."
"You are impossible to teach Potter."
"Perhaps if you were capable of dropping petty school day grudges I wouldn't be."
"You are just like your father," Snape practically growled.
"I wouldn't know," He spat matter-of-factly. "Perhaps you could share stories sometimes. Reminisce about having your undergarments placed on public exhibition."
"Harry, that was uncalled for," Dumbledore admonished.
Harry bit back a laugh. "Considering everything he's put me through over the years I highly doubt that."
Snape's normally controlled features twisted into something livid. "How dare you speak to the Headmaster with such disrespect..."
"I respect the Headmaster plenty," Harry snapped. "It's you that I have no respect for."
"Has it occurred to anyone that arguing will get us nowhere?" Remus interjected.
"If Potter hadn't blatantly displayed such a lack of decorum..."
"Decorum?" Harry interrupted. "This isn't your little class with all of its ridiculously anti-Gryffindor rules! So forgive me if I don't grovel at your feet to earn your approval!"
"That is the last time I ever help you, you ungrateful..."
"YOU DIDN'T HELP ME! YOU HELPED HER!" Harry screamed, launching himself off of the couch and to his feet. It was only Remus' quick reflexes that kept Kally from tumbling with him.
Grunting in annoyance, Remus turned to Dumbledore. "Do you get the feeling that this argument was a long time coming?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Why do you think I'm letting them carry on?"
Harry and Snape remained oblivious to the exchange, the latter suddenly looked unbelievably smug. "That's funny Potter, I don't recall telling you that I helped her at all. Come to think of it, all I did was take a look at that barrier. I must admit though, she does have some rather interesting recent memories..."
Harry's eyes took on a wild look. "That has nothing to do with..."
"You're right. But this has everything to do with your inability to respect your betters and to follow the rules."
Harry snorted. "Funny, considering you're the one who's always saying how the normal rules don't apply to me."
"No you idiot boy! I'm always telling you how arrogant you are to think that the normal rules don't apply to you."
"Considering I'm the one who has to off good ole' Riddle for everyone you'd better hope the rules don't apply to me. Otherwise next time the killing curse might actually work."
Snape scowled dangerously. "Ill see if it works," He hissed, fingering his wand.
Harry's mouth snapped shut, his retort lodging uncomfortably in his throat.
Outside, in the main entrance hall, Mrs. Black began screaming.
"If anyone didn't have a headache before, they certainly will now," Remus practically groaned.
"Severus," Addressed the Headmaster, absentmindedly nodding his agreement with Lupin. "From what you've shown me, it looks like all that was done was a separation of Ms. Kaylens’ memories from the unicorn’s, and that is all."
"That's all?" Snape responded edgily, his anger apparently undiluted despite the sudden change of subject. "You make it sound as simple as identifying one species from the other."
Dumbledore shrugged, looking at Harry with a sudden burst of pride twinkling in his eyes. "It's true, that what Harry did required a high degree of skill in the area. But I think if you really think about it Severus, you'll find that Harry was more than capable of having accomplished this."
"After all, Severus, all Harry really did was construct a wall inside of her mind..."
"Not just a wall, Albus. It was a perfect wall."
Harry couldn't help himself. "Perfect? It was full of holes! I thought the thing was about to collapse!"
"You mean to say that you were attempting to create a rigid structure?"
"Yes," He hissed. "Now will someone please explain what he meant by perfect?"
"Will someone please explain what wall we are talking about?"
Again everyone ignored Remus' attempt to extract what was going on from them.
"Potter," Snape drawled, as if talking to a particularly slow pupil. "Had a rigid wall been constructed, there would have been a complete separation of the two sets of memories in the girl's mind."
"Yes, I get that," Harry snapped, feeling frustrated. "That's what I was going for."
Snape's dark, greasy eyebrows arched up. "Even a rigid wall would have eventually crumbled, and when that happened it would have been akin to releasing a floodgate of foreign memories in her mind. So the effect would have been the same as it was initially."
Snape practically rolled his eyes. "She would have gone insane again. I know this level of conversing is a bit of a strain on your mental facilities, but please, do try and keep up."
"That'll be enough, Severus," interjected Dumbledore. "What he means to say, Harry, is that a weak barrier with holes will allow the foreign memories to slip into her mind a few at a time. It'll allow her to become slowly acclimated to the new memories, as opposed to her being forced to manage them all at once. Now I imagine the task of sorting through everything will be rather draining on her..."
Snape snorted. The Headmaster ignored him.
"But in a few hours she should have a pretty solid grasp on what memories are hers, and what are not."
"A few hours? " Harry would trust Dumbledore with his life, but somehow this seemed far too easy. He would have thought cramming a lifetimes worth of memories into a new head would take far longer.
Suddenly the Headmaster smiled. "Ms. Kaylens has been rather fortunate to have been given the blood of a relatively young unicorn, Harry. In fact, the animal is barely older than her. For the next few weeks she'll gradually gain more and more of its memories, but the worst should be over relatively soon."
“How can you know how old it was?”
“Is, Harry. Just because the unicorn’s blood was taken does not mean that it was killed. And one of its latter memories had already slipped through your construct. So Severus was able to see it, and pass that information on to me. She’s actually gotten very lucky.”
Despite this reassurance, he was still uneasy. "And what happens when that wall I made completely breaks down?"
"A slight headache, I would imagine. Nothing more."
"For the love of Merlin! She'll already be acclimated to the memories Potter!" Snape practically shouted, apparently unable to contain himself any longer. "Your little girlfriend will be fine!"
Harry balked. "She's not..."
Snape waved him off dismissively. "Like I care."
Dumbledore casually flicked his wand in their direction, silencing them both. Harry gaped like a fish, noticing Snape doing the same.
Dumbledore let nothing show on his face, but simply turned to where Remus and Kaylens still sat.
"Remus, as interesting as this verbal fray has been, I think that the best thing for Ms.Kaylens, at the moment, is rest."
Lupin looking rather like a worried father, nodded his assent. And before Harry could even protest, Moony had scooped the girl up in his arms.
Fixing Harry with a pointed stare, Remus inclined his head as he left. "She'll be in the room Hermione and Ginny used."
Snape, apparently having unsilenced himself, let out a derisive scoff that bore a strange resemblance to the words "I'm so sure."
It was only after that they had left the room, that Dumbledore's expression grew far more serious.
"Harry," He stated seriously. "I think it's time you explained exactly what happened with Angelina."
* * * * *
"VHERE IS SHE!?!?"
The man's voice rose furiously, awakening her from her Crucio-induced slumber with a start.
Her dark eyes snapped open, her unfocused gaze shooting uselessly around the pitch-black room.
She had been left in complete and total darkness, unable to discern even a single detail of her surroundings. The cold, silk sheets beneath her were the only clue she had to suggest that she remained in the same room as before.
Only now she was mercifully alone, with only the lingering, bone-deep pain of the inflicted curses for company.
An unsettling feeling of futility settled firmly within her chest, but she would not, could not, lose hope. Instead her resolve strengthened, and she forced herself to listen very carefully.
Outside in the hall two people were arguing fiercely, their exact words muffled, though every so often the one would rise about the other, a dangerous note in his accented speech.
Her brow creased fretfully, anxiety filling her. There was something very familiar about that voice. Something her intelligent mind screamed she should have been able to recognize instantly.
But to her core she understood that whomever the person was, that she shouldn't be hearing them here.
Not in a place where only Death Eaters roamed freely.
An icy foreboding flooded her veins...
The door to her room suddenly flew open, a broad shouldered man forcing his way in, his silhouette shadowed by the hall's firelight.
It felt as if someone were suddenly choking her, an agonizing chill overtaking her in a way that the Cruciatus curse would never be able to touch.
The man's defined jaw line, one so very familiar to her, was set firmly.
A heart-wrenching betrayal ripped through her, snatching her heart in its vice grip as she watched his mouth open, forming the words she had once loved to hear.
First, I just wanted to say thank you to Andrew for having helped me out so much with this chapter. He has not only beta-read the last few chapters, but has also helped me to tweak them to make them easier to read.
Secondly, I wanted to apologize about having taken so long between chapters over the past year. I honestly needed a break from writing, and now that I have had that I plan on updating approximately every two weeks or so. I'm really excited about finishing the story, and I figure that two weeks is definitely a deadline that I can meet, considering that I used to post daily chapters for the Quizilla version of this. Of course, those were only about 2500 words a piece, but nevertheless I figure once every two weeks or so should work out well. Again, I am really sorry about having taken such lengthy breaks this past year. Things were very busy and frankly I just needed to really recharge. Thank you all for having stuck around though! Chapter 31 is being worked on presently, so expect it in about two weeks.
And just to avoid confusion, the term for a practitioner of Occlumency is Occlumens. For some reason in the rough draft of this I had a lot of people trying to correct me on that.
And the Greatest of These... by Edward Ollivander
Rating: 12+ Status: WIP - 24 chapters
In the wake of Dumbledore's death Harry is consumed with a burning desire to accomplish one thing: Defeat Voldemort, by any means necessary. As he sets out to destroy not only the villain himself, but also the fear that has the wizarding world's heart in a vice grip, he has to change the way he sees the world around him, as well as the way he functions within it. Now, as he prepares for the final battle, he becomes the one thing the wizarding world needs: Hope. Harry/Ginny pairing.