Chapter Six: Lost and Found
"There was nothing wrong with Remus' Wolfsbane potion." To everyone's relief Sirius got right to the point. "Dumbledore never sent you a letter."
"I know," Snape said, pouring himself another coffee. Sirius looked at the pot hopefully, but Snape ignored him.
"So when did you work that out, O Master of the Ineffable?" Sirius growled.
"Right about the time Harry touched you and activated a flare charm."
"Oh damn..." Sirius breathed. He had gone ashen. "So I've just..."
"Allowed Voldemort to triangulate Harry's position to within a few square meters" Yes. But don't worry; it'll take him at least three hours of fairly complicated Arithmancy to work out where exactly we are. Biscuit?"
"Damn you..." Black controlled himself with difficulty. "Harry, when you opened the letter, did you notice anything?"
Harry had been thinking about that too. "Yes," he said quietly, his heart like lead in his chest. "There was a small shower of sparks. Just like when I touched Sirius," he finished miserably, looking at Snape.
Snape seemed preternaturally calm. "Yes. I guessed that there would have been an earlier one from the letter when I saw you touch Black. Black's information that the Wolfsbane was untampered with makes me think that your owl was sent by an agent of Voldemort's." He sipped his coffee. "You might as well stop hiding your wand, Mister Potter."
Harry blushed. "I, uh..."
"Don't worry. It may be to our advantage that you have it after all. Now that Black has led Voldemort to us we will need all the advantages we can get."
Sirius hung his head. "We can Disapparate out," he mumbled.
"No," Rona said, speaking for the first time. Her voice was flat; angry. "Didn't you feel it? There's an anti-Apparating bubble closing in on us. We'd need to walk through it, and it's got a diameter of at least fifty kilometres. I felt it hit one of my old wards down by the town. We can Apparate within it, but that just gives someone as powerful as the some of the followers Voldemort must have a trail to follow." Snape nodded when she looked a question at him. "So Apparating isn't an option. But we can't stay here, Sev."
"No. We have to leave, and leave now."
"Glad you agree. We're going to my place."
For the first time Snape's face showed animation. "Like hell we are!" he exploded.
Rona sat back in her chair. "We are going there," she said with a quiet intensity, "because the first place your old friends will look will be houses with people in them. And my son and my brother and my grandmother are in the nearest house and they don't know what's coming their way."
It was quickly settled. Snape would drive them down in the car. Solomon would follow them down. But there was a slight problem.
"He's moulting." Snape brushed his hand across the pony's shaggy coat. It came away with a mat of white hair. More white hairs floated in the breeze and attached themselves to Snape's black cloak.
Rona groaned. "He can't be. It's too early."
"All the magic in the air... he knows something's going on and he wants to be ready for it."
"But it's too early."
Harry and Chad watched from by the car a few meters away, not wanting to draw attention to themselves after the charged atmosphere earlier. "What's happening?" Harry whispered.
Chad shook his head. "Solly's moulting early. That's bad."
"What do you mean, 'moulting'?"
They were interrupted by Sirius. "I've put those bags of yours in, Snape," he announced. "Let's go."
Snape went to the car, but only to get a small, white container that rattled from the glove compartment. "Rona, you'll have to drive them. I'll lead Solly down."
"What" Snape, you maniac, get in the car and —"
"Come on kids," Rona said briskly. "Into the car. You — Black — get in the car."
"But Snape —"
"Will do what he has to. Get in."
Perhaps remembering the earlier headlock, Sirius obeyed. Harry watched from the window as Rona spoke briefly with Snape. She kissed him on the cheek and ran to the car. Harry thought he saw her brush something from her eye.
As the car drove away Snape had tipped out something from the white container and was feeding it to Solly. Harry watched until they were over the river and went around a bend. "Will he be okay?"
"Sure, Harry," Rona said. "He's going to be fine. We'll get to my place and put on the jug so that he can have a decent cup of coffee when he arrives. He'll need it. Solly's going to need his attention this evening."
"Do all horses need special attention when they moult? I only know about owls. Oh, and maybe cats," he added, remembering the times Hermione's cat Crookshanks had left great meadows of hair over his bedspread.
"Dogs," said Sirius.
"Oh, that's right," Rona snapped. "You're an Animagus. Turn into a dog and go for a wander around these parts, please do. Farmers shoots mangy strays."
Sirius grinned like a wolf. "I noticed. I dodged a couple of bullets on my way up. People around here don't know quality when they see it."
Seeing another argument about to explode, Harry opened his mouth to deflect the anger. Chad beat him to it. "How did you find your way here, Mr Black?"
Sirius looked taken aback by the politeness of address. "Uh — I used a phoenix to talk to Harry's owl. Then I Apparated along the direction she had taken, took my Animagus form, and followed the landmarks the owl had in her mind to locate Harry."
"I didn't know you could communicate with an owl like that," Harry remarked.
"You need a phoenix. And a smart owl," Sirius added, winking at Harry.
"I met the owl. She's awesome. Could you talk to any bird through a phoenix?" Chad seemed to be taking the existence of phoenixes quite easily. Perhaps he had come across them before.
Sirius gripped the back of the front seat. He was sitting next to Rona, who was taking the corners too fast and had a set, angry line to her jaw. As the sun set behind them her eyes grew darker, the anger in them reminding Harry of Snape. He hoped the professor was all right with the pony.
"Some birds," Sirius was saying, "like owls are easy. Most are like sparrows and blackbirds — not worth bothering with. Ravens are sly and gulls are philosophical."
"What about parrots?" Harry asked.
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "I guess you could ask one if it wants a cracker."
Rona stepped on the brakes so hard the car skidded to a stop.
"I'm sure she's safe, Mum," Chad said. "You know her; she avoids strangers."
"Only when they're out of food," Rona growled. "Show her a Death Eater with a ham sandwich and she's found a new bosom buddy."
"Who's Helen?" Sirius mouthed at Harry.
"Helen's a local parrot," Harry explained. "She's sort of Snape's pet."
"And Uncle Sev wouldn't want us worrying about her," Chad said pointedly to his mother. "She can take care of herself."
Sirius opened his mouth to say something bad about "Uncle Sev," Harry just knew it, so he said quickly, "Sirius, don't you think it'd be a good idea to transfigure into your Animagus form? There are people who might think you're an escaped convict."
"He is an escaped convict," Rona muttered, shifting the car into first gear and pushing down hard on the accelerator. "The sooner he goes back to Azkaban the better."
Harry and Chad gave their respective guardians a poke in the shoulder each and exchanged apologetic looks that said: "Adults. Can't live with them, can't get a babysitter for people their age."
"Sirius? Would it be a good idea or not?"
"I've never met an animagus," Chad said. "That's so cool. What sort of dog do you turn into?"
"Damn," said Sirius, laughing. "You two are spending much too much time around that sli- ah, Slytherin. Since when were Gryffindors as manipulative as you're proving to be, Harry?"
Harry shrugged. "It's a knack. So?"
"Oh, all right."
The next second, a big, black, shaggy dog was sitting in the passenger seat.
Rona screeched and the car nearly went off the road. The dog yelped as its head hit the dashboard.
"Sorry, Rona. Um, it seemed like a good idea. He'll be fine, I promise..."
Rona muttered dark things about Good Ideas.
The sun went behind the Southern Alps and all of a sudden it was a very heavy twilight.
"Rona, I wish you'd stop bringing strays home."
"Sorry Maman. I'll take him down to the pound tomorrow. Or the vet, and have him fixed."
Rona was enjoying this a bit too much, Harry worried. She really seemed to harbour a deep resentment towards his godfather. Maman sighed, and went into the back bedroom to check on Eru.
Wiri crouched down to rub Sirius' jowls. "Nice looking chap," he said. "Looks strong. Too big for sheep, but if you crossed him with something short and stocky you could get a good pig-dog."
Sirius whined a little, his tail going between his legs as he rolled his eyes pitifully at Harry, who was trying not to laugh. "Er, I think he got top in his class," Harry said.
"Really" What class was that?" Wiri asked, curiosity lighting up his hazel eyes. He really did care about animals, Harry realised.
The dog nodded.
Harry tried not to laugh. "He's a wizard. An Animagus."
Wiri jumped back. "Oh, I am sorry, sir. I didn't mean to offend you." The dog's tail wagged and he grinned a doggy grin to show that no harm was done. "What's his name?" Wiri asked Harry.
"Ur... Joe." Harry didn't want a repeat of the scene where Sirius got nearly choked to death. "Joe Smith."
"Original name for a wizard, I guess," Wiri said doubtfully. He patted 'Joe' on the head once more and stood up. "Where's Sev?"
Rona said, "Coming down with Solly. Do you have any more of your pep pills?"
"Oh no — Solly's not started moulting, has he?"
"You got it."
Wiri looked grim. "Bad time for it. Harry, Chad, get out and put some hay down in the cow shed. Make it a thick layer; we're expecting snow tonight and lots of it."
Maman came back out to report that Eru was still sleeping and that they weren't to wake him as it had taken her so long to get him to sleep in the first place. She checked the boys' scarves and hats. "Be quick. I'll have some hot chocolate for you when you get back. With marshmallows. Keep warm. Eru's still sick and I don't want either of you two coming down sick as well."
"We'll be fine," promised Chad, hugging his great-grandmother.
Harry hung back, then hugged Maman when she held out her arms to him. She smelt of magnolia flowers and wood smoke. He wished he had a great-grandmother of his own to hug.
Sirius followed them out. As the door closed, Harry heard Maman query, "What's really going on tonight, Rona?"
In the cow shed Harry imitated Chad, pulling reams of hay off bales and shaking them out to fluff the hay out into a thick, comfortable layer on the floor.
"There," Chad said. "Might be a good idea to bring in the old oil heater and some blankets."
"Can you use a heater in here?"
"An oil heater, sure. But you've still got to keep an eye on it just in case the hay gets too close."
"No, I mean, doesn't it mean using magic?"
Chad gave him a look so ancient it could have been fossilised. "We use electricity here, Harry."
Harry grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. I get so used to Wizarding folk living so completely separated from Muggles that they don't even know what electricity is."
"Well, in this family we try not to get too reliant on our magic." Chad shuffled backwards from one of the stalls, dragging out a battered old oil heater. "Plug it in, will you? Should be a socket under the shelf where the jug is."
Harry found it. "Do you want me to put the jug on?"
"Good idea. Never know when you're going to need hot water, and Uncle Sev might need to dissolve some of the medicines before giving them to Solly."
When Harry tried the tap, nothing came out.
"Probably frozen," guessed Chad. "Just pack the jug with snow, eh?"
"Okay." Harry went to the door where Sirius, still in his dog form, was watching the night creep up out of the valleys. After filling the jug Harry crouched next to his godfather and put his arm around the shaggy shoulders. "Any sign of You-Know-Who?" At this stage Harry wasn't about to tempt danger by saying Voldemort's name.
The dog whined softly and shook his head.
"Good. I've got my wand — have you got yours?"
The dog nodded.
"Snape said we'll probably need them. Is there any way we can get a message to Dumbledore? I suppose we should wait and ask Snape." The dog growled softly at the name. "Yeah, I know," Harry said. "But there's some strange magics in this place. He might know how to use them best."
The dog snorted. Then, at Harry's disapproving look, he swiped the boy's face with a long, wet tongue.
"Eyew!" Harry lost his balance and fell over backwards.
There was a cough from the shadows and the dog stood, growling softly as he moved between Harry and the stranger.
"Yeah. I came out to see your dog..."
It was Eru, wearing slippers and a quilt. Wrapped up with him was a teddy bear. Its button eyes peered glassily at Harry. "Hi, Eru." Harry patted Sirius on the Animagus" shaggy shoulder. "You should be in bed." Eru's face was flushed, his eyes too bright and a little glassy like the bear's.
"Mum's upset and she won't tell me why. Where's Uncle Sev?"
"He's on his way down with Solomon," Harry said as calmly as he could. Even Eru, sick as he was, could tell that something was wrong.
"Eru! What are you doing up?" Chad's exasperation was more from worry than anger; Harry could tell that he wasn't happy to see his little brother wandering around.
"I wanted to see Harry's dog. And where's Uncle Sev?"
"Well, here's Harry's dog. And Uncle Sev's leading Solly down because Solly's started moulting."
Eru started to cry softly. "Why isn't he here? Mum's been gone so long and now she's back and Uncle Sev's not here. What's wrong with Solly?"
Chad put his hand on Eru's forehead. "Let's get you back to the house," he said, adding; "Harry, bring your dog back inside. Leave the jug for the minute."
Eru was still weeping softly. "Wanna see Solly. Wanna see Uncle Sev..."
"I know. He'll be here soon."
"Wanna see him now..."
Chad picked up his brother, teddy and all, and carried him back inside where Rona took him into her arms and whisked him off into the bedroom.
"Is he okay?" Harry whispered to Chad.
Chad sat down on the couch and looked at his hands. "He's running a high temperature. I think he's hallucinating a bit — he's pretty distressed. But Uncle Wiri can treat him if Sev can't. I thought he was okay when we came up on Saturday morning, but he's not good now. Mum'll have to sleep with him tonight just to keep him calm."
Harry sat down next to him carefully and Sirius put his muzzle on Chad's knee. Chad, forgetting that it was an Animagus, stroked the dog"s silky ears. "We're going to need help tonight, Harry."
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