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Chapter Eight: The Repercussions of Success

Forty-five minutes after tumbling Remus to the carpet, a gasping Sirius pulled himself up from the floor. "Gods, love--you're going to be the death of me!"

"You started it," the other wizard murmured languidly. "You're as bad as ever James was."

"Well, Lily was just as delectable as you. Who could blame the man?"

"Who, indeed?"

It was awhile before Remus realized that his lover had not responded, nor returned to cuddle. Sirius always cuddled.

"Aren't you coming back?" he asked, sitting up to look at Sirius, who was flipping through the pages of Whistlespit again.

"Tell me something . . . . When James and Lily took out those Death Eaters at the Knockturn Alley meeting they surprised, was that when Augusta Malfoy was killed?"

"Lucius' cousin? I believe so. Why? . . . Oh, shit!" Remus exclaimed. "Give me that," he said briskly, taking the guide from Sirius and turning to the page for which the other wizard had been looking.

On page nine hundred and seventy-one, the applicable rule read: "During the Courtship Rites, in the interest of peace and justice, and toward the preservation of the Families, any House that has suffered the loss of a marriageable, fertile witch by the actions of another member of the Assembly"--here "the Assembly" meant the assembled family members of the extant wizarding bloodlines--"may seek, as honorable redress of the loss of one of its own, a marriageable, fertile female of the offending House to be wed to one of its own, so long as the potential parties of the union from both Houses have between them no other Bonds of any kind, and if they have entered into the Rites of Courtship willingly toward the satisfaction of their own desires, unless they have been entered into the Rites of Courtship by decree of their Heads of House or Guardians. Let those who enter into the Ancient Rites be taxed with infertility or loss of limb or death should they deny their rightful part in any ceremony they have entered. Let this sentence be carried out at the Assembly in front of the Blood. Let not the loss of a marriageable, fertile wizard may be redressed through the Courtship Rites, however, as Blood's Purity must be traced through the line of the mothers to ensure its strength. Though shalt not suffer a wizard to live who destroys the fertility of a witch in order to cause weakness in an enemy House, or cause the slaking of sorrow, or for any reason as of can be thought, as such an offense is the Death of a Line of the Blood of All Wizard, and not to be Borne without Vengeance."

"Love, did you send Severus' Declaration of Intent to be filed?"

Sirius, feeling vaguely uneasy, replied, "Yeah. Is that a problem?"

They both knew it was.

"Damn it, Sirius! Why didn't you wait?"

The other wizard stood up and began to kick books and papers out of his way as he paced the floor. "I forgot about Augusta. I was certain that nothing could possibly interfere with Severus' plans."

"Then why have we spent most of this evening researching the matter?" demanded Remus.

"I was just humoring you--you worry about everything."

Now Remus was standing, and he was clearly very angry. "I see. Blame me then, blame me for your impatience--or is it that you were afraid that if you didn't get the declaration off to the Ministry immediately, you'd allow your own reservations to interfere with your goddaughter's happiness?"

"How dare you imply that I'd ever hurt Harry? You know I don't mind Sev, now!"

Remus froze. "Well, that's a glowing endorsement if ever I heard one. Do you think Ree will find it sufficient? Do you think she'll understand being forced to participate in the rituals if she wants to marry Severus--or anyone at all?"

"They don't kill or maim people who don't abide by the old rules anymore."

"But oath-breakers are still ostracized, Sirius, and, as a matter of fact, a sentence of childlessness has been passed down within the last one hundred and fifty years. Or didn't you know that? Didn't you care to know that?"

Sirius attempted to interrupt, but it seemed as though all of Remus' patience with his lover had fled in response to his latest mistake. And Remus had been patient with Sirius for so very long that his frustrations with the wizard ran deeper than even he knew.

"Do you want Ree to be made barren should Narcissa decide to push the issue? Because you and I both know that if she can hurt Harry by setting a Claim of Courtship on her in Draco's name, she'll do it. Malfoys don't forgive, Sirius! And haven't you and I been trying to protect her from them for years now? Didn't we swear to Severus to be certain that there could be no possible complication in this matter before consenting to pursue it? Ree is not going to understand your foolhardy haste, your lack of care, your inattention to basic research, you useless, abject, idiot!"

The disconsolate whine of a dog was the enraged wizard's only reply. Don't think I won't kick you, Remus thought, storming out of the room before he lost all control and did something he would regret.

The air gust caused by the door's being slammed sent a little ripple across the surface of the liquid in the goblet that the Potions master had brought up for Remus shortly before he had left the castle earlier that same evening. Severus' Wolfsbane Potion was now so efficacious that Remus did not require it until just before moonrise.

Poppy's rage flowed through every limb of her body like a black and poisonous potion as she appeared in Albus' rooms and began flinging at that wizard every curse she had at her disposal.

When their initial fight had ceased, Fawkes was calling in distress, with Albus' hands on him as the wizard prevented the bird from defending him. "No, my friend, no," he crooned to the offended phoenix.

The bird was unharmed, and the headmaster's wounds would heal.

"If you were any other man, you'd be dead right now," Poppy said through the heavy breathing that indicated her recent, murderous exertions. "How could you?"

Albus knew that only one thing could make the nurse this angry--the interference with one of "her" children--and the only child with whom he was actively interfering was Ree.

"Let me explain, Vera," he said, invoking her old name in an attempt to reestablish their common purpose.

"I do not require your explanation, Godrixibus. We took the same pledge, you and I. We swore to be as guardians over the children under our protection! You have become a vile oath-breaker, as did Salazar!"

"I most certainly did not do--"

"Alteration of the will is a damaging act, you presumptuous ass. That child has been through enough without having to learn to defend herself against your good intentions. Didn't Slytherin's betrayal teach you that lesson? He was as committed to our kind as were you, yet the harm he--"

"I need no reminder of Salazar's behavior, or the harm he caused. I know well enough what he was."

"No, I doubt that, brothers-in-arms that you were. You still understand him, don't you? You still agree with him that people need to be led. This from a man who gives such pretty speeches about honesty, from the great fool who can't see past his own prejudices to trust those who are truly worthy of it!"

Poppy had yet to forgive Albus for seeking to control Severus after the boy's defection from the Death Eaters, despite the fact that the young wizard had given the headmaster his uninformed consent to effect such a measure. There was a variation of Zuccarum Innocuous that did more to Albus' lemon drops than render them less harmful to one's diet and teeth, though Minerva had not known it.

"I shall have to tell Ree what I have done, Poppy. I see that now," he promised, standing heavily and smoothing out his creased, burnt, and disintegrating robes.

Completely untouched, the witch replied, "Ree already knows of the perfidy to which she has been subjected. She is simply not yet aware of whom to blame for it."

"How can this be?"

"I don't know, but I've just seen her. The coercive magics you wrought upon her are breaking down, and it is clear that she is aware of what they mean for her memory. They smelt of you, but the girl has never seen enough of your magic to know its stink."

With that, the witch left Albus' study with a purposefully loud crack.

A knock sounded on the door at the same moment.

"Enter," the headmaster called, too weary to pretend not to be present.

"Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore, I come bearing a missive from my master, Tancredo of the Wilds."

By nine o'clock, Harry was feeling, despite her mortification and sadness, almost . . . normal, so she was able to think clearly when Sirius entered the kitchen.

"Ree! Have you seen Remus?" he asked without preamble.

"I need to talk to--" she tried to say, but her godfather interrupted her with an outburst unlike any she had witnessed since his early days out of Azkaban.

"There's no time for that! He's missing! He's gone out and forgotten his potion, and he's missing!"

The witch stood, crossed the floor to where Sirius was rocking back and forth on the balls of his unsteady feet, and struck him hard across the face. "Focus! Who have you told, and where have you looked?" she commanded.

It never occurred to the wizard not to obey her.

"I came straight here. I thought--we had a fight--Remus usually comes here after we fight--but I had, I had lost time, Ree, in canine form, and I--"

"Enough!" Harry yelled, which silenced Sirius as quickly as striking him had. "Dobby!" she called.

The house elf appeared immediately.

"I want every house elf in the castle looking for Remus Lupin in both his human and lupine forms. If anyone should find him, subdue--can elves subdue a werewolf?" she asked Dobby, who nodded--"subdue him and alert Professor Dumbledore immediately."

Dobby disappeared without a word.

Harry turned back to Sirius. "I'm going to search the grounds."

Her godfather nodded. "I'll come, too."

"No," Harry said, "you'll sleep."

She levitated Sirius' body to lay it on a table just as Dobby returned to the kitchen. "That was fast."

"We is elves, Harry Potter, and this is our place to know--but Remus Lupin is gone from Hogwarts."

"Can you search the grounds as quickly?"

Dobby hung his head. "We is needing the inside of things. The secrets in the outside is not ours. Dobby will summon help for Harry Potter to search."

"No, please don't. No one can know, Dobby. Guard the entrances, and don't allow anyone to leave the castle until I say so. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Harry Potter. Dobby understands. The wolf will hurts people who leave."

"Not if I can help it," the witch said, conjuring her broom and willing herself out of the castle.

Harry successfully "ignored" the anti-apparation wards around the castle to materialize high above the Astronomy Tower without thinking about how she managed it. What brief instruction in the use of the Gift she had accepted from Dumbledore was becoming increasingly useful to her. "Extendus Visio!" she cried, expanding her capacity for sight to aid her survey of the grounds for Remus.

He was nowhere to be seen.

She did, however, catch sight of movement at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

A centaur, she realized. That's odd.

The centaurs had refused to deal with anyone--even Hagrid--during the war, but they had defended their territory when the fighting had begun in earnest. Harry shuddered to remember the mangled bodies of the Death Eaters and the other creatures that had been found piled near the forest's boundary closest to the ex-groundskeeper's hut. Could Remus have gone into the woods?

"No!" she exclaimed, and made for the shadowy figure with all due speed.

There was no one visible when Harry landed, so she kicked off the ground and levitated just inside of the tree line.

It was too quiet. Even the insects were still.

"Hello? Is there anyone here?"

"You are not welcome here, human," a voice behind her said.

The witch rose a little higher and pivoted to face the small herd of centaurs that had formed a horseshoe behind her.

"I mean no offence," she told the unfamiliar female centaur that stood a little ahead of the others.

"Yet you give it by your trespass."

"I am looking for a were--"

"Wolf," a large male centaur completed for her. "Yes, we seek the beast, as well. It attempted to breach our perimeter not long ago."

"Did you hur--see where it went?"

"Had we," the female centaur--the leader, Harry realized--"we would not be clustered here."

"I know the human the beast becomes. I'm trying to sa--"

"Save it?" demanded the head of the herd, scornfully. "The foolishness in that mercy is not to be forgiven. Such creatures need killing, human."

"No! I've a potion that will--"

"Human magic!" spat one of the males, pawing the ground.

"Right," the witch said, deciding to put an end to the non-discussion. "You wouldn't be so close to the castle if the wolf had gotten into your territory, would you?"

Oh, shit, Harry thought when she received no response. Oh, no.

It had just occurred to her where Remus might have headed.

It was nine-thirty when Alastor Moody reached the Shrieking Shack after stopping at the Three Broomsticks to fortify himself--from his own flask, of course--before returning to the novitiate. He hated people, but he found the anonymity afforded by the drunken reveling of a pub a more settling prospect than that of having to be civil to the latest group of would-be-Aurors, and he had no desire to see Zabini.

A group of townsman had come in not long after he had arrived, making much out of the fact that the "old haunt," as the inhabitants of Hogsmeade referred to the Shrieking Shack, was living up to its reputation that night. Alastor had not liked the sound of that, so he had left the warmth of the pub to investigate the ramshackle old building. Standing before it in the snow, he almost regretted his prudence.

"Like as not they were just exaggerating for the benefit of their lady-friends," he said, drawing his wand and entering the place. "Lumos!"

The shack looked as it always did--dusty, dreary, and empty. The Auror levitated some bits of broken bed and torn curtain to thoroughly examine the space, but saw nothing but mouse-droppings and more dust.

"Boasting, drunken fools!" Moody spat, rolling his magical eye across the floor and up the walls.

He was clearly alone in the shack, and nothing had troubled to enter it for some time. Returning his wand to his sheath, he stepped outside into the clean, gusting wind and took a deep and welcome breath of air.

It never reached his lungs.

But as the werewolf, which had leapt from the roof of the shack, rolled him over to feast from the wound it had created when it had partially decapitated him with a claw, Alastor saw the moon slide out from behind the heavy cloud cover.

He knew this view, and had for years.

It was his last.

Harry heard the clock in Hogsmeade's town square chime once for nine-forty-five as she circled from behind the Shrieking Shack to its front door. There was nothing there but a dark greasy stain that led into the house.

No! the witch thought before she felt her emotions drain into the freezing cup in her mind she reserved for those occasions when feeling anything might get her killed.

In battle, even rage might fail one. It tended to ebb at the most inopportune of moments.

Almost instantly quiescent and alert, Harry reached for her sword, flew into the shack, and stopped short at the scene before her.

The ravaged remains of an old man were laying in scattered pieces across the floor, and in the corner of the room, a werewolf--Remus!--was gnawing on the tattered robes and flesh of an arm.

The creature did not hesitate when it saw the witch, but threw itself at Harry with a gore-spluttering growl.

It landed on a suddenly empty patch of floor--its claws scratching ineffectually for purchase--and slid into a wall.

Harry had apparated to a point just behind the creature, very near what she could now see was what was left of Alastor Moody. She did not waste time examining the remains.

"Subiungas!" she commanded, and the wolf fell limply to the decaying slats of the floor.

Observing her work as if it was that of someone else, the witch thought about the nature of time, and about how there never seemed to be enough of it. She wanted a time-turner, or to act as one herself, so that she could change what had occurred. But she knew that her desire could never be satisfied.

"Oh, it is tempting, the thought that we might work upon time, Harry," Dumbledore had told her once. "But, as we can never step outside of it, time is not ours to direct. And should we attempt to do so, I fear before long we would find ourselves somehow less than sane, and certainly not intact."

Albus was always talking about how one might apply "gentle guidance" to a situation, if one had enough information upon which to act.

But when the act itself has occurred, what's left to do? "I have to hide this," Harry whispered to herself in answer. "I have to save Remus!"

"My actions have helped save many lives, Dumbledore, but my career as a courier is almost at an end," Vedette said gruffly, helping herself to another excellent sandwich the wizard had offered her.

After many years of subsisting primarily on what meat the Wilds afforded its inhabitants, the witch found herself grateful to partake of proper British beef, no matter how hastily it had been prepared.

Albus nodded in response to the woman's reply to his polite question while seeking to mask his anger and alarm that the contents of Tancredo's missive had provoked in himself. It isn't time, he thought, worriedly. I have not completed gathering the necessary ingredients.

The witch was not offended by the wizard's abstraction. She knew Tancredo's business with Dumbledore was a weighty one. But she did have her instructions.

"The Boundary is weakening, and Master Tancredo is most interested in receiving his strengthening draught as soon as may be. Will providing it be a problem?"

"The potion requires time to prepare, Mrs. Sn--oh," he said, the darkening of the witch's face reminding him. "Please forgive me, Vedette. I had forgotten that you'd given up your surname." This seemed to mollify his guest, so he continued. "And Tancredo has called for it sooner than I had anticipated."

"That may be, Dumbledore, but our need is great. The ancient wards are tearing. The Song grows louder. Without a new casting of the Boundary, the old war will spill across more than the barrier between the Wilds and that of magical Britain. Would you risk the exposure of our world to Muggles? Would you risk the lives of everyone to keep to a timetable?"

"I would not, as I think you know. But how is it possible that the Boundary has begun to weaken?" Albus asked, his agitation plain.

"The master sees much, as you know, but he has yet to discover that cause of the interference."

"'Interference'?" the wizard asked sharply.

"Someone has been trying to destroy the Boundary. There can be no other explanation for the tears in it. They are being inflicted."

Albus could not imagine anyone sane desiring to unleash the horrors of the Wilds upon the world. Not even Voldemort would have done such a thing. That wizard had craved order above all else. But it might finally explain the interest in certain ancient artifacts.

"Someone has found a key, Vedette, an old, broken key."

"Perhaps," she replied, "though most keys are destroyed out of hand now."

"The key of which I speak would be as old as the first casting of the Boundary, and there are yet a few remaining in the care of the Ministry."

"But those fools don't know what they have. Where else would such an item be found?"

"I have been monitoring archaeological activity in the vicinity of the First Kingdom, but have learnt nothing of use about the person or persons who must surely be directing the activity."

Vedette leaned forward in her chair. "Surely, someone comes to mind."

"Unfortunately," Albus said, leaning back into his own chair, "not."

But Vedette, ignorant as she was of all her master's secrets, was not fool enough to ignore the change of expression on the face of her host. "You don't want to know what this 'activity' might mean, do you?"

After a long moment, the wizard inclined his head in assent.

"Dumbledore, I know something of why Tancredo respects you, but I must speak. I will not permit my line to be slaughtered through the result of any hesitancy on your part. There is nothing honorable about delay. If you value your own . . . kingdom, your own blood, you will not scruple to dissemble to yourself. Any suspicion you have as to the orchestrator of these events must be investigated at once."

"You have the right of it, of course. It is just that I thought I had already dealt with my old . . . brother-in-arms."

The witch stood. "Then your arrogance may be the ruin of us all," she bristled. "You did not kill him, did you?"

Albus also stood. "No. I did not."

"You are the veriest--"

"Fool," the wizard agreed. And I do not know if I could kill him now.


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