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FIC: Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures, Chapter 20 / 21 (PG-13), part one

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Jul. 2nd, 2010 | 11:04 pm

Title: Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures, Chapter Twenty: Of Pain, Sharing and Change, part one
Author: PaulaMcG
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: (subtly, eventually) Remus/Sirius
Chapter summary: Here they are – in their grand adventure.
Word count: around 9,400
Disclaimer: Remus won't help me make any money.

Notes: This is the last long chapter. I’ve worked on this text painstakingly, also (both in late 2008 and in early 2010) together with my incredible ishonn. Thank you again, my sweet friend, for everything. The chapter title might still change – into something that refers better to the amount of action. The one I’m using now is what occurred to me a few months ago as an alternative title for the whole novel. I’ll probably post the tiny Chapter Twenty-One (or Chapter Twenty and Two Fifths) right after spending the next two weeks with my amazing beta.

Chapter One can be found here, Chapter Two here, Chapter Three here and here, Chapter Four here, Chapter Five here and here, Chapter Six here and here, Chapter Seven here, Chapter Eight here and here, Chapter Nine here, here and here, Chapter Ten here and here, Chapter Eleven here, here and here., Chapter Twelve here and here, Chapter Thirteen here and here, Chapter Fourteen here and here, Chapter Fifteen here, Chapter Sixteen here, Chapter Seventeen here and here, Chapter Eighteen here and here, and Chapter Nineteen here and here.

Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures

Chapter Twenty: Of Pain, Sharing and Change

Remus’s shoes now crushed frozen leaves, as he strode eagerly down the lane. The pregnant moon was winking at him through a thin layer of clouds, whispering its promises, and its glow drew every tree, every fringe of frost on a fallen leaf in sharp lines, sharper still than on the couple of evenings he had strolled around with Peter between sunset and moonset.

Frank, too, had come along this time and now followed more slowly side by side with Peter. The two of them were, after all, the best friends, and this was a relief. By receiving the confession Remus had not become tied to attempts at rebuilding what had not worked in their youth either. Instead, he was further on his way to move on.

Both his confidence and his restlessness were strengthening together with his sight. There was still no colour for him in this world which only the moon illuminated in his eyes, but he was now reconciled with what he had regained. Perhaps someday he would be bitter for the loss. Or he would manage to share Prospero’s faith. Now the clear black-and-white images heralded a fulfilment for which he had craved since his first full-moon night in a werewolf community. Even though he would still have to wait for three days, he caught himself hoping that the elderly gentleman announced by one of the new faun recruits was Paul himself coming to take him to join the pack.

Gentleman, indeed. Paul was certainly able to carry himself like one, and he might be wearing one of the new woollen cloaks Thisby had woven and taken to the barracks.

No, the figure on the lane close to the far end of the orchard looked short and slender. Could it still be another member of the pack, Adam perhaps? Although Paul had maintained that leaving the area appointed to them was too risky for solitary werewolves, Remus could not help clinging to an irrational hope – not even after he saw how, flapping in the bitter wind, the visitor’s cloak gleamed in the white light, so that he had to conclude it was of some luxurious material.

He was far from happily surprised when recognising Mr Landor’s wrinkled face. Indeed, the elder of Bagendon had never asked to be shown the fiery parchment and to be one of those joining Remus under the cover of Fidelius and in his rebellion. Not having seen him for quite a while, Remus had almost forgotten this, but did not expect him to ask anything like that now, either. This had to be a farewell visit, and Remus only regretted not having paid the visit to the elder, instead, so as to spare him the trouble.

“Good evening, Mr Landor. I’m so sorry I let you come all the way and wait, while I should have thought of contacting you...”

The handshake was as firm as ever, but brief. “Remus. I hear you are feeling better. But there’s something I assume I got to know even before you, and this time I could not just let my Paul bring the alarming news to you.”

What was he talking about? There was something urgent, but he was making Remus, too, waste time on irrelevant details. “Oh, your owl – he’s got the same name as...”

“As one of your latest allies. Yes, after the steps you’ve taken, what remains for me to do is to inform you that the abduction has been implemented, but the Ministry is – for mysterious reasons – keeping it a secret, from the Order and the Weasley family, too.”


“The abduction you at least should have known about and, if you had asked for my advice, prevented, too.”

All this did not make any sense, or if it did, it was not something they should be talking about out in the open.

“Please, come in!” Remus said, drawing his wand so as to conjure the parchment.

Only after reading the charmed text and taking a few steps into the circle of protection did Mr Landor speak again, replying, “No, I am not coming farther than this. I can still feel the other magic, and I know I am not meant to enter.”

He did not look at Remus, but kept staring at the light in the windows instead.

Remembering how Mr Landor had evidently enjoyed holding back information during their visit to Rose and Jonah’s house, Remus had to force himself to remain patient and polite. “It’s been your conscious choice not to get involved beyond interfering when it suits you. But please don’t postpone telling me what I should know.”

“So you maintain that they did not have your orders or permission and they haven’t even told you?”

Remus could not help sighing. “And you aren’t going to tell me what this is about?”

Another frustrating moment of silence followed. What a blessing it was that his eyes could again momentarily relieve his tension by reaching accurate images of any random beauty in the nature around him: now in the patterns of the bare branches against the restless sky. A glance back confirmed that the two friends were still there, although they kept a few yards’ distance. Frank was crouching under an apple tree, lifting up an obviously half-rotten fruit for Wormtail to sniff at. The rat was completely visible, almost white in the moonlight.

“Luke informed me,” Landor finally said. “Bud Pinchbeck first learnt about it in a nightmare early this morning.”

“You mean... a hag came to tell him something?”

“Yes, the hags were bold enough to invite the press to witness they had the hostage. They actually abducted the photographer, too, but they let him go in the evening after he had taken the pictures they wanted to spread.”

“Have Jenny and her sisters taken a hostage? No...”

Was this a joke? The rat, up on its hind paws, was spitting out pieces of the apple, perhaps also laughing together with its friend.

“Yes, if that’s what you call the hags.”

“All right... Where are they keeping him?”

“Luke says the buildings in the photographs can be identified without doubt. The hostage is pictured in front of the main barrack in the camp where the special security corps were gathered last month. Perhaps that’s why Umbridge doesn’t want to publicise this. She has not admitted that she lost the barracks to your allies. And she might not care if this hostage is freed or not. Mr Weasley is not on the top of her ranking list.”

Arthur Weasley. What did they think they were doing?

“Excuse me. Unless you have – and want to share – more of such information I can’t gather at the barracks, I’d better get there as soon as possible.” Remus held out his hand, and as Mr Landor took it, looking at him questioningly, he offered by means of explanation, “It’s time to thank you for everything. After all, now it’s obvious we’ll go our separate ways. You’ll go back down the lane, and I’ll descend the other slope to Mrs. Hopchin’s. Goodbye.”

After as warm a smile as he could muster, Remus turned away, and for a moment there was no path visible in front of him. Then there was a firm hand on his arm and three sharp-nailed paws clutching his shoulder.

“No, no particular news at all, after they settled in and your people started coming to help them. And no unusual traffic today, no – until this ratty company now.” Anthony tilted his head and eyed Frank and Wormtail, too, with a benevolent smile. “Perhaps you are on another mysterious mission, and I’m asking no questions about this... these allies either. But if you’re just crossing the wasteland to the barracks, give my regards... and this to my brave little brother.” He turned to pick up a bundle from behind the counter.

Remus did not mind too much that by accepting the bundle he satisfied Anthony’s curiosity with regard to his destination.

Something serious Anthony obviously could not even suspect about the state of affairs at the barracks was now Remus’s overwhelming concern. It barely irritated him that Frank, with Wormtail in his hands – after the two of them had lit the way down the slope – had made the mistake to follow him through the floo network. In a different situation he could have rejoiced in another sign of recovery: Frank must have named the destination aloud, repeating Remus’s words. Well, now he would be able to go back as well.

But when Remus stepped to the door to first check whether he, when alone, could see well enough or needed to risk apparating the last stretch, Frank followed him.

“I’ll help you across. And after.” The hoarse but clear words struck Remus speechless, and he hardly had time to register the calmness in the still handsome face before Frank added, “I want. To fight, too. If...”

In the strong hands the rat squirmed, then hung its head in submission, and finally turned to stare at Remus. The light blue in Wormtail’s beady eyes flashed as the only tint of colour Remus had regained, and he could not resist – could not help believing that their destinies were irrevocably intertwined. Or more reasonably, it made some sense to conclude that both Frank and Peter were now unpredictable, and that he could watch over them best, if he allowed them to follow him.

He should have realised how unreliable Rose was. After greeting him and Frank, she had stepped back behind the makeshift table and was standing there erect, with her fists laid firmly on an unrolled piece of parchment – probably, if only subconsciously, attempting at an air of impressiveness.

At least she did not deny her responsibility. On the contrary, she was eager to forget to give credit to anyone else. “Jenny? Why would you talk to Jenny about it? It was my idea.”

“Mine first,” Simon cut in, still leaning against the doorframe in a carefree manner. “Also to make it a surprise for you.”

While there was direct defiance in Rose’s bold gaze, Simon’s grin appeared as teasing – and this time Remus was not so sure it was only an irrational interpretation based on some similarity in his and young Sirius’s looks. Frustration flared up into anger he needed to try and control so close to the full moon.

All he could do was turn his back on Simon and stride towards Rose. “What on earth did you think we could need a hostage for?”

“For ransoms, of course,” Rose explained, managing to fake irritating calmness. “Yes, more than one ransom paid for one man. And you must be happy it’s a man – not a child or any other fragile creature. A wizard, too. And not a civilian. We chose him carefully. So both the ministry and Dumbledore are going to pay to free him.”

“Dumbledore – our Secret Keeper! And Arthur is... You haven’t sent out any letters to ask for the ransoms yet, have you?”

“No, they are here – the letters. For you to sign, if you want to.”

Remus reached out his left hand, for a moment aware of a wish that rage could make him produce destructive heat instead of cold blue light or healing warmth. But that was obviously not what he needed. He snatched the parchments from Rose. In an exercise of self-control he refrained from crumbling them.

As a teacher he was determined not to reinforce unwanted behaviour by giving too much attention to Rose and Simon. At the same time he could take some kind of revenge by not bothering to make it clear to them what he was going to do. He kept his tone as impassive as possible when asking, “Where is he?”

“In the hags’ barrack, across the yard. They are good at keeping watch.”

He marched out without another glance at Simon. Before Frank caught up with him and he spotted Wormtail’s shiny head and single front paw peaking out of a pocket, he had already sensed enticing warmth emitted by a dark figure by the entrance to the opposite building. Welcoming arms were stretched out from a distance, so that he hardly needed any clarity of sight in order to find his destination.

Inside this building, however, the heat of the hags’ gift of nightmares was suffocating. There were perhaps a dozen of the black-and-grey-clad sisters in there, and most of them were sitting on the dirt floor in pairs, one focusing on another: whispering into each other’s mouths, moving palms or fingertips gently along each other’s arms, sneaking fingers inside opening and closing fists.

Remus caught himself searching for the red of Weasley hair, and soon after remembering his defect he recognised the pale freckled face. Arthur was lying on his back, with his eyes closed. A hag was just slowly moving away from him, still keeping a hand over his heart. It was Old Peck’s daughter herself: she lifted her head and, perhaps illuminated by reflections, her features shone clear – familiar and new at the same time. She had removed her balaclava, so that her wrinkles, now all visible in the corners of her eyes and mouth, appeared to Remus as provocative – as an expression of unfounded self-satisfaction, even though she possibly only meant to greet him with some reassurance.

Stopping himself from kneeling down next to Arthur, he eyed Jenny sternly from above. “How is Arthur?”

“He’s surprisingly sensitive to stimuli in sleep. And you are feeling better; however...”

“What I am is stupid enough to return only now – to wait for my sight to improve. My friends could have guided me back here sooner. Here they are: Frank, and his little friend. Frank, this is Jenny, the ruling elder among the hags.”

To Remus’s amazement Frank actually held out a hand without delay and the polite phrases flowed effortlessly. “How do you do... pleased to meet you.”

Jenny stretched up a hand, which, too, was now bare: skeletal and white with black nails. But the fingers of the other hand were still clutching the wool of the sadly grey letter A on one of those jumpers Molly had undoubtedly knitted with most loving concern.

“Let Arthur go. Let go off him now! He doesn’t need any more nightmares, and neither does his family.”

New wrinkles appeared on Jenny’s forehead. “You mean you changed your mind about this hostage?”

It was immediately Remus’s turn to feel perplexed. “What do you mean? You never heard my opinion about the abduction.”

“The young couple said... They let Paul and me understand that they had your orders.”


The knowledge that Jenny had not meant to ignore his wishes, but to follow them, helped Remus put off expressing his increasing anger.

“No, they had not,” he repeated. “But if Arthur can stay warm and sleep peacefully here – in nothing close to what his wife’s magic would define as mortal peril – I’ll apologise to him only in the early morning. And immediately after that you can take him back to his house in Ottery St Catchpole. He must have no role in what we are supposed to do. Now... can you send some of your sisters to watch that Rose and Simon sleep and only dream instead of doing any more harm, until I have the time to talk to them?”

“Certainly! That will be a pleasure – after they’ve ordered us around in your name.”

“Thank you. I want to talk to Paul first, if he’s here.”

“He is, and... Perhaps the message hasn’t reached you yet: he’s expecting Hecate tomorrow after moonrise.”

“To survival, equality and peace – against all terror,” Paul said, pushing a familiar wooden goblet across the rough tabletop. “Indeed, even against any acts of terror by your followers.”

Remus barely noticed the wink, as the goblet was the first thing to catch his eyes when he turned them back from the opposite corner of the hut, from the endearing scene he had got absorbed in watching. With a fine pack of cards for Exploding Snap, given to him by Neville, Frank had easily attracted Nathan’s attention. When a card blew up and caused the child’s house of cards to collapse on the blanket where the two of them were sitting cross-legged, Wormtail pretended to sniff at Frank’s house all innocently but so incautiously that the two players were soon even again. Nathan laughed out loud.

Now Paul noticed what there was to watch, and the tenderness in his expression emphasised the difference between his and Remus’s experience. Remus had just realised that he would have liked to finally learn to know this child. The weak, hardly conscious one at whose side he had felt the deepest hopelessness, then the compelling urge to act, had been replaced by a vivacious young boy with a quick smile. Despite the smile Nathan had appraised Remus carefully with wary, witty eyes, as if the two of them had never met before.

The closeness between Paul and the child was no longer unbearable to watch. Still, in this company the night appeared to Remus perilously long. The circumstances were favourable enough for Paul to easily take up some personal issues again, now that there was a mutual understanding about the abduction.

This goblet was filled with pure black current juice, and Remus could not postpone sharing the drink much longer, particularly not after the words indicating a toast for their common cause. He fiddled with the stem, then ran his finger along the shape of an elm leaf carved into the wood, and pretended to still focus on the game and the rat’s antics. Perhaps he should not have bestowed such deep meaning on the gesture. However, he could not help fearing that Paul, too, would remember the way he had declined the cider at the Dewbowl Inn and interpret his drinking now as acceptance of the apology, even of the original, intended gift.

No, he had better go and wake up Rose and Simon now, instead. He did yearn to finally embrace the transformation as a blessing, but he did not want to accept it as a gift from this man – not for the child he had been thirty-three years earlier. Had the goblet not been a part of his family heirloom, he would not have erred and touched it.

At the moment when he was letting go, so as to push himself to stand, a coarse hand closed over his. “In this goblet your Thisby served the healing potion to my boy. You obviously no longer have anything against my saving him.” Paul was stating all this in a clear, even voice, with repressed cheerfulness, as undeniable facts, like arguments for his case. “And you seem to have your special protégés, too.”

“So?” Remus replied, feigning indifference.

He had chosen to touch this hand before, even to surrender his wand to it. Now its grip caused distress bordering on repulsion. Still, his conscious attempt to suppress anger was followed by a surprising sense of connection. The grip tightened for a moment, then the fingers relaxed and trembled. Paul, frustrated by Remus’s unresponsiveness, could have been close to lashing out. But perhaps he, too, was able to hide any negative feelings, even rid himself of them.

He, too, was anticipating the challenge of keeping his mind despite the moon.

Maybe this man had more in common with Remus than any other creature did. If only he did not expect Remus to offer alliance and companionship to him as if in return for something he could be grateful for!

No, Remus did not pull his hand away, although Paul’s was now resting on it only lightly. When he was still resisting the urge to look into Paul’s eyes, he heard the sigh of resignation.

“All right. I’m not asking for your forgiveness.”

“Of course I forgive,” Remus caught himself replying promptly. He glanced up and the white light drew the scarred face in too clear lines, and gave too much glow to the anxious eyes. Closing his eyelids, he tried his best to say honestly what he meant, to figure out what he meant. “I hope I can. But it doesn’t mean that I could accept what you did to Arthur Wotton and his parents. I don’t. Not what you ended up doing, and not what you had intended to do.”

“So you don’t want to join – you still don’t want my gift? Remember, I didn’t ask you to serve me, on the contrary.”

“I am joining... But I’m not doing it for you – not in return for any gift, even though now, after what you and all these years have done to me, I’d better accept this part of who I am and find a blessing in it. I’ve already joined forces with you, agreed that you may serve me, and Hecate, as you said. But I did it for Nathan, and the others. And when I join a pack, I do it for myself.”

Yes, instead of doubting his selfless motives in any situation, he had finally concluded to what extent he was selfish – and declared it without shame.

“The gate blew up, just like that – like that card...” The younger hag kept staring past Remus, after the last one of the houses Frank had left on the floor evidently now collapsed. Her voice was subdued by incredulity, if not by indifference, or simply by the soil-scented strands of hair hanging across her face.

Remus could distinguish the black streaks against the pale skin quite clearly. Perhaps this sunrise was bringing more than the frustrating haze...

But what was this now about an explosion? After making his apologies he should have taken Arthur back to his family himself, instead of opting for the hags’ services at the darkest hour, right after the moonset when they were at their swiftest to move themselves and others with them.

“And the two of them had just got to the other side of the gate,” she added, “and now they were gone.”

“The two...?”

Jenny stroked the young sister’s face, pushing the strands aside. “There was a ministry official waiting by Arthur’s gate, so my sister here let him go the last stretch alone.”

An ear-shattering shree followed Jenny’s explanation. The eerie features in the barn owl’s heart-shaped face were perfectly recognisable even against the morning light, which spilled in by the edge of the blanket covering the window. Mr. Landor continued to take care of keeping Remus informed. Or misinformed.

“Here we can find out the official truth about what has happened,” Remus said, catching the newspaper which the owl released from the talons before flying out again.

The bird’s piercing call had woken up Paul. He was already at Remus’s side. Without trying to distinguish the letters even in the biggest headline Remus passed the Daily Prophet to him.

“Rebel leader’s terror against wizards,” Paul recited dramatically. “Goblins side with the darkest creatures. Ministry official witnesses co-worker’s abduction by goblin and new werewolf leader.”

After turning the page he resumed reading the text aloud, transforming it into a captivating tale, as if continuing the story he had enjoyed telling at the Dewbowl Inn. “A senior ministry official and member of the acclaimed Order of the Phoenix, Arthur Weasley, was kidnapped at the gate to his house in Ottery St Catchpole. He was on his way home, accompanied by a junior official, when evidently a goblin’s dark magic of explosive flames separated the two men. Mr Weasley’s young co-worker merely glimpsed the goblin and another creature, who was holding a whiplike wand like those used in the Cotswolds werewolf pack – and who has been identified as the rebellious Remus Jaws Lupin. This particularly dangerous werewolf, who treacherously gained a wizard’s education in his youth, has recently agitated non-human and part-human creatures to terror against our magical civilisation.”

Remus had lived with libel before. Checking out the fortifications and greeting all the members of his pack as well as those of his brotherhood who had followed Rose kept him busy enough throughout the morning and early afternoon, until moonrise.

He did not want to think too much about Umbridge’s treacherous plots. After the initial shock, soon after hearing the Prophet article, he had concluded that she, assuming that Remus would take the hostage back home, had sent someone to fake an abduction. And now she publicised it in the way she preferred. But Remus had to calmly prepare his people for the full moon. In these circumstances it seemed wiser to stay secluded here with the solitary werewolves, and he tried his best to suppress his dreams about running free with Hecate and her pack, learning from her more about controlling their minds.

In any case, he could not help focusing on the promising change in his eye-sight: all figures were unmistakably less blurred now. The cloudy day was soothing enough for his eyes, and as soon as – an hour before sunset – he sensed the rise of the waxing moon, there was nothing missing in his perception except the colours.

Could it have been only due to the lack of warm brown and golden hues that Hecate’s face looked harsher than he had remembered? She did not smile when she approached him across the open space between the barracks and huts, walking towards him so slowly that he decided to resist his urge to hasten and hold her in a welcoming embrace. She had evidently first arrived in Paul’s hut, while Remus had been behind a side barrack discussing alarm charms with some half-fauns.

Staring intensely at his face, she stopped and reached to grab his hands, so as to keep him at an arm’s length. Disappointed – almost fearful again that her village’s customs prevented her from offering him the closeness he so much needed – Remus struggled to remain patient. He turned his gaze from her cold eyes to their hands. The thorny wreath of his stigma, more visible to him than ever before, seemed to mercilessly severe him from true contact with her, while he failed to focus on his left hand, through which he had earlier felt her channel her trust and encouragement.

There was unexpected gentleness in her husky voice, when she started to speak softly, neglecting any conventional greeting. “Paul has already told me what was done to you.”

Remus had hoped she would not mention it – that it would make no difference to her whether he was branded like Paul and like those who had never had any rights after becoming werewolves. He still considered saying this, when to his surprise he saw one of her graceful, slender fingers move to stroke the black scar. A gasp escaped from him, but he realised that the touch caused no pain. And another strong hand cupped his chin, then slid up across his cheek and eye-brows, sheltering his eyes for a moment.

“Don’t you fear,” Hecate said. “Unless you still mean to ever deny that you are a werewolf, this brand is only a badge of merit. Yet, I don’t know what the problem with your sight means.”

“Thank you, and... Hardly anyone does. I’ve talked about this to a few friends only. Now it seems to be just about the colours, and I can’t help hoping to get them back. In any case what was done to me is not as essential as what I have done.”

“And what you have not done. Paul’s told me about that, too.”

“So you know that Arthur Weasley is safe and Umbridge is just lying again.”

Hecate moved her hands away and let them hang at her sides. The sudden complete lack of her touch startled Remus, preparing him for the seriousness of her news. “Unfortunately she’s doing more than lying. Ice-Stare has got your Mr Weasley. I saw him. She brought him herself. Ice-Stare welcomed Weasley as the perfect bait to lure you to the village, so as to get hold of you when you’d be trying to save him. But even though she explained how that would be nothing but an empty threat, just to make sure you’d come, I’m afraid she means it when she now declares in this special edition of her Prophet that she will destroy our village and all our lands by sending Heliopaths. She claims that there is no other way. She’d do her best to save Weasley, but the ministry can’t possibly negotiate with these darkest of all creatures. Regardless of the force of her necessary attack... if Weasley should perish, it’ll be the werewolves’ fault.”

“My fault.” That was his immediate exasperated conclusion, and his only comfort was the chance to share it with Hecate.

So this was the reason for the special afternoon edition. And he – sick of the mere thought of seeing Umbridge’s smirk in another flattering photograph – had ordered the owl to forward the paper immediately to Paul. Now, however, he was startled by a wish to see her face to face. Would she lead her mass-destruction army of flaming creatures herself, for the pleasure of witnessing the demise of all werewolves, or in hopes of attacking a particular enemy personally, just as she had murdered Amelia?

“I’ll try to save Arthur,” he said, “try to get him out of there somehow. And stop her, too, to save those in the village who joined you, and to save your lands. Because even if I retrieve Arthur and manage to make it public, she can still attack, claiming it to be retaliation for the kidnapping.” While trying his best to form reasonable arguments, he kept his eyes fixed on the remaining glow under the mass of clouds in the western horizon, almost sure that the palest tint of red in it was not only a reflection of his urge to go to battle.

“It could be my task to free the prisoner,” Hecate said. “Just I’m afraid Ice-Stare no longer trusts me completely. He’s locked Mr Weasley behind the magic of his mind.”

Not her words yet, but the warmth of her hand on his arm made him look at her again. Warmth had returned to her gaze, too – as good as any golden brown he had missed.

“I’d want to do it in any case, for myself,” he said.

While trying, at least, to save what belonged to her people, he would dream that it would be his as well.

She nodded and squeezed his arm. “Still, it might make no sense to bring your people to face the inevitable peril.”

“We’ll need them. And this is my people’s cause, too.”

“But at least you won’t bring any non-wolves with you, will you? I wonder whether Umbridge has considered the timing. We must do that in any case.”

“Umbridge seems to often act upon an impulse, make use of an unexpected opportunity.” He heard calmer confidence in his own voice now. “Perhaps believes in fate too blindly. She might also reason that it’s wise to attack when the werewolves are at their weakest – just before or just after the full moon.”

“According to the official news it’ll be before: tomorrow evening – one sunset before the one... which you’ve been looking forward to, haven’t you?”

Thrilled by the prospect and by the realisation that Hecate could truly understand him, Remus could not help grinning.

She smiled back and continued, “Let’s make quick schemes for our strategies now, because I need to return soon in order not to cause more suspicion in Ice-Stare.”

“Then let’s plan so that I can be there to share it all with you.”

A quirrell stared Remus right in the eye – too startled by his materialising abruptly to leap aside until after freezing for a moment. He twirled around and still caught glimpses of the fluffy tail like white flashes among the dark stunted pines further and further down on the slope. After the animal swiftly gained distance, the place seemed completely deserted. Having turned again, he saw the rising sun hit the high edge of the bare stone wall, but there were no sounds of birds greeting the light.

Jenny and her sisters had been scheduled to arrive a couple of hours earlier, so Remus knew he was not alone. They were supposed to all gather on the other clearing where, around the campfire, the creatures had celebrated and comforted their leader two months ago. But Remus wanted to first see this setting of the purposeful killing in which he had agreed to participate back then and to stand here on his own. Just like when, a year earlier, he had apparated to a carefully-selected spot in the wilderness well before his body got too unstable, and Sirius followed soon after, escaping the house – just like then he now carried the burden of solitude only momentarily.

Soon enough a shadow was cast on the face of the cliff by a moving shape, and shrill sounds of shawm and singing drew Remus’s attention to a company travelling fast towards him above the treetops in the valley. In graceful twists and curves the carpet lost speed, and it danced on the spot for a moment, just over his head.

A heart-warming party of his friends peeked down. Behind the golden fringes shone a row of faces. Some hands were raised to cover horns, and open palms were stretched towards him in the fauns’ respectful greeting. But beside Peck’s and Tumble’s wide grins there was not only Thisby’s luminous mane flying like a flag in the wind, but also Jonah with eager eyes and other young men from the Ancient Village as well, and right next to them even Bloody with his newly trimmed beard.

“More of us are coming on another carpet,” Bloody called. And yes, there was a faint hue of red on his chin. Remus could see it immediately.

He had kept regaining his sight gradually – perhaps thanks to his contact with Peter, perhaps simply due to the temporary nature of the curse. Still, he could not help regarding the return of the colours as a good sign, which helped him to question no more the wisdom in allowing everyone to join in the battle despite Hecate’s wish.

In no time did the carpet lose height, too, and it was now hovering only an inch above the shrubbery in front of the steep stone wall. The motley company both in old garments and in new pieces of clothing woven of the wool from Wotton manor’s sheep offered a cheerful sight in rich tones of earth colours. The whole scene borrowed its glow from the veela hair, and acquired further glory when Thisby spoke.

“The new director at the Headless Queen,” she said, “he rolled out quite a fine selection of rugs when he heard we needed to get to you.”

When the fauns and half-fauns jumped nimbly to the ground, a lean boy still threw himself prone on the carpet so as to get the most of the luxury of the travel. That was Adam. “Some of us who can’t apparate were moved along by the hags, but the rest of us are flying, thanks to that young man...”

And Jonah’s voice specified – softly, to Adam, “Managing director – Prospero, his friend.”

“Can he own all these, what do you think?”

“Never you mind... Well, perhaps he’s borrowed some full goblins’ treasures, and for a good purpose.”

The boys talked to each other for a while, but now Jonah turned to Remus, continuing, “Here we are anyway – at your service.”

The carpet’s landing was brought to final stop by a confident wave of Jonah’s wand. Here they were, in their grand adventure, which seemed to thrill them all ever more now that the phase of lying low and preparing themselves was over.

A row of at least a hundred whip-like wands swayed rhythmically above the honey-coloured limestone wall on the top of a newly-built embankment. The distance from the summit where Remus’s troops were arriving after him did not allow any magic contact. He could hardly hear the drums, which gave the beat to the threatening movements of Ice-Stare’s army. For a while he suspected that the pounding in his head had entered through his eyes, due to the merciless sharpness of the late-autumn illumination in the lucid mountain air. Sound did travel well enough across the valley, but the drumming was still kept low and its volume increased only slightly in joyfully expectant waves.

The improvement in Ice-Stare’s fortifications was impressive. In the outer corner even a barbican had been erected. There might be no aesthetic refinement in its details, but the walls of the rough towers bulged outward, and the massiveness of the structure hinted at a curved corridor leading to the inner gate. In no forceful attack – by earth-bound beasts like Heliopaths – would an enemy manage to break through with speed.

Unlike two months before there was no question of simply flying straight into the village. Remus had considered entering stealthily: Disillusioning a carpet and himself, perhaps Bloody and Mark for companions. But the heavy clouds kept close to the eastern horizon, and while the harsh north wind dispersed any warmth the low November sun could lend, this noon’s surprising brightness would make the intruders cast a revealing shadow.

There were several hours left before sunset, but waiting for better conditions for making a move looked as risky as anything. Umbridge might well be as impatient as his enemies and arrive ahead of the publicised schedule.

Remus turned to watch more and more of his followers climb out from the shelter of the woods in the western slope. Full humans and others side by side. Those with hooves or horns or both, those with inhuman size and physical strength, those with fingertips itching to ignite, those close to their most vulnerable phase in the annual circle, those closer to their most painful moments in the monthly one. They had all acknowledged Ice-Stare’s aspirations for power as a threat to non-wolves, as he chose to call them, as well as to any werewolves who did not agree to join his pack. Still, Remus hoped they could spare their strength for fighting Umbridge, whom he considered his – and their – main enemy.

They all approached eagerly, throwing glances and encouraging remarks to either side, to rejoice in their union, some of them treading silently, some with clinks of hooves against bare stone near the top of the ridge. But now all the sounds were overpowered by an abrupt crescendo of the drums, and together with Remus the first rows of them directed their gazes across the valley.

The outer gate of the barbican had flown open. Two stately but youthful figures appeared: a woman with bushy hair and a man with a beard stepped nimbly forward. Light capes in the colour of rust, or dried blood, flapped around them in the wind.

The man first brandished his long, pliant wand and declared in a resounding voice, “Welcome, the hour of glory! Who is the first among our awaited adversaries?”

The woman, in turn, lifted her wand and continued, “Who is the first to challenge us – who considers himself worthy of confronting our chief?”

Before Remus understood the full significance of these ceremonial questions, somewhat different from what Hecate had prepared him for, he sensed someone’s breathing very close to his left temple, someone intruding his private space, and recognised Paul before hearing the husky voice.

“This fate is for me.”

Staring intently at the two warriors, as if still giving a chance to the possibility that these were the ones meant to perform the opening scene for the battle, Remus heard the detached tone in his own reply. “You mean one of these initial duels Hecate talked about...”

Paul, however, explained calmly, “She doubted they’d come out with this tradition, and she certainly didn’t presume he’d warp it by inviting an adversary for himself immediately. Now I understand: he implies there’s nobody worthy of challenging his best warriors, only you worthy of him.”

“So why do you say anything about yourself?”

The drums had resumed the dramatic beat, only to now, abruptly, fall silent. Glancing at the row of wands above the wall, Remus was surprised to see it getting thinner. The pair of young warriors, too, retreated without any further gestures, instead of remaining as attendants for their chief.

“He wants you; he’s always wanted you. He didn’t want me,” Paul said with a mixture of bitterness, mischief and triumph in his voice. “And we are not giving him what he wants, are we?”

This argument – together with these sentiments – made Remus quickly choose this way out of facing Ice-Stare here in the open now, before Hecate had acted. Or had she perhaps just acted a moment ago, adjusting the timing on the basis of Ice-Stare’s unexpected strategy? “He’ll accept you?”

“He must, if you offer me – with your wand. And don’t worry – you’ll get it back: he can possibly accept me only under the condition that you’ll take my place, if he should defeat me. In any case he’ll be in a worse state after he’s got to know again the man who used to be closer than a brother to him. This might be my last contribution to your cause, and I am grateful.”

Remus had allowed the stubborn sensation of incompetence in his right hand make him move his wand to his left. And now once again Paul’s intrepid grip claimed possession of the wand. They lifted it together, watching Ice-Stare stride out through the gate.

Ice-Stare with a hide around his shoulders to further emphasise his impressive carriage, and with a full grey beard, but with hardly enough hair to cover his ears. Remus hoped Paul had not forgotten the anecdote about the shearing charm. His fingers left the smooth wood to rest for a moment on Paul’s arm, and he expected to share a grin as farewell.

But Paul was all focused on his old friend, with a faint, tender smile, almost like those Remus had seen directed at Nathan – yes, with an air of nostalgia and nothing short of admiration. “In the name of Remus Lupin and the creatures who have joined him, I am opening the battle against Ice-Stare,” Paul declared, still turning his gaze momentarily back, towards the troops of the creatures, but evidently with his mind distracted from the phrases. “For survival, equality and peace!”

He started descending the steep slope in a determined stride. After only a couple of less sure steps he had no need to look at his feet so as to find a familiar path around the crevices. Indeed, this man was walking towards home after his exile of thirty-three years.

Ice-Stare started to march briskly forward, lifting his chin to an ever prouder angle so as to fix Remus with a stare, then turning his eyes back to the approaching opponent. His face hardly expressed any emotions caused by recognition, perhaps growing impatience. He and Paul met only a few yards from the foot of the slope and stopped to stand so close that they could have reached to touch each other’s shoulders.

Both faces were hidden from Remus’s view, and he could not hear any words uttered by either man. The tilt of Ice-stare’s wand, partly visible above their heads, implied that they merely crossed their weapons. Then each turned ninety degrees to the right and walked... seven steps, then swirled around.

Ice-Stare was the first to choose a spell. He performed the incantation only in his mind or in a whisper. But Paul must have recognised the curse from the initial movement of the wand. He responded swiftly in an equally soundless – but to Remus unmistakable – Rafinarisma. A hot-white jet – no, an icy jet of light hardly got started on its way to hit Paul. It was splintered and turned upwards. In a moment it fell down in front of Ice-Stare, transformed into a dense veil of sparkling snowflakes.

“Our cub’s pretty tricks!” Ice-Stare bellowed, brandishing his wand towards Remus, while the magic snowfall prevented him from aiming a new curse at Paul. There was some laughter in his voice, but it was mixed with irritation. “Too bad I’ve got no time to play with you.”

“I gave up ages ago all hope of finding my old playmate in you.” Paul strained his voice so as to go on and make it match Ice-Stare’s, but he could not stop it from breaking from emotion, too. “That was just to show you... a part of who I am now. Still this, too...”

And he thrust the wand forward, twisting his wrist in the way Hecate had done at the moment when Remus had started his escape two months ago. The purple beam of the pack’s stunning spell, Stupefactus, streaked towards his enemy.

Ice-Stare directed it back with a simple parry. “Well, it was nice to see you, as long as there was even that left of you. Goodbye, my sweet friend Swift-Tail!”

Paul merely dodged. He seemed tempted to prolong the fight, reluctant to give up the conversation. “Now you’re giving that name back to me.”

“Only for these seconds you’ve got left.”

For a moment the two greyed werewolves stood quite still, gazing at each other, with their wand tips pointing down. Compared with Ice-Stare, Paul looked frail and sadly shabby, but no less proud. Perhaps they were measuring each other, trying to assess each other’s strengths – perhaps committing to memory the sight of whom they had always missed in all their denial of it.

When Ice-Stare lifted his wand again, Remus thought he could see something akin to tenderness in the perfection of his threatening movements. Despite the urgency which he had not hidden earlier, and despite the disturbing noise – yes, muffled sounds of fighting from behind the embankment – which made those guarding the wall move about restlessly and further decrease in number, the chief now devoted himself to vanquishing his adversary according to the highest form of duelling art. He was voluntarily showing the respect he had denied him for years.

Another curse in the form of an icy lightning sped towards Paul. He seemed to deliberately allow it close while he completed more elaborate movements with Remus’s wand than before. This could not possibly be a regular Rafinarisma spell... With the final thrust he visibly contacted Ice-Stare’s magic and turned it into a swirling ball of brightness. Now he started to walk forward, pushing it on the tip of his wand.

Ice-Stare, too, took steps in the same rhythm towards his adversary – until his wand, as well, reached to touch the sphere of their combined magic. The sphere exploded into white arrows – icicles, which hit him to the ground.

Paul fell at the same time – not backwards, but on his knees so as to bend over Ice-Stare. He stretched out his hand to grab the icicle which had evidently penetrated Ice-Stare’s chest. But Ice-Stare lifted his wand arm and managed to aim at Paul’s head. The impact of the curse jerked the whole shabby figure back.

Ice-Stare struggled up to stand over Paul’s collapsed body. His wand reached to almost touch the face and now with gentler kind of magic turned it slowly towards Remus – for him to see the open, empty eyes and the blood running between them.

The next abrupt spell picked up the wand Paul had dropped and sent it up the slope right towards its owner. Remus’s left hand caught it. The residue magic in it brought a compelling sense of connection and erased the distance momentarily: he shared the urgency of Ice-Stare’s challenge as well as the intensity of Paul’s conflicting emotions at the time of his last breath.

There was no doubt anymore: Hecate must have started her revolt.

“You are right,” Jenny said. “She declared it openly in front of Ice-Stare right after the announcement that he would enter the very first duel himself.” She had slid closer to Remus like a shadow. “And our troops are ready.” Now she tilted her head towards the small group next to her, indicating that she was speaking on everyone’s behalf.

Bloody, Rose and Gumby had all approached Remus.

“Good. Follow our second scheme, starting as soon as I’ve engaged Ice-Stare in a duel: one fourth, and soon after, if needed, another fourth of each group over the embankment.”

They could have attacked during the first duel, but it was no use regretting his slowness. Besides, the wall was now almost totally deserted. And, having got wounded, Ice-Stare might be less capable of sparing his attention to anyone but his immediate opponent. That depended on Remus himself, of course.

Descending the slope, he had to watch his steps, but he managed to notice that Ice-Stare was clutching his chest. By his next glance, however, all signs of weakness had disappeared – as well as all unnecessary gestures, driven away by pragmatism. Ice-Stare marched briskly to meet Remus, to meet his eyes, too, but the blankness of his face implied that any exchange of words would have been a waste of time. The sole function of the eye contact was a simple wordless confirmation of who they were to each other: opponents, one of whom had to die of the other’s hand, and without delay.

Remus, too, was in a hurry – at least to get the duel started. He had to wonder why Ice-Stare found it necessary to first cross weapons. Ice-Stare tried, indeed, to do it as quickly as possible. His supple wand quivered in such an abrupt movement up and down again that Remus, too late in moving his wand from the – according to all tradition – wrong hand to the right one, missed it. This amused Remus – and obviously only him, whereas he now managed to provoke an expression, an irritated one, on Ice-Stare’s face.

When Ice-Stare turned the ninety degrees and started his seven steps, Remus felt completely free to do anything else unconventional he regarded as important: at this moment to stride up to Paul’s body, to kneel down briefly, to brush his hand in a caress across the face, closing the eyelids, and to unfasten his cloak so as to cover the body with it. Only after doing that did he stand up and, lifting his wand, turn to face his enemy.

Ice-Stare chose to ignore the breach of etiquette. He simply launched into the duel. And he cast a spell so quick and violent – that Remus spontaneously reacted not by using his wand but by dodging.

In his leap aside Remus found a young boy’s agility. The same which had thrilled him towards the end of his first encounter with Ice-Stare. Could it be caused by the defiance against this werewolf’s dominance as such? This time there had been no ointment shared yet, and no touch, apart from... Yes, the feel of Paul’s cooling face still tingled on his left hand like fey power.

He moved the wand back to that hand – and responded to Ice-Stare’s second spell before becoming fully aware of its nature, let alone its nuances, and nevertheless in the exact way he needed to. Perhaps for the first time ever his access to the non-human magic of need was contributing directly to his performance as an educated wizard.

A string of icicles now danced in a slowly rising spiral around Ice-Stare. Remus’s spell had not refined their essence as daggers first emerged from Ice-Stare’s curse, only the manner of their movement, so that they were not deadly weapons aimed straight at Ice-Stare. But in his impatience and rage Ice-Stare lashed them with his wand, disrupted their rhythm, and they did wound him.

Blood had already darkened the front of his robes, and now more stains appeared and spread on his sides and arms. Bleeding seemed to only increase his vigour. He sent curse after curse of the same type in a dense, frenzied sequence. And now he also dodged every time, so the charmed daggers found nothing to enclose in their circle, fell to the ground and melted promptly.

Indeed, Remus kept returning the curses in his exhilarating nimbleness. There was still not even a chance for him to choose an act of offensive of his own. But he knew that this hand was ready to break fully in practice his principle of peace and the one of pure defence as well. That would be his sacrifice, and he was eagerly anticipating its moment.

No questioning, no hesitation any longer. No reservation apart from refraining from the Unforgivable Curses. No self-respecting werewolf of this village, either, would resort to those – Hecate had enlightened Remus – instead of demonstrating his magic of individual, unique design.

Ice-Stare’s demonstrations were getting too repetitive – and ineffective. Such an experienced chief certainly had more in store. Could Remus’s uncanny quickness in deflecting the curses possibly make him fear trying anything worse?

And now it came, masterfully soon after, almost simultaneously with the previous spell. A sudden oppressive weight against Remus’s wand, which had hardly stopped that last dagger curse yet, managing to turn it only upwards instead of back. The weight remained, as the left hand in all its responsiveness knew no nuances of need beyond not letting go.

Remus could only hold on fast, now with both hands, while looking straight into Ice-Stare’s face along the line of their wands.

The face had paled due to loss of blood, but the features were surprisingly relaxed. And Ice-Stare’s grip of the wand was light and seemingly effortless: he was balancing it on his almost open, blood-stained palm and between two straight fingers. A phenomenal trick with a wand of that length. And now Ice-Stare smiled as if fully enjoying the connection and the control of it. The wide row of teeth flashed...

And its light was switched off. A shadow fell over Ice-Stare, and he glanced up.

Remus was quick to choose his risk. This was how he took the chance to be the first and turn to his benefit whatever now – perhaps due to his latest, unsuccessful Rafinarisma – emerged above them. The risk: he relied on his weakened, branded hand to oppose alone against the power Ice-Stare was binding him with.

Yes, Remus thrust his left arm up. His left palm open to any change he needed.

This hand sensed the freezing whirlwind first, before he raised his eyes from Ice-Stare’s face to see the gathering of dark clouds over their heads. He could not tell what was now his doing, what was Ice-Stare’s – or whether those heavy masses had simply kept approaching from the east gradually without his noticing.

His conscious focus was still on the weight pressing at his wand. And he could still not comprehend what the evil will in it entailed. Perhaps his right hand could cope with it. Ice-Stare’s strength was bound to start waning. But there was growing ache around his wrist – and now it echoed in his left shoulder.

No, this pain was not an echo, but worse. Not the worst pain he had known, but... what he had known only in his nightmare. Ice-Stair’s cruellest, most intimate curse was succeeding: tearing Remus’s bite wound open.

Through their wands Ice-Stare was reaching his first pain, and beyond it, reaching him as he could have received the gift. With the beauty of this wound tempting him, reminding him that Paul – Swift-Tail – with his fatal mistakes was gone. Inviting – no, ordering him to be one of the pack and more.

Guiding Remus to kill him and become a leader just like him. Or to die… But no, Ice-Stare was the one bleeding without bothering to try and stop it in time. Brilliant or mad?

And Ice-Stare fell – or was Remus just jerked up away from him? All he knew for sure: the connection was lost and a yearning for it surged through his body. But no, he was not close to fainting due to the bite; this was not about his mind escaping the spasm of pain. He was truly being carried away by the upward current in the centre of the vortex.

So rapidly that he perceived only cold, only darkness streaked with white lashes.

The latter half of Chapter Twenty is here.

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from: kellychambliss
date: Oct. 15th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)

Both his confidence and his restlessness were strengthening together with his sight. There was still no colour for him in this world which only the moon illuminated in his eyes, but he was now reconciled with what he had regained. Perhaps someday he would be bitter for the loss. Or he would manage to share Prospero’s faith. Now the clear black-and-white images heralded a fulfilment for which he had craved since his first full-moon night in a werewolf community.

Great paragraph here; I love the way the art and color motifs continue and that we continue to be shown how changes in the way we look at things -- even changes that seem limiting and unwanted at first -- can still help us see things in new and illuminating ways. (And what a nice touch that the blue of Wormtail's eyes is the one bit of color Remus can see.)

Arthur's kidnapping is an interesting twist -- works well.

Yes, instead of doubting his selfless motives in any situation, he had finally concluded to what extent he was selfish – and declared it without shame.
Yes, excellent -- very believable and well-prepared-for.

And I love your complex hags!

The whole duel scene is exhilarating to read. But poor Paul! Still, he died a powerful death.

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from: paulamcg
date: Oct. 23rd, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)

Thank you for praising that paragraph so wonderfully! I’m happy it seems I’ve succeeded in turning the art motifs (perhaps more and more clearly) into integral parts of the story and of what I’ve wanted to say with it. It amuses me that – while I’m not generally fond of mentions of characters’ eye colours – giving an important role for Peter’s eyes to play can work here!

It’s reassuring to hear that the kidnapping works so well. It was not easy at all for me to figure out how to take the story towards the necessary major confrontation. Right after I’d got Remus injured, I only knew that I wanted his allies to do something unacceptable, so as to keep the line between good and bad ambiguous.

I suppose I’ve told you that when composing this extensive story I did not plan ahead much: at any point I hardly knew more than Remus did. That’s why I can’t help feeling it’s a miracle that important moments – like the declaration of selfishness – have turned out believable, as if I’d already been fully aware of them when crafting the development towards them.

I’m immensily glad you’ve met my hags (again) and enjoyed seeing more of their complexity. In fact, while writing them in this chapter I must have already had in my mind, as inspiration, a particular wonderful reader’s interest in complex female characters...

The duel scene was a challenge for me. Exhilarating is the highest praise I could wish for. Thank you! After you’ve continued to make me happier and happier, it’s just overwhelming to hear how you are both impressed and touched by Paul’s death.

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