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

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Jul. 2nd, 2010 | 11:52 pm

Title: Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures, Chapter Twenty: Of Pain, Sharing and Change, part two
Author: PaulaMcG
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: (subtly, eventually) Remus/Sirius
Chapter summary: Here they are – in their grand adventure.
Word count: around 8,900
Disclaimer: Remus won't help me make any money.

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, Chapter Nineteen here and here, and the first half of Chapter Twenty here.

Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures

Chapter Twenty continues.

His left side crashed against the ground. The world was more than solid enough around him again, but changed. A napkin of snow had covered the rocks and the scarce growth of heather. He struggled to turn onto his back, and the low leaden clouds were pounding him with hail, mercifully taking a part of his attention away from the new bruises and the resurrected fatal wound. When lifting his right arm to protect his face he realised that he was still clutching his wand. That brought an absurd sense of security, while he trembled under the thundering, howling skies.

He focused on the sounds, also to try and figure out whether he could possibly be anywhere near the battle or at least near those troops of his which had stayed outside the village walls. And he heard – or he might have been imagining – someone call his name.

“Here,” he breathed out too weakly. And he mustered only an intention to sit up before replying again. As soon as he moved the bent arm from his eyes, there was the familiar face framed by lank hair very close to him – and he could not escape the surreal feeling that he was reliving the moment of reliving hurtful encounters... but no, this time he did not mistake Jonah for Snape.

“I thought perhaps,” Remus said as they shared a smile of relief, “the tornado took me far.” Now, did he just need to stand up, perhaps get down the slope, and he would be back in the duel?

“It did. Very far. We followed Harry’s bird. Miss Hedwig.”

For another confused moment Remus was afraid that Harry had come and got involved in what was likely enough to turn into another massacre. But no, Hedwig must have come by herself, anticipating the full moon. He wanted to make sure. “Harry’s not...?”

“No, only the bird. I saw her arrive just when the storm hit you and Ice-Stare. And before she set out after you, as I guessed, she circled above us. Asked the two of us to follow, or three. Or so I guessed, and we wanted to find you anyway.”

Remus was on his right side now, trying to push himself up. “Two... or three?”

“Neville’s dad is here, too.”

Indeed, a tall figure emerged through what had now turned into dense snowfall. Frank was wearing a broad smile, and carrying something on his shoulder: a rolled-up carpet. “Come. The owl showed me a cave. Or something.”

“What do we need...” Remus tried in vain to stretch out an arm for Jonah to grab so as to help him stand. “...a cave for?” He hardly mustered the rest of that phrase and gave up the intention to add that he just needed to get back to the battle as soon as possible.

Jonah got him on his feet. So close to him, Remus did not – in all his considerable effort to remain standing – completely miss Jonah’s sudden anxiety. The boy held back a gasp by biting his lip, and the direction of his gaze made Remus glance at his left shoulder.

His robes were torn and revealed a profusely bleeding wound where during the duel he had only felt anew the touch of the teeth. So the injury was real – not just an image evoked in his mind by the curse. Perhaps it was only or partly caused by his fall against the rocks, as it was not compellingly beautiful anymore but rather harshly cut. And serious enough to make him unable to apparate.

Jonah hesitated, obviously wondering whether it should be tended right where they were. “No... perhaps it’s crazy but I think Miss Hedwig knows what you need. Let’s try to get you into shelter first.”

Perhaps not so crazy, but quite natural for anybody to conclude. It was freezing cold.

Remus trudged through the snow, clinging to Jonah’s arm. His shoes slipped and he tripped on hidden rocks. The gusts of wind whirled icy flakes across his vision, so that Frank’s figure in front of him grew more blurred and slightly less blurred in turn, as if his eyesight had deteriorated back to the frightening level in the days before Peter had shown himself.

The pain in his wound was turning unreal again. When the cold pierced him and he simply kept moving, the reality of his body was left transparent and light, since carrying its weight would have been unbearable. He knew the sensation well enough to be aware of it now, on the verge of unconsciousness. At the same time he was struck by the return of another pain once turned sweet, acknowledged as his only treasure. In all those years he had never ceased to remind himself – every day, every hour, it had seemed at times – that Sirius had stopped loving him and killed their friends, because this meant he would not lose the memory of how he had first been loved. And now Dumbledore’s hurtful way of letting him hear what had been regarded as the truth back then was distorted in his mind more blatantly than ever, as tender, caring words. Perhaps through the same magic which had turned the bite into a compelling invitation, and which was blinding him, leaving him with an urge to revel in sweet pain.

Finally his body was in rest and he could focus on what was here around him. There was a piece of roof over his head: a narrow jut of stone, at which his eyes were bound to be fixed as he was lying on his back. He turned his head a bit to see the veil of dizzying swirls. It was still near and kept reaching him. Under his right palm there was the smooth wood of his wand, and his fingers were spread on something fuzzy and warm. Yes, this was one of his favourites among painful sensations: the return of feeling to numb hands. He shifted his body cautiously and it obeyed, curling up in a foetus position on the right side. His cheek remembered the comforting touch of Brünnhilde’s carpet sliding above the Sahara, and of Omar’s, also when spread on stony ground almost as hard as this. The beauty of the painful moment when he learnt that Sirius was alive and free, albeit a traitor and murderer, now also inevitably insane.

The sacred beauty of his first wound – and now someone poking at its edges, turning it back into an aching injury.

“Be careful, don’t make it start bleeding again!” Jonah, now bending or kneeling down behind him, was telling him not to move like that, or talking to someone else, who had touched the wound.

“Must close it.” Frank’s voice was right next to his ear.

But when he turned his eyes away from the carpet, the face he saw first and very close to his was Peter’s. Despite the dim lighting, the features were comfortingly clear, albeit devoid of the new blemishes – the puckers under the eyes and the couple of deep vertical lines between the brows. And for a moment he found in this presence such a simple solace, as if Peter had still been the sincere mate, eager to earn appreciation.

Peter was evidently the only one now who showed concern for his feelings – who fixed eyes compassionately at his, not at his shoulder.

“How are you doing?” Peter asked, and the voice turned him into what was left of Remus’s old mate, bringing a part of the harsh world back.

It was the same voice which had begged for understanding, presented an embellished story, never apologised. And any difference from the others to Peter’s advantage in the nature of caring was based on how repulsive he found the sight of blood.

Or perhaps on curiosity, too, as Peter asked, “Tell me... I heard you mutter something in delirium. ‘Too much to accept... dear boy... when we have loved... check if any mistake, misunderstanding...’”

No, Remus had needed that compassion fifteen years ago, and he did not want Peter’s voice to deprive him of it by making him hear Dumbledore’s real, harsh voice in his mind. He did not want to talk about that moment to Peter, revealing the real words behind the contrived memory. He closed his eyes.

He awoke to the sensation that one of the bodies pressed tightly against his had stirred. Without opening his eyes quite yet, he revelled in the solidity of the companionship, in the bliss of the warmth shared, secured and enhanced by sharing, while the cold was creeping up along his feet and from above where a weight, probably an arm, had been shifted from over his. The fabric covering him was now weightless, whereas his body, motionless, was far from that. It also had been opened up: the chill entering through the wound could reach deep into him, where there was a new emptiness. Yes, he knew that at the end of the stormy night the pregnant moon had only flashed its light upon him and now set to leave him at the darkest hour with a more intense longing.

“Remus.” With a cautious whisper Jonah, behind him, chest and face against his back, was testing whether he was awake.

He opened his eyes reluctantly to see, under the edge of the stone roof, a stretch of desert sky sprinkled with stars clear enough despite the pale light of dawn. At the moment this view was desolate to him. He pressed his face against the fluff of the carpet – and was now startled by the warmth it evidently emitted.

“Why are we still here?” he muttered irritably, but without quite giving up yet his pleasure in the faint spice odours, which reminded him of a travelling companion’s private little vehicle from Zanzibar. “Since we’ve got a flying carpet, we can fly back at the latest now when the sky is clear.” The muscles in his throat contracted, making it hard for him to breathe, when he thought of a sweet return to where Ice-Stare had fallen and might still be waiting for him.

“This carpet doesn’t fly no more. I don’t know what’s wrong with it.”

“Malaka!” Remus’s swearing came out in Greek.

He wanted to pull out his wand and – in case he, too, failed to make the flying charms work – stab it at the carpet, which obviously was not a complete fake like Mundungus’s, but stubbornly refused to help him join whom he longed for. And now – his arm did not obey. He was unable to even try anything.

“Please don’t try to move that hand. I’m sorry but my healing magic hasn’t worked either. Perhaps, now that you’ve rested, you can try and close the wound yourself. I’ve heard you’re good at that.”

Glancing at his shoulder, from which Jonah cautiously removed the corner of a cloak, did not help. “I can’t,” Remus said. “I can’t help wanting too badly to keep it open.”

“What is this?” Peter rolled around, turning towards him, pressing so close that there was no longer any space for him to rest his cheek on the carpet. He, too, must have been there all the time, his body limiting the view out to the wilderness: the back in front of Remus, the buttocks against his thighs. Once again Peter had been ignored, as if he was invisible, but now he demanded attention and an answer. “What? Is it some magic in this wound? That makes you say crazy things… about love?”

“Whatever it is, perhaps you can break the whole enchantment. Nothing will stay sweet if I discuss it with you.” Remus blurted that out spontaneously and hardly managed to think about what he truly wanted. Peter’s voice stabbed him with the demands of reality and urged him to try his best and regain the control of his will.

“You must close it. Like this you can’t walk.” That was Frank, stepping in under the jut. He huddled behind Peter. “Still frost. The sky’s all clear. The day can be warm enough.”

“Yes, when the sun’s up and you’ve healed the wound, we can try to get back by walking. I don’t understand this, but perhaps talk to this Animagus friend first, if you think it can help.” Jonah had bent closer over Remus and eyed Peter suspiciously. He was probably confused due to the tone in their exchange and more due to this strange man’s emergence – perhaps only after they had left the others, following Hedwig.

Peter’s face was now so near, right opposite to Remus’s, that the features were out of focus. “I’ve read what you wrote to Harry – everything up to the day after we babysat him together... when they went hiding and you were sent to Cornwall.”

“I wanted you to read it. You needed it – so as to want to be seen and to have your story heard.” Remus closed his eyes, but did not escape the sensation that the two of them were feeding each other with these words in the hags’ manner of whispering into each other’s mouths.

“And now you need to go on and tell me... no longer hide how it really was for you after.”

A cold weight settled on Remus right palm, which was resting open next to his head. He managed to move his other hand over it to confirm: it was Peter’s silver fingers. A warm hand covered Remus’s left hand in turn.

“Cornwall,” he said. “From Cornwall I was summoned back to join celebrations: the war was over, we were told.”

Now he was restless again, unwilling to stay. He expected no compassion. No, he didn’t know yet he’d need any. He was just eager to leave... this office, this man sitting behind his imposing desk who would not order him and his friends around anymore.

“I want to get to my friends to celebrate with them. How can Dumbledore actually have the time for talking to someone like me at a moment like this?

“‘I was not wrong about the special role of a child,’ he says. ‘I assume you are happy and proud to hear that Harry Potter has defeated Voldemort. Quite miraculously, everyone says. But I was not so surprised, due to my insight into prophecies... His brave parents, however... Accept my condolences.’

“He’s not saying that James... and Lily... I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want him to see the tears, and I cover my face with my hands, but I can see... James shakes his head and snorts at me. Or James sits down beside me, and with an arm around my shoulders he says, ‘Remus is not allowed to tell you. So I’m going to do it… to introduce to you… our resident werewolf!’ Or Sirius slaps him on the head. Now, again, Sirius has lost a brother, and I must be there for him. I want to go home.

“But he keeps talking, Dumbledore. ‘You know we can still not be sure if someone else among you was in league with the traitor who has now been caught. But I can make the ministry ignore you – while I admit you have been one of my main suspects. I can take the responsibility, as you will continue to be under control within the beastiology experiment. And an individual like you can hardly be too much of a threat on its... his own.’

“‘I want to go home,’ I manage to say aloud.

“‘You want... You must understand that in these circumstances you can’t possibly go back at all. I’ve been to the flat and picked up the Potions book. I assume you have an exam ahead, and this book belongs to your college library, doesn’t it? Unfortunately this is all I could bring for you. You understand that someone like you cannot claim to own anything, and you had better not draw attention to the fact that you have lived with the murderer. Everything else in the flat has already been destroyed as the murderer’s personalty.’

“He is not saying...

“‘You must have already heard it. I know it can be too much to accept as true. Even I am still astonished that Sirius Black did it. We never suspected him. That’s why I had nothing against the choice of him as their Secret Keeper. But we must face the fact that it was a mistake to trust him – that he did betray them, and he killed Peter, too, and twelve Muggles with him. But you have nothing to fear. He’s been locked up in Azkaban.’

“This... must be like when I killed Snape. It didn’t happen. Some mistake. No, I’m not hearing this. I’m not replying to this, just... ‘I want to go...’ I say.

“‘Where are you going?’

“I don’t know how much time has passed – or if time has stopped. But now I hear him say again, ‘Where?’

“Why does he insist? Who cares. I’m at the door, holding myself upright somehow, but he’s still stopping me. I must give an answer to get away. ‘Where... I used to live.’

“Someone on the other side grabs my arm.

“‘Before you moved in with Black? Alastor here will see that you get there. And get settled there. I’ll see what we can do about the scholarship... Of course, you can always come to me, if there is anything you need.’

“No, there isn’t anything.”

Remus opened his eyes and stared at their clasped hands. That was what the reality had been; this: what it was now. He had hardly shown his resentment of Dumbledore when he had been invited to serve at Hogwarts, then in the Order again; after he had learnt about Peter’s guilt, he had not mustered any genuine, lasting urge for revenge. Had he forgiven Peter too easily? Peter was not likely to ever apologise. But at least he had now made Peter hear his initial anguish in its immediacy. He had claimed the right to be heard, and now he spilled out the rest of that memory.

“There was nothing,” he repeated.

“I must have gone to the library. The exam... Then I walked... I walked until I found myself under the birch trees, approaching the entrance to our building, under our balcony. Then I walked away and... I must have found my way back to the room in the stinky renthouse, as I was huddled on a mattress and I slept.

“Again and again I fell deeper asleep instead of getting up, instead of bothering to try to get anything to eat. I didn’t keep waking up – no, I could never wake up from the nightmare. It was there every time, I was sure, as I was still not in his bed, or on the couch, gazing at the birches through the glass or on my canvas.”

And now he was suddenly enraged by how he had shared something so intimate: tainted such a detail of the wound in his heart which no one would understand in any case – referred to that painting the loss of which had completed his bereavement. He moved abruptly, wrenching his hands free, and managed to sit up before he sensed the warmth of the blood gushing out and down his arm.

Jonah was right there, supporting him, ready with a wand – no, two, and Remus grabbed his as soon as it was offered to him. Without any delay he worded – only in his mind – the spell to stem the bleeding. And again, as he had not directed, let alone stirred the wand properly. Now it worked, just in time before the effort and the loss of blood caused his clarity of mind to fail him.

Only now could he afford to become aware of the increased pain, and he reassured himself that it was mere dull pulsing ache. He braced himself, for a brief moment resting on his chest the fist which held the wand.

Focusing on where sharp stones had torn his flesh and caused the only new, real wound, he spotted the ragged line of the old scar alongside it. Nothing could remove that scar, and he no longer wished otherwise. Swift-Tail had decisively turned the course of his life with the original bite – and now recently together with others contributed to his new understanding of who he wanted to be. He did not let Ice-Stare’s magic change his will further. His only urge was to return and join the battle against Umbridge.

And only now did it strike him that he was late – most probably he was fatefully late. How could it have slipped his mind that Umbridge was to attack at sunset, and that he had ended up spending the whole of the evening and the night here? Perhaps it was all over now and he could only hope that he had truly not been needed, in the end. But in case there was still something he could do, there was no time to waste, and he had to heal himself promptly the best he could.

For the benefit of his friends and allies, yes, he was able to do it: willingly distracting himself from his personal losses and hardships, he summoned all the feeling of compassion in its depth and scope. “Regenerasco,” he pronounced carefully while moving the wand tip quickly along the wound and back again.

To keep the wand immobile while waiting for the regeneration of skin and flesh was the hardest part. This could not happen instantaneously, not on his level of skill, and still it was so quick that the pain surged through him and threatened to make him shake. Now he would have direly needed to be able to rely on his right wrist, and he could not. A new pang of pain seized it – but this was a firm grip to help him hold the hand steady. Glancing away from his almost completed work, he saw the silver fingers clasped around his wrist.

“She could have been more helpful, too,” Peter said. “Could have brought someone to pick us up on another carpet.” He squinted at the white figure high on the bright noon sky.

Hedwig was guiding them in a direction which also felt right for Remus. The landscape south or west of the village would have been more familiar to him, and after the wind had brought the clouds approximately from the east, it seemed reasonable to now go south-east from here in search for the battle. However, finding their way would have been very unsure without Hedwig’s help.

In any case it was frustrating – albeit better than inactivity – to be making slow progress by foot when they did not even know how far they still had to go. Most of the snow had already melted, but the uneven ground was still wet and slippery. What an unfortunate band they were: while Jonah had not learnt to apparate, each of the others was more or less permanently in either no physical or no mental state to do it.

Frank’s condition had miraculously improved, though. His behaviour and scarce words were now usually logical. Glancing up at his serene face, Remus could not immediately figure out how fully present his mind was at the moment. He still often appeared as detached from people near him, even so much detached from his own physical self, too, that he could not control several complex acts at the same time. But he was, indeed, striding at least as surely as Jonah or Peter, and also balancing the rolled-up carpet on his shoulder without any visible difficulty – until, without a warning, he let it slide down and stopped.

“No longer hot,” he said.

“What?” Jonah had bumped into him and now sounded exasperated.

“The carpet.”

“And we, instead... we’ve warmed up. Perhaps...” Remus fell on his knees and pushed the roll open. “Of course.”

Those winter nights in the desert with Brünnhilde, later with Omar, when the temperature had dropped well below ten degrees... And the crazy solstice morning on Sirius’s balcony, back in 1978, when Lily’s old carpet uncannily kept them warm. Why had he not remembered that immediately? In cold weather the magic in all these carpets was supposed to change from movement into emission of warmth, so as to offer comfortable camping instead of freezing travel. No other carpet either could have worked long enough to take them away in the snow storm.

Now the fringe curled under Remus’s fingers. He continued to caress it, and the carpet rippled and rose a few inches above the ground.

“Men aboard!” Hilarity entered his voice from his hopeful, responsible and reckless anticipation of battle – from his bold intention to vanquish his enemies at the last moment before a glorious change into what, too, he truly was.

The towers of the barbican glowed bright ochre for a moment again and were then hidden behind another cloud of black smoke. Remus could still not see anyone else here, right outside the gate, where Hedwig had guided the small band to land and where they had now waited for a moment, standing on the carpet.

Her warm weight startled him as she now came to perch on his left shoulder, pressing the softness of her feathers against his neck and ear. Or perhaps he was more startled by the realisation that he had not missed her closeness. He had known about her presence since his friends had found him, but he had not questioned the natural distance: she had flown apart from them as a scout and a guide, while he had been able to receive comfort in solid form from humans. Her momentary respite now in this intimate contact with him served to inform him that his shoulder was completely healed: its sensitiveness to touch did not feel like a weakness, on the contrary. Besides, she was bidding him farewell. Despite the imminence of the once cruel moonrise, neither of them anticipated any crucial bond between the two of them – ever again.

The longing for true connection was mixed with the ache in his bones. The ache’s distance from his skin told him that he still had a few hours to wait. But he caught his heart beating faster as soon as he and his small band had descended among the smoke clouds, which hid the light of the early evening sky. The restless illumination from flashing flames reminded him of the bonfire he had left behind in this village two months earlier, and he was eager to enter.

But this fire, now painting only the upper part of the fortifications, had withdrawn somewhere far off – close to the horizon – after ravishing the lands around the village. The remains of the grass and heather and stunted trees still smoked. It was hard to conclude how much of the cloud derived from behind the walls. At least the outer wooden gate had been demolished, and Remus had just started to stride forward to have a closer look, when a figure of a faun emerged abruptly in front of him.

At that moment Hedwig shook his balance by launching into a flight – up against the darkness, and lit into a phoenix’s glory. When he lowered his eyes to the gloom again, he found it in Peck’s face, too.

“Umbridge arrived late.” Peck went straight to the point, and his voice was uncharacteristically toneless. “Now these heliopaths of hers have retreated into a semicircle over there, but it looks like they still feel like attacking. They’re just close enough for our sentries up on the walls to see the flames rising from under their hooves every now and then. Or rather your sentries. Hecate has ordered the non-wolves out of the village.”

Remus tried to focus on what needed to be asked first. “Did Umbridge’s army get in?”

“No. We doubt she has seriously tried to succeed yet. She was probably happy to let some of her enemies kill each other off for her. The fire destroyed only this gate. The curved corridor leading to the inner gate is too low and narrow for anything twice as massive as a thestral. And that gate is secured by some ingenious magic. As long as she’s relied on heliopaths and unskilled wizards, there’s been no real peril in the village – apart from Ice-Stare’s faithful warriors.”

“Hecate said they would not be too many.”

She had explained to Remus that this was the simple basis for her revolt. The majority, almost everyone wanted a new rule, or rather a return to the old ways which Iron-Fang had started changing. Ice-Stare’s ambition for werewolves’ dominion over all other creatures had fascinated his people at first, but his failure two months ago had made them turn against him. What Bloodhead’s envoy had told them about Norwegian werewolves had also reminded them of how their own pack had lived a few decades ago: they did not need to strengthen themselves by biting outsiders. Above all, the masses were quick to admire the solitary werewolf who had beaten their leader.

“You mean werewolves we needed to defeat? No, perhaps twenty, in the end. But they sent curses out of the buildings where they retreated, and they had children with them. We were not needed in big numbers. But some in the first fourth used their various skills, taking those werewolves unawares.”

“And... Ice-Stare?”

“He hasn’t returned to the village.”

“And have you found Arthur Weasley?”

As Peck shook his head, Remus did not manage to limit his reaction to disappointment and concern for Arthur. The hostage was obviously still hidden behind the magic of Ice-Stare’s mind, and this meant that Ice-Stare was still alive, therefore somewhere waiting for his peer to continue the duel.

“We who are left out here are ready to attack Umbridge’s army. Do you want to lead us?”

“Yes, certainly.” Remus heard a disturbingly light, absentminded tone in his own reply. He had to still set aside the desires for close contact with anyone of his kind, not to mention renewed connection with Ice-Stare. “I trust she’ll be eager enough to confront us as soon as she learns that I am here.” Yes, particularly when it was close enough to moonrise for her to calculate that a werewolf antagonist was severely weakened by the impending change.

“That’s what Gumby said, assuring us as early as in the morning that you were almost ready for the battle. And Rose declared we must wait and ask you, instead of following Hecate’s advice and hiding for safety in the mountains, or simply leaving – each of us according to the individual ability.”

If those who had seen the heliopaths’ fire were determined to fight, Remus wanted to cling to the hope that their combined powers could offer adequate resistance. “We can’t afford more delays. Let’s simply make a move. In the frontline all those creatures who can muster any magical control over fire...”

Peck raised his arm, beckoning, and Remus turned to see his troops emerge in two rows on the same summit where he had left them before the duel.

“That’s how we’ve already arranged the troops, making sure that everyone in the first row can also move magically half-way towards the enemy line in no time.” Peck pointed to the south. “That direction – where the highest flames have been spotted.”

This was in accordance with their original strategy: they would appear suddenly so much closer to the enemy and provoke an attack, and they would respond in their ingenious, trained defensive magic – vital and justified, thus invincible, as they had to believe it would be. There was no need or time for speeches or orders. Remus merely lifted his wand in a greeting.

The row of goblins, half-goblins, hags, some humans and elves had stopped only a couple of yards in front of him. As if his heart, in turn, had lost its ability to see, he found himself numb to their individual identities. Perhaps it was necessary not to let himself stop and feel how much he cared – or rather how much he risked when taking them to battle. In his mind he saw clearly Umbridge alone, her self-satisfied smirk – Umbridge, who had threatened them all, and denied them their rights to existence. Yes, this was how he cared for their future: by ignoring any individual’s safety at the moment, and focusing on Umbridge. By allowing them to face the peril they had chosen. And he had learnt not to undermine his friends and allies’ competence.

Remus himself, of course, now needed the carpet so as to move to the frontline, and he turned and strode back and over the curling fringes, determined to fly it alone.

“No, I need a ride, too.” Thisby was approaching him.

This time she was not there too close to him in an instant. She was approaching step by slow step, in the way he had once watched her stagger towards the stage. In the gloom there was a faint glow to be seen around her, but due to his mother’s fine cloak very little of her skin was visible, unlike that first time she had performed in front of him, and her face was rather ashen than shiny.

“No,” Peck started in an uncharacteristic frenzy – to finish in a low voice, standing still, as if in resignation, “not you, too.”

“Not all of me’s going to disappear from this life. But you, sweet boy...” She was now caressing Jonah’s face. He turned his head so as to kiss her fingers, then quickly fell on his knees, grabbing her hips and pulling her closer to himself, onto the carpet. And right after that he stretched out his arm to run his wand along the carpet’s edge.

Only when the carpet rose did Remus have the chance to pay attention to Frank, who had remained on it, too, and was pressing his cupped hands close to his heart.

The horizon was ablaze. But while the wall of fire grew higher, it did not draw closer. Instead, in front of it, in sharp contrast, the black figures of the rearing beasts became ever clearer and larger.

Frank had obeyed Remus’s order to retreat a bit, so as to take care of the carpet, ready to use it for rescuing at least some of the wounded on it. Both Thisby and Jonah, instead, followed Remus as far ahead as where his allies were emerging, some quietly, some with cracks, and some with flashes of light.

The heliopaths were bound to sense their arrival. Not even Lovegood – father any more than daughter – had ever claimed to know much about these creatures’ behaviour, or even looks, beyond the ambiguous notion of fieriness. Now there was approaching a row of more than fifty of them: shapes of astonishing darkness.

They dashed forward, then rose on their hind legs and in unison slammed their front hooves sharply against the ground, striking sparks, before advancing again. While no new major fire erupted, the momentary flashes illuminated their heads, revealing more details every time. The sparks reflected in their slanted eyes and painted red the curly hairs of the manes around the grimacing faces.

After a few more leaps up and forward, having just arrived within the reach of wand magic, the beasts all bent their heads close to the shower of sparks. In the restless lighting their facial expressions were so captivating that Remus caught himself trying to interpret them. Yes, the frowns and tilts of the heads were startlingly human... no, actually half-human. That observation led him to a crazy hope: the heliopaths might sense their enemies’ half-humanity and still decide against attacking.

No, he was a fool, indeed, to still dream of avoiding violence. In any case, as blood was pounding in his ears, time seemed to slow down. The smoke was driven aside and the heavy layer of clouds cracked open. Weak beams of sunlight from the western sky met the fire, and every snout turned momentarily in that direction.

These wild and noble creatures certainly had interests of their own. Could they possibly be under Umbridge’s control?

The thought of her made Remus divert his eyes from the fascinating faces – to finally register what had come to view above the bent necks. On every heliopath’s back, clutching its mane, was a human rider.

And these riders were certainly not in full – if any – control of the beasts. One man pointed his wand forward, in odd stubbornness keeping his back and arm straight just at the moment when the heliopath’s movements would have naturally made him seek new balance. And the woman next to him acted in exact unison with him. As far as Remus could see, all the other riders did, too. Themselves, as a group, they were tied to Umbridge’s will – probably by an Imperius Curse.

These men and women, like the recruits Remus had watched die in the denied neighbourhood, waved the wands to cast their spells without particular targets. He raised his wand even before he could hear the chorused incantation, and he knew that his troops were prepared for defence, as well.


“Rafinarisma!” His spell could affect only the recruit directly in front of him. He deflected the violent magic, refining it with the best intentions he could muster.

Perhaps too good ones, he assessed momentarily when becoming aware of how he toughened the man’s skin, making it invulnerable, protecting it fully against any stray gashing hexes. But no, the man could no longer move his limbs at all. The disabling side-effect, inherent in every Rafinarisma, now caused the rider to fall off and remain trampled under the beasts’ hooves.

Remus lost sight of him. And he just had to keep on deflecting curses without full awareness of what his intentions were, let alone what harm he was causing.

The riders directed their spells as straight forward as they could while the heliopaths were making unpredictable moves under them. Remus aimed at wand tips, but also started moving sideways to get in the path of new curses.

The heliopaths approached slowly, now treading the ground gently with their front legs and swaying their necks, tilting their heads, giving the air of curiosity and fascination – but thumping hard with hind hooves. Every time those heavier hooves hit the ground, sparks grew into flames behind them. The beasts threatened their riders a lot more severely than their enemy – with whom they seemed to be flirting.

At Remus’s side Jonah had started with what he mastered: the basic Expelliarmus. But now those incantations could no longer be heard. Remus was hardly able to spare a glance to check that the boy had not fallen down wounded. No, there was no sign of him.

The power of the part-humans and non-humans was quiet. Instead of audible sounds, it swirled in restless waves of translucent colour around Remus. Was it a hallucination or did some of that magic push the human enemies back and some of it tempt the heliopaths forward? While falling into an almost clumsy monotony of repeating his defence, he was enthralled by the variety in that incomprehensible power – or rather by what little he managed to perceive of it. He could only trust that the fey magic would accomplish what it was meant to, even though his stumbling presence might disturb it.

Here was Thisby, suddenly in front of him. Not fully facing the enemy, unlike the hags next to her, not stretching her arms towards the row of heliopaths. No, twisting her slender body in a peculiar dance.

Her luminous hair now glowed in a shade of green. Reflecting Unforgivable Curses? Or was she emitting this light? And was it destructive? No, how could it be? Its flow from her lit up a path of spring with scent of young leaves warmed by the sun. And it enchanted the heliopaths opposite to her. They had already leapt closer, so close that Remus could see their nostrils widen.

But he did not see soon enough the wand directed at her. Red spurted over her, and she fell like a tree dressed in the brown of withered leaves.

The heat hit Remus as he was repeating his defence spell once more just in case. The line of fire was reaching them, and his first fear was that what now looked like a heap of dry leaves would erupt into flames. He simply raised his left palm towards the approaching heliopaths. Did he truly sense or only dream a connection to the hags’ and goblins’ magic of fire?

He was about to pocket his wand so as to join fully in their power – when the beast closest to him stopped and stared straight into his eyes. It had no rider on its back, but instead of a wand, its braid-like tail lifted and swayed. Was it a sign – and perhaps to someone else, too? Remus responded by lifting his wand, and the braid opened into several strands. They formed a fan and kept moving in a soothing rhythm. Or had he lost his mind? It had to be meant as a menace.

Then the heliopath stepped aside and the wall of fire behind it parted as well. Another beast was galloping through. This one, too, had raised and unbraided its tail, but the fan of it was imperfect, as some of the strands were wrapped around a human rider. No, a half-goblin rider – Dolores Umbridge!

Remus and his nemesis would be closed alone in the circle of flames. He could only spare a last thought for his friends and allies, trusting that they were either retreating or easily defeating what – besides these animals gathering around the two of them – was left of the ridiculously non-functional troops.

Perhaps the short scream which Remus had heard a moment earlier had echoed from somewhere else. Umbridge was squeezing her wide mouth shut tight, just as she was pressing her short, bare legs against either side of the heliopath’s neck. The heels of her stilettos were directed towards her enemy like knights’ lances, so perhaps the position, albeit unbecoming, had been chosen for a purpose. And the strands of tail obviously served her by making it easier for her to stay mounted.

Indeed, when the heliopath came to a sudden halt a few yards in front of Remus and loosened the binding, Umbridge slid down. She would have ended up head first to the ground, had the beast not knelt for a moment.

Having pulled the hem of her robes down, she struggled to stand straight, seeking support against the heliopath’s legs. She actually slapped the beast when placing her hand on its thigh. But this did not hide the trembling of her hands.

“You must have been...” she said slowly, as if trying to sound calmly menacing – in her sweet manner, of course – while she was also still catching her breath, “waiting to see me, Jaws Lupin.” She cocked her head to one side, then to the other.

The heliopath made a half-hearted, perhaps an impish attempt at rising on its hind legs, and the front hooves struck a shower of sparks. While she managed to keep her balance and stay standing, Umbridge lost a big part of her remaining calm. She was now visibly trembling all over.

“Silly animal, now no more moves I haven’t ordered!” Her voice was even higher than usual.

Remus found it surprisingly easy to breathe. A circle of heliopaths around them was fanning with their tails, driving the smoke away. But the flames were threateningly near, and he hoped Umbridge would not realise that. At the moment when she would admit to herself that she was scared of the fire – if not of the creatures which were quite possibly the ones truly in control of the situation – she would simply disapparate.

“Yes,” he said sincerely, “I’ve longed for this opportunity.” So as not to waste time, he brandished his wand while talking, and signalled a suggestion by lifting his eyebrows.

But Umbridge did not seem to notice. She had taken a step aside from the heliopath and started twirling her wand in both hands. “I’m sure you want to ask me, so as to learn the truth about what I have done. Quite wise, after basing those ridiculous theatre shows on rumours.”

Remus could not repress a sigh, and he took a step towards her with his wand now pointed at her.

But she simpered. “No, you won’t – I know.” She was sure he would always limit himself to defence. “Instead, I never hesitate. I am ready to sacrifice anything for the greater good, even to compromise the beauty and harmony I’ve built up around me in my private life. I can do the dirty work myself, and I can bear the picture of me with all its details as I alone can see it: myself doing ugly things which needed to be done. My integrity is intact and better than ever on another level. I have taken crucial steps to save what is valuable in the magical world. The most important measures are not ordered with Minister Fudge’s confirming signature, or recorded in any official documents. These goals would never be achieved without me: getting all resources in the full control of magical people who are worth it; getting rid of useless, potentially harmful groups; getting rid of fools who protect them. I wanted to deal with you myself, as I did with Bones, and I wanted to first offer to you all the details about that necessary and genius deed. But these animals here are more co-operative than some sub-humans. They don’t need to be framed. They can really do it, so I’d rather hurry off, as I’m irreplaceable in other tasks, serving the wizarding world. It was good to see you at this moment in any case...”

“Petrificus Totalus!” Nothing worse than that, but he was startled by the bad intention channelled in his voice.

Good intention, too. There was the necessity to stop her from disapparating, from getting out of here – and continuing to serve her greater good.

Completely rigid, she swayed on the spot for a brief moment, then fell on her back – slowed down by the tail, which the heliopath had extended towards her just in time. And he caught himself maliciously rejoicing in how she would be forced to see what would follow. Yes, this was why he had chosen not to stun her: so that she would have a cruel end. Or would she be saved by the creature she at least wanted to believe she controlled?

The heliopath met Remus’s gaze, blinked and then lifted its head. The golden glow in its mane was fading.

Remus glanced all around. The circle of fire was low, dying. Instead, the tips of the raised tails were catching another dying light from the west. Slowly, quietly, all the heliopaths started moving in that direction.

The beasts walked carefully around Remus, some coming very near to either greet him with a nod or to brush their furry sides against his shoulders. Their closeness was warm and reassuring. He found himself shivering and aching, and nauseated while he was not sure if he kept truly seeing glimpses of Umbridge’s body, even of her open, terrified eyes, through the passing herd, or if he was conjuring the images. Images of hooves treading on her, striking sparks...

The herd grew less dense and now allowed him a full view. Indeed, he was relieved to know for sure that she had not escaped, and he stared in calm satisfaction at the dark pool of blood next to her chest. And as another heliopath stepped on her, bright flames erupted. The roar of the brief and intense fire filled his ears, and he was taken unawares by the sight of someone who had leapt down from the heliopath’s back.

In a moment Ice-Stare’s wand was whipping the ashes that remained of Umbridge. Then he turned a beaming face to Remus and gestured towards the departing beasts, which had left the two of them alone, yes, completely alone, since there was no sign of Remus’s troops. “Stallions of the sun, they escape to the west,” he said in a solemn voice, but grinning, “when we, bound to the sister, Selene, rejoice in her arrival in full glory.” He spread his arms, as if for an embrace.

Or perhaps it was for balance. He started a staggering walk forward.

In the receding light his face glowed white. A breeze rose – soothingly cold against Remus’s neck and through his robes, too, and he realised that a pain was burning somewhere close to his skin. And the breeze opened Ice-Stare’s robes where the fabric had been cut down his chest, revealing bandages just as white as his face, but white only on the edges – while mostly smeared dark. Startled by the enchantment in the smell of blood, Remus moved to meet him, to save him the last painful steps.

At that moment Ice-Stare pointed the wand at him. Unable to wish anything worse or better for Ice-Stare, Remus chose to simply return the silent spell, whatever it was. And he was quick enough: he felt no effect on himself, whereas Ice-Stare…

Naked, covered in freely running blood, with his robes and bandages ripped off and fallen at his feet, he took one more faltering step towards Remus, and managed to wave his wand once more. Instead of attempting any defence, this time, Remus rushed forward and caught him against his chest.

And just when darkness fell Remus found himself naked as well, with the tall and once strong, now mortally wounded body pressed against his. In this closeness there was no space left for his pain.

The moon rose. He received its blessing willingly. His skin welcomed the shared softness of fur. His face in its radical change found solace and recognition, resting on a shoulder which changed as well. His limbs grew strong and eager, and standing firmly on his hind legs, he squeezed his companion with his paws, then fell down over him.

His mind was not closed by the concern, but for these moments it was fully focused on this contact. He heard the weak breathing and he felt the feebleness of the wounded body, which had not managed to acquire any of its canine strength. He tasted the blood, licking one of the wounds slowly, resignedly, until the irregular, warm current of air stopped tickling his ears, and the heart under his head became completely still.

Without looking down, he got up and walked aside. His snout turned towards the silver disk now fully visible on the horizon and he howled in honour of the death and in praise of the glory of the change the two of them had shared. Ready to explore the night and to search for others with whom to share it, he glanced back at the body.

Ice-Stare’s empty eyes stared at him from the pale face framed by the grey beard and short hair. The whole human body was back, its wounds revealed more horrendously than before, but those meant nothing now. And no, this change back was not upsetting. Startling, yes, a surprise – but a reassuring one. Ice-Stare’s humanity. He did not stop to ponder it. Perhaps for a moment to register the human scent, but that made no difference, either.

He started to the north, towards the village. Yes, he could remember everything, but without complex worries, he now focused on what would contribute to happiness at the moment. His pack within the walls.

His other friends and allies were nowhere near to be heard or smelled or seen, except… The sight of the carpet spread on the ground made his heart leap. The carpet could fly a wolf, too, over any fortifications. At least with help from…

His nostrils caught the scent of the familiar rat, who was finally again right there: first invisible, now silver-white, bathed in the rays of his glorious moon. He slowed down, tilted his head and showed his teeth in a grin, wagging his tail, so as to reassure his old friend.

But a sound of heavy footsteps threw Wormtail into a state of alarm – and he was not afraid of the approaching man, but quite sure that the man was in danger. The rat’s squeaks made Frank stop and stand still, not far behind the carpet, looking straight at the wolf.

He stretched his neck, reached out his curious snout, unsure himself, too, for a moment, waiting for another gust of northern breeze. He had not forgotten what he had always been told. But the scent of a human body awoke no aggression in him. No envy, no longing either, under this moon.

When he had stepped onto the carpet and curled up close to Wormtail, Frank joined the two of them without further hesitation. And the wand Frank picked up near Wormtail’s front paw, so as to charm the carpet to rise, was of smooth elm: Remus’s.

Chapter Twenty-One is here.

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Comments {4}


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from: paulamcg
date: Oct. 29th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)

Relishing your marvellous feedback, I haven’t wanted to hurry to finish responding to it.

I’m very happy to hear that Hedwig’s last moments in the story work for you so well. She’s been such an important character in some earlier chapters that I hoped I’d manage to do justice to her here.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I went too far with Frank, allowing him to recover well enough to play an effective role. Perhaps the changes in him are not too quick and unjustified.

You make me overjoyed by telling me that I’ve succeeded in making the story into a whole. It’s a dream come true that a reader can simply see the tapestry become completed – that perhaps the slow, painstaking work behind these final few scenes remains invisible and everything unfolds smoothly enough. Thank you also for the insightful naming of motifs!

My aim has been to reach such words which guide the reader to build up vivid images of the events. Battle scenes have been particular challenges for me (perhaps because I don’t watch action films – or participate in violent action or any extreme physical activity in real life), so I’m especially happy to read your praise and description of the compelling picture. I also used to worry about Umbridge, since I knew I needed her (Rowling’s most interesting villain’s) long-awaited appearance to become a climax, and I needed to offer some explanations for her actions while giving her an impressive end. I’m relieved to hear that this end is satisfying.

I’m grateful for the mention of the jolt, too! While you make me realise that I could have kept Ice-Stare’s return a complete surprise, I can believe it works well like this, too.

Finally, thank you for quoting those lines. I’m thrilled you call the moment powerful. Compared with that, the closing image is perhaps a quiet, humble detail, but dear to me, and thanks to your comment I’m more fully convinced that I’ve got the end of the chapter right.

I still haven’t found a way to express how much it means to me that my novel has got truly received. Ever since I first read these comments I’ve felt accomplished and blessed in a new way. Thank you, thank you, Kelly!

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from: kellychambliss
date: Oct. 30th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)

I'm so glad you enjoyed the feedback -- because I certainly enjoyed the story!

I agree with you completely about Umbridge being the most interesting villain in the series. Voldemort is too cardboard a character -- a stereotyped "evil madman" with no shades of grey; he's so extreme and over-the-top that he exists in a sort of realm by himself.

Umbridge, on the other hand, is fascinating in her ordinariness, in the way her sort of self-righteous belief in her own vision of "the good" mirrors the behavior of many people actually in power today. She's the "banality of evil." She's so interesting to me because she is plausible in ways that Voldemort never is.

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from: paulamcg
date: Oct. 30th, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)

her sort of self-righteous belief in her own vision of "the good" Exactly!

I’m afraid that (while focusing more on developing some original characters – in shades of grey, I hope... and of various colours) I’ve used this interesting character somehow in the way Voldemort is used in the series (instead of the way she’s used in OotP): keeping her mainly absent until the final confrontation. I’m happy that my take on her has not turned out disappointing.

After your feedback I’m ever more satisfied with the novel, and while I wonder whether you think there are still other fanfic readers around who might enjoy it, I’m happy that I’ve completed such an extensive project and that the product is out there. Perhaps it’s worthwhile to put it up on Archive of Our Own, too.

Thank you again, and I’ll be back to reply to your comment on the closing chapter – but I want to save that pleasure for a bit later!

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