Darkmoon called a halt at last, coming to a spot where a stream flowed inbetween some white pebbled banks and there was a rather large thicket nearby that provided cover for them from any beasts that happened by. They set up camp near the stream, for it was always prudent to be near running water. To Harry’s surprise, Severus took out the compact fold-up tent he had in his knapsack and set it up with a softly spoken command word.
Because it was a wizard tent, it was bigger inside than outside and was spelled against nasty and annoying bugs crawling or flying inside, like mosquitoes, ants, and spiders. Severus said that Darkmoon could share the tent with him and Harry, it was plenty large enough to sleep three comfortably, but Darkmoon just chuckled.
“Thanks for the offer, Severus, but I prefer the outdoors. I can sleep quite comfortably in my wolf shape, and not be encased by cloth if something should attack us. This part of the forest is relatively safe from large predators . . .the wyverns tend to lair up in the northern reaches, towards the mountains. Bears and murk cats are around here, but murk cats know better than to tangle with me,” Darkmoon said quietly, his amber eyes glinting.
“What’s a murk cat?” asked Harry.
“A large mottled magical cat that likes to hunt during the early hours of the morning. They have poison sacs in their claws and if they scratch you, you fall asleep, and that’s when they eat you. They’re mostly ambushers though, they like to lie in wait in trees and jump down on you. They’re lazy, though. Give ‘em a good fight and they’ll turn tail and run, they don’t like their supper to show teeth.”
“I’ll make sure to watch out for anything in the trees,” Harry said, glancing upward to the shady maple and oaks surrounding the camp uneasily.
Darkmoon laughed. “Relax, wizardling. There’s nothing about here, I’d know. This is still our territory, and predators know better than to hunt here uninvited. The only ones who disregard that rule are the werewolves Greyback sends here.” He curled his lip and showed a glimpse of his white teeth.
“Will it be safe for us to fly as hawks soon?” asked Harry, he was longing to take to the sky, he missed being Freedom.
“Yes, but not when we get to Shadow Vale. Then you’ll need to assume human form, because the trees there . . .something is twisted within them . . .and they attack anything that flies. Your owl knows that better than anyone.”
Harry settled himself upon the ground, grateful for the fire that Severus soon had crackling merrily, dispelling the lingering shadows and mist that hovered about the trunks of the trees. The Forest of the Night was well named. “Yes. I hope Meadowsweet will help her heal quickly.”
Darkmoon leaned against the trunk of a dark oak tree that overhung the campsite, his moccasin-like boots crossed one over the other. “Sasha’s the best Healer I’ve ever seen. If anyone can heal up your Hedwig, it’s Meadowsweet. She has a knack for it like I have a knack for making snap decisions and leading my pack.”
“Good because Hedwig . . .she really means a lot to me,” Harry admitted shyly. “She’s not just a pet, she’s more like a really good friend . . .one who thinks she’s my mum sometimes . . .if that makes any sense.”
Darkmoon’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight. “Makes perfect sense to me. Like I said, Sasha’s the best, she’ll make sure Hedwig is well before letting her fly anywhere. We should reach Shadow Vale by tomorrow evening, if you’re flying and I’m running in wolf form.”
“You think you can run as fast as a hawk can fly?”
“Harry, I’m a wolfen. My wolf form is super fast and I know this area like the back of my hand.” Darkmoon said, not boasting, but speaking matter-of-factly.
“Oh. Right.” Harry glanced over at his mentor.
Severus was busy making a pot of tea, though he was listening to the two boys chatter without being too obvious about it.
Harry lowered his voice an octave, then asked Darkmoon, “Uh . . .are you and Meadowsweet . . .uh . . .going out?”
Darkmoon nearly passed out. “What? You are
kidding, right? Sasha and I are cousins—first cousins at that, and while she’s a great girl and pretty hot, I wouldn’t dream of dating her. She’s like my little sister. And where I come from, you don’t date your nearest and dearest.”
“Right,” Harry agreed, then wondered why Darkmoon’s words filled him with such a sense of relief. The way the two behaved around each other had made him think they might have been a couple, but Darkmoon’s words put paid to that misassumption. Harry was glad. He liked Meadowsweet, she was not only pretty but compassionate as well.
The wolfen smirked knowingly. “Plus, she thinks I’m a big pain in the ass sometimes. But she’s a girl, so what can you expect?” he shrugged lazily, walking over and taking the cup of tea Severus offered. “Thanks.” He folded his legs under him and sat Indian-style, on the ground next to Harry. “See, don’t be fooled by her looks and her talent, because Meadowsweet ain’t your average girl that like to be protected by a man. She’s as alpha as I am, and hates it when I go all overprotective on her. She can take care of herself, even though she’s a Healer, she can still kick your ass. Like my mom.” The friendly light in Darkmoon’s eyes dimmed, to be replaced by a dark brooding sadness.
Harry was quiet for a moment, then he spoke. “Sometimes . . .I wish I could remember my parents. But I was a baby when they died so . . .” He spread his hands. “All I have are pictures and Sev’s stories to go by.” He glanced over at his mentor, who appeared to be contemplating the stars while drinking his tea, and added flippantly, “Who thinks I’m a pain in the ass sometimes too.”
“You are. An enormous one,” his guardian drawled.
Darkmoon chuckled. Harry snorted. “You like me like that. You wouldn’t know what to do if I suddenly started to behave, now would you?”
“The shock would probably kill me.”
“See? And I don’t want you to die, so I’m not going to adjust my attitude . . .much,” he added quickly at a warning glare from his teacher.
“You two remind me of me and my mom before she left for the desert,” Darkmoon observed. “She was always ragging on me to quit giving her grief, like when I used to forget to tell her I was going for a run in my wolf form at midnight. “How many times do I need to tell you, Erik, let me know where you’re going?” she used to say.”
“A common failing among teenagers. Harry forgets that rule every other day.”
“I do not!” Harry protested. “Well, not since this quest started.” He shot Darkmoon a you-see-what-I-have-to-deal-with look. Then he changed the subject. “Darkmoon, do you wolfen have to change at the full moon like regular werewolves do?”
“Yes and no. Wolfen aren’t driven mad when we assume our other form, like a werewolf. That’s the thing most of you wizards don’t get. We’re not under a curse, driven to hunt and kill humans. We were born
with the ability to change, and while we feel compelled to shift at a full moon, we don’t go all nuts and rip people apart. When I’m a wolf, I’m a wolf
. I hunt and kill prey animals, like deer and rabbits. Not
people.” He made a face. “That’s just disgusting. I keep my own mind when I change, I don’t lose it the way a werewolf does. Like your Animagus form.”
“I see. Then wolfen are more like Animagi than werewolves,” Severus surmised. “How old were you when you first changed?”
“Uh, about nine, I think. Mom and I were out walking in the woods in the afternoon and we scared a rabbit and I was watching it run and wishing I could catch it when all of a sudden I felt really weird and the next thing I knew I was a black yearling wolf and chasing that rabbit hell for leather. Didn’t catch it though.”
“And your mum? Was she like . . .freaked?” Harry asked.
“No. I think she’d been expecting something like that to happen to me sooner or later. I mean, my dad told her about himself, and maybe he figured I would get some of his abilities. I mean, yeah, she was surprised and all, but she wasn’t flipping on me and threatening to call a priest or saying I was an evil thing, like Vlad’s mom did when he first changed. She just waited for me to come back and then, when I shifted into Erik again, she hugged me and wanted to know if I hurt or anything.”
“A little. But mostly the Change is painless. Mom was cool about that part of it, though since she was a Marine, she had to go and make up all kinds of rules about it.” Darkmoon rolled his eyes. “She was big on rules.”
“And you were big on breaking them?” Harry guessed.
of them.” Darkmoon corrected. “I obeyed the major ones—like getting good grades, and no drinking or smoking, and keeping my powers a secret and all that. And I tried mostly not to talk back to her, ‘cause she hated when I copped an attitude and would nail my ass.” The wolfen shook his head. “I learned that the hard way. After I Changed, I was like so full of myself, all I wanted to do after school was go run in the woods, and I used to not do my homework and only half do my chores because being a wolf was way cooler than being a kid. One of my teachers sent some kind of note home and Mom found out and she was majorly pissed over it. She grounded me from my wolf form and I think I remember telling her that she couldn’t tell me what to do anymore or something like that and then she said she was still my mother and, wolfen or not, she could still wallop my ass, and she did.” Darkmoon winced. “Mom didn’t hit much, but that time she spanked me good. Not that I didn’t deserve it, I knew better than to talk to her like that. After it we talked, and I told her I was sorry and all, and she made me promise to quit running off and not doing my homework, and she gave me a set time where I could change and be a wolf after I did homework and stuff around the house for her, sometimes she worked late. She wasn’t afraid of me like those assholes from the Ministry. She knew I wasn’t an animal . . .or some kind of monster.”
“Of course not. You were her son.”
Darkmoon nodded at Snape. “Yup. She thought my powers were awesome. She used to tell me that if my dad had lived, he would have been proud of me. And that with great power comes great responsibility. She made sure I was prepared to live on my own though, just in case. I never knew it back then, but that’s why she sent me to that Indian camp every summer.” The wolfen’s eyes were far away. “When she died . . .and I saw those two Marines in dress uniforms at the door that day . . .it didn’t feel real, it felt like it was happening to someone else . . .it was like it was a dream and I’d wake up and everything would be normal again. But it never would be. I remember one of the officers kept asking me if I had anyone who could stay with me and I really didn’t, so he said he would stay the night and then make arrangements in the morning . . .I tried to tell him no, because I didn’t want to bother with hiding my shifting, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Guess I was in shock, ‘cause I didn’t argue, but later in the middle of the night I sneaked off and ran into the woods and spent the night as a wolf, howling at the moon. It really sucked. We had to wait for her body to be shipped back home and then we had the full military funeral and when her lawyer read the will, that was when I found out about my aunt and cousin over in England.”
“You and Harry have something in common then, for he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents died,” Severus observed, only then seeing the similarity between the two teenagers.
“Yeah, but your relatives were a lot better than mine,” Harry said feelingly.
“Let me guess. They acted like those Ministry yahoos and didn’t like the fact that you could do magic, right?”
Harry gaped at him. “How did you know that? Can you read minds too?”
“Nah. But your scent and your posture told me that you really didn’t like them and I remember reading in the Prophet once that you were raised by Muggles, but now you’ve got a wizard guardian . . .I just figured it might have been something like that. People are afraid of wolfen, so they’d be scared of magic too.”
“You’re partially right. My relatives weren’t just scared of magic, they hated it. And me too. I wasn’t even allowed to say the word around them.”
“They kick you out?”
“No. I left when Sev became my mentor and guardian.”
“Good. Nobody deserves to feel like crap for being what they were born to be,” Darkmoon said heatedly, clearly this was a sore point with him. “I’m sick and tired of being made to think I should apologize for being a wolfen, and I’m not going to roll over and show my throat to the Ministry because they’re scared of their own shadows. They thought the easy solution to their ‘furry little problem’ was to dump us here, like we were some kind of research project, but I never intended to spend my life here, like a minotaur in a labyrinth. I deserve better than that, we all do. We should be allowed to come and go as we please.”
“Why don’t you?” Harry asked.
“Because of the wards.” Darkmoon spat. “The Ministry put up some kind of magic boundary that wolfen can’t get past. I know, I’ve tried. We’re stuck here, like dogs in a cage, till the Ministry sets us free.”
“That’s wrong,” Harry said angrily. “You mean you’re stuck inside the forest, but the werewolves and vampires can still cross the boundary?”
“Yeah, because the Ministry didn’t care about keeping other monsters out, just us in. Maybe they hoped we’d all die from a werewolf raid and then they could forget we ever existed.”
“A lot of what the Ministry’s doing now is wrong. They didn’t believe me about Voldemort until Voldemort brought his Death Eaters to the Ministry and attacked me, and then
Fudge had to believe me.”
“Typical bureaucratic bullshit.” Darkmoon sneered. “Figures. You know, I actually like you two, even if you are wizards. You don’t act all self-righteous and pompous like those Ministry officials.”
Harry grimaced. “That’s ‘cause we don’t like them either.”
“But at least they’ll talk to you and not assume you’re dumb because you’re a wolfen. They treated me like I was an idiot and couldn’t spell my own name.” Darkmoon said angrily. “The others too. That’s one reason Vlad hates wizards so much, because his mom was one and she cast him out, and then Wizengamut dumped him in here with the rest of us. Most of us don’t mind being here, over half of us are orphans, Urchin, my omega, lived on the streets since he was six, snitching food from dumpsters until the Ministry brought him here. Eris still has a mother alive, but she doesn’t like to talk about her much. When we all met each other and decided to make Sylvanor, we wanted a place where we could live in , like normal people.”
“How come you didn’t just stay wolves?”
“Because though the wolf is a big part of us, it’s not all that we are. Living as a wolf pack is fine during the winter, when we’re freezing our butts off and starving, but in the warmer months . . .Sylvanor’s lovely in the fall and the spring. And we need the time in the village to repair our weapons and make new clothes and stuff.”
“You learn all that stuff at that camp?”
“Yes. Good thing too.” Darkmoon wriggled one suede-booted foot emphatically. “I taught all my pack how to throw a knife and shoot a bow. Some of us are better than others, but we can all defend ourselves in whatever form we choose.”
“I know how to box a little. Sev taught me, it’s a great stress reliever.”
“Oh? Are you up for a spar then? I know some basics, but I’d pick it up better if I saw you doing it.” Darkmoon said eagerly.
“Sure,” Harry climbed to his feet then recalled that his gloves were still in Room of Requirement. “Aww, hells! I left my gloves back at school.”
Severus promptly transfigured some sticks into boxing gloves, then coached the pair as they sparred.
Darkmoon was quite good, fast and deadly and eager to learn what Harry knew. But after fifteen minutes, the sparring ended, for Harry was tired and needed to rest. He was also relieved that Darkmoon had not mentioned what had happened to him earlier, with his panic attack over the dark. Harry was surprised at that, for the wolfen did not seem the type to tolerate weakness, yet he spoke not a word of the incident.
“Okay, you two better get some sleep while you can. We’ll be moving pretty quickly tomorrow.”
“How about you? Are you going to sleep?” asked Severus.
“Yeah, eventually. But wolfen don’t need a lot of sleep like you humans. I can keep watch during the night, make sure no crazy critter comes calling. I doubt anything will, most animals avoid fire and so do vampires.”
?” Harry repeated, alarmed.
“Yeah, sometimes Dracula’s coven of vamps come in here, but they haven’t done so since we kicked their asses last time . . .after Flicker was killed.” Darkmoon said grimly. “Don’t worry, Harry. I can take a vampire in five seconds, my teeth and claws are stronger than a werewolf’s, and if you behead a vamp, he dies. Or put a wooden-pointed arrow through his heart.” Darkmoon patted his quiver, which had six such arrows in it. “So go to sleep, I promise I’ll keep all the monsters away.”
“Cute, Darkmoon. Real cute.” Harry growled, pretending to be insulted.
“Watch it, Hawk-boy. You won’t want me to lose my temper.” The wolfen growled back playfully.
Harry was about to respond to this blatant challenge with another comeback, but Severus interrupted their posturing with a sharp, “Quit bickering, you two. Before I
Harry subsided, muttering a quick, “Yes, sir.”
He was echoed by Darkmoon, who recognized a kindred spirit and had been raised to respect adult authority, unless said authority harmed him or his pack.
Severus turned and entered the tent, after telling Harry that as long as he was awake enough to start a quarrel, he was awake enough to wash out the tea kettle.
Harry went and got the tea kettle and rinsed it in the stream while the wolfen leader watched.
“He’d make a good Marine officer,” Darkmoon observed. “I’ll bet he knows how to kick ass and take names.”
“Does he ever! Misbehave with him and he’ll make you regret it forever,” Harry said feelingly.
“Oh? And how many times has he made you regret it?”
Harry spoke a Drying Charm and tucked the teapot under his arm before replying. “What makes you think I misbehave?”
Darkmoon cracked up. “Oh, come on, Potter! Give me some credit for brains here. You’re like Vlad, trouble’s shadow.”
“So were you, I’ll bet.”
“Now, we weren’t talking about me, were we?” drawled the wolfen. “Go, Hawk-boy, get some rest.”
Then the wolfen blurred and became the gigantic black wolf with the crescent mark upon his chest once again.
“Night, Darkmoon,” Harry called as he entered the tent and the big wolf whuffed in answer before settling down in the middle of the clearing alertly.
* * * * * *
After a hasty breakfast of warmed cinnamon buns and a bacon and egg sandwich, in Severus’s case, the two Animagi quickly shifted into their hawk forms and Darkmoon into his black wolf persona. The wolf looked up and then began to trot through the trees in a northwest direction, his long legs eating up the miles effortlessly. The trees in this part of the forest were mostly oak, ash, and maple, their trunks rising many hundred feet into the air and their branches long entwined in their quest to reach the sun. Sunlight filtered down in patches through the canopy of foliage overhead, dappling the forest floor with spots of light.
Darkmoon’s paws made hardly a sound as he ran, bounding over the occasional downed tree or scrubby bush as if they were nothing, which they weren’t to a wolfen, who could jump like the greatest steeplechaser in the Grand National. Deer and rabbits fled from the wolf’s approach, as did the single murk cat lurking above, and several songbirds panicked when the shadow of the two hawks fell across them.
Freedom and Warrior kept up with Darkmoon, flying just beneath the canopy, using the warm air updrafts to glide and soar. Nothing attacked or impeded them. They flew for what seemed like an entire day, always trying to keep the sleek black wolf in sight.
Darkmoon could have easily run all the way to the part of the forest the wolfen referred to as Shadow Vale, his were blood gave him triple the endurance of an ordinary wolf and the strength to keep a pace for at least two days without tiring. But he knew his wizard allies could not go on without rest and so he forced himself to halt when they were about halfway to the Vale.
Warrior and Freedom perched upon a convenient oak tree while the black wolf lay down beneath it, taking a short breather. Freedom felt a bit weary, so that he welcomed the brief rest, and he dozed while leaning slightly against Warrior.
The goshawk nibbled at Freedom’s head, trying in vain to tame the crest of feathers that would insist upon standing up in the back. Ah, fledgling. We have both come so far, and yet we have so far to go. But together we shall see it through and send Old Tom to hell where he belongs.
Warrior continued his preening while Freedom dozed, cuddled into the larger goshawk’s wing. The goshawk peered down at the black wolf and his eyes whirled in anger. Another lost abandoned child, much like my fledgling. All of these wolfen are lost children, forced to grow up without families, ostracized for being born different. Cornelius, you have much to answer for, you damn ostrich. Denying to the world that Voldemort has come again while perpetrating your own heinous crimes. What other wretched secrets have you hidden, Minister? Someday, there will be a reckoning. As there was with Umbridge, so it shall be with you.
An hour later, Darkmoon rose, shook himself, and whuffed softly. Not far now, hawks. Only another hour.
This part of the forest was the territory of the murk cats and eydrith—the cold drakes—who were distant cousins to dragons, except they lived in the earth and had no wings, and their blood ran cold as ice. But they preferred the night and would probably be sleeping at this time.
The black wolf slowed to a trot, skirting the valley where the drakes laired, keeping to the ridge above it. He could hear the River Arlo running below, the river had its origins deep below the earth, and it flowed nearly to Sylvanor. Water nymphs dwelled within and so did a kelpie, which made it unsafe to swim in unless you had a charm protecting you from a fae’s wrath or had placated them with an offering of jewelry or food.
Having slipped by the eydrith and the cats, Darkmoon continued on, hoping to reach the Vale before nightfall. Though he was perfectly at home in the dark, he knew his companions would be at a severe disadvantage, not to mention the fact that Shadow Vale, with its dark magic aura was best faced during the day, since the night time lent strength to dark workings.
Warrior glided lazily through the air, his wings and body were built especially for flying among wooded terrain, for goshawks were creatures of the woodlands and forests. The hawk’s bright eyes scanned the ground below, taking in not only the great ebony wolf running, but also the occasional mouse or rabbit or squirrel. He was tempted to stoop on a bevy of quail, but controlled himself. Now was not the time to hunt. He pondered what sort of magic he might face and what he could do to counter it as well as how to keep his impulsive fledgling from harm.
Freedom flew just below and to the left of the larger black and white raptor, he disliked the closeness of the trees, but forced himself to endure it. Now was not the time to go to pieces over small spaces, he reminded himself sternly. Don’t think about it. Just don’t think about it.
Besides, the forest wasn’t a small space at all, and he was not trapped in a box or a cupboard. He concentrated on following Warrior and Darkmoon and wondering what the wolfen had meant about the guardian ring of ash and oaks. From the way the wolfen had spoken, it appeared that the trees might be intelligent, especially if they were able to talk.
For some reason, that thought conjured a scene in one of Dudley’s oft watched movies when he was a child—The Wizard of Oz
. Dudley had loved it when the wicked witch had flown on her broom and threatened Dorothy and the cyclone picked up the house and dumped it down in Oz. He had delighted in making Harry watch the movie with him so he could point to the Wicked Witch of the West and say, “Look Harry, it’s your mum! See how ugly and nasty she is!” But Harry recalled the part when Dorothy was walking along the Yellowbrick Road and came to the place where the trees threw apples at her.
Wonder if these tress throw things at you? One of them swatted poor Hedwig, so I guess they’re not too friendly.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to face the guardian trees, but he supposed he had no choice. If the Horcrux was there, they had to get it and destroy it.
The wind caressed his feathers and Freedom couldn’t help giving a soft trill of delight, flying relaxed and invigorated him at the same time. It was the ultimate rush, better even than playing Quidditch. Sometimes he wished he could remain a hawk forever. But he knew that was merely wishful thinking, since now that Severus was his guardian, he had a better life to look forward to, and someone who loved him. And as Sev was so fond of saying, his Animagus form should not be used as an escape for his problems. Once you defeat Voldemort, most of your problems will be over. But first you have to find all the Horcruxes.
Freedom noticed that there was an air of unease and foreboding the farther northwest they flew and the trees were changing from the lighter maple and cedar and gray oak to linden, ash, and black oaks. It seemed to grow darker and gloomier the further they went, and Freedom felt a shiver go through him and he flew even closer to Warrior, who did not appear to let the darkness ruffle so much as a tailfeather.
Abruptly, Darkmoon halted and sat down in the middle of the short track he had been running on. He gave a sharp bark, more like a yip than a bark. Warrior and Freedom spiraled down and shifted forms just as Darkmoon became a human again as well. “We’re almost at Shadow Vale, and I wanted to warn you that it isn’t safe for us to enter there in our animal forms. There’s a working about there that prohibits wizards in other forms from entering the vale, and the trees are spelled to repel any animals who ventures past the wards. As a wolfen I can cross the boundary in human form, and so can you two, I’d wager. Oh, and one more thing, these trees are sentient, and the dark curse on them makes them quite nasty. So I’d be on my guard of I were you. A large oak packs quite a punch.”
Both Harry and Severus nodded. Then Severus said quietly, “As long as you’re going to be our ally, Darkmoon, you need to know that if we are incapacitated, the object we came here to get must
be destroyed. I have here in this case,” Severus pulled out the leather case in his pack with the vials of Curse Breaking potion, “A vial of a potion that will destroy the cursed object, if something should happen to either Harry or I, I want you to pour this in the cauldron in my pack and use the gloves you find there to handle the object and throw it in the cauldron. It will dissolve it. But under no circumstances are you to touch the object with your bare hands. It could hurt you very badly. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll finish what you started, sir, if I need to. I promise.” The wolfen said solemnly. Then he sucked in a deep breath. “Okay, follow me. We’re about to enter Shadow Vale.”
Wands out, Harry and Severus followed Darkmoon through the trees, feeling as if eyes watched them, but when they turned to peer behind them, nothing was there. But the feeling of despair and darkness increased and Severus laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder and whispered, “Occlude, Harry, and remember, this is not coming from you, but the curse which has been set over this place.”
Harry did as he was told, and immediately felt the weight of despair retreat. Darkmoon glided silent as a shadow over the earth, making Harry wish enviously that he could walk like a ghost. He wondered if it were a wolfen trait or could anyone learn it? But there was no time to ask, for soon they had crossed the boundary into Shadow Vale, and an icy wind swept down from the black trees and chilled the blood in Harry’s veins. He shuddered and forced himself to ignore it.
The wolfen had an arrow nocked to his bow and was poised and alert, ready for anything. This place always made his hair stand on end and it also made him angry, to see the beautiful ash, linden, oak, and rowan turned so twisted and misshapen and where there used to be birds and fairies fluttering along, now there was only the silence and the dark wind. Once this had been a place of beauty, but now it was hostile and the only beauty to be found was in his memory.
Severus shivered as he walked across the boundary, feeling the ward probing him and them permitting him to pass since he still bore the Mark upon his arm. Severus prayed that with Voldemort’s final demise, the Mark might vanish and he would at last be free of the shameful brand. The trees here were twisted and stunted, and many of them had odd protrusions and knobs along their branches, like carbuncles on a craggy old face. Some were bowed to the ground and still others were wrapped about each other in a terrible parody of love.
The ground was rough and stony and Severus stumbled, just barely managing to catch himself.
The wind rustling through the trees grew louder, until it sounded as if a whole forest of them were hissing and clacking and growling, branches rattling sinisterly.
The very air seemed close and thick, filled with fear. Harry gasped, and then one of the large black oaks suddenly twisted about, and a face—an odd brooding angry face—appeared in the bark. “Who dares to disturb our circle?” rasped the black oak.
“Intruders!” hissed another, this one a rowan.
The others also rustled their branches and seemed to radiate disapproval.
“You are not welcome here!”
More faces appeared in the bark of the linden, oaks, and ash and all of them were distinctly unfriendly. They had dark hollows for eyes that looked like pools of darkness, soulless and inhuman. They creaked and groaned and snapped their branches threateningly.
One huge black oak leaned down and shrieked, “GET OUT!”
The wizards were nearly blown over by the angry tree and only Severus digging his heels into the dirt prevented him and his apprentice from being bowled over.
“Calm down, Mr. Twig,” Darkmoon ordered. “If you answer a few questions for us, we’ll leave.”
“Questions? What questions would they be, little wolf?”
Darkmoon gestured to the two wizards.
“What are you guarding?” Harry asked. “And who made you like this?”
“The Master made us, the Master changed us, the Master gave us power to smite our enemies!” cried the trees, hissing and rustling, and their eyes seemed to bore into Harry’s soul.
“To guard what was given into our keeping for all time.”
“Oh. That’s nice, but . . .aren’t you sick of guarding it?”
The trees shuddered and waved their branches. “Insolent child! We are content, now disturb us no more! Go!”
“And if we don’t?” Severus challenged, making a sweeping motion with his wand. A blue shield sprang to life around both him and Harry.
“Go! NOW!” The black oak howled, sounding like branches scraping down the side of a house.
“Not till you surrender what is hidden,” the Potions Master ordered. “Your Master is dead and your guardianship over.”
“The Master! The Master! Dead? Blighted forever we are!”
“Not if you give up the object.” Severus persuaded.
But the cursed trees were beyond logical reasoning. Voldemort had perverted them into his own creatures and all they knew was to follow his last orders. “You shall not have it! No man shall!”
Damn, for once I wish I was a girl,
Harry thought irreverently. Then he got an idea and chanted a brief, “Incendio!”
spell, making a small flame appear on the tip of his wand. “Want to play with fire?”
“A burner! He dares
to bring the Burning Flower back!” howled the trees, and suddenly they were all swinging their branches and trying to swat Harry, who jumped away and flung the fireball with all of his strength at the largest oak tree.
The magical fire licked at the black oak and it screamed in agony, and four large branches whipped down towards Harry with the speed of lightning.
“Down!” Darkmoon shouted, and lunged at the younger wizard, knocking him down just as the oak branches smashed into the ground, leaving large tracks in the earth.
Severus twirled his wand and chanted, “Inflammare maxima!
A fireball much larger than Harry’s exploded from Snape’s wand and lit the trees nearest him on fire.
They writhed and struck at him, forcing him to dodge several branches that were flung at him.
“Nasty wizard! Hates you!”
“Did your Master go by the name of Voldemort?” Severus demanded.
“The Master! The Master bid us guard his special item!”
“Well, he’s dead and now your guardianship has come to an end!” Severus told them.
“Yeah, so give it to us or else,” Harry said, waving his wand threateningly, but inside he was feeling ill listening to the trees’ caterwauling. The smoke and smell was making him sick to his stomach.
Darkmoon had since climbed off him and now stood protectively next to him. “I’d suggest you do what they want, or else you’ll be firewood.”
More dead branches flew at them and for one moment it was as if the sky was raining deadwood. The branches bounced off Severus’s shield, but the blue forcefield was waning. Severus created a ring of fire about himself, Harry, and Darkmoon, hoping to keep the trees at bay.
Only he forgot that trees could move quickly and suddenly gnarled branches shot downward and grabbed him.
Severus found himself lifted into the air, a gnarled root curled about him. It coiled so tight he could not breathe.
“Severus!” Harry screamed and pointed his wand at the stringy root.
“No!” Darkmoon yelled. “If he falls from that height . . .” Severus was about twenty feet in the air.
“What do we do? We have to save him!” Harry could feel terror coursing through him. Not Severus! Not Severus! No more people shall die for me!
“What do you think we’re trying to do?” Darkmoon yelled back. He dipped an arrow into something in a pouch at his waist and concentrated and the head lit with a queer blue flame. The wolfen released it and it flew into one of the guardian ring and the whole tree caught. “You see, knotheads? That will be you if you don’t give us the professor.”
The trees moaned and groaned.
Suddenly Harry couldn’t stand it anymore. “Put him down!” he yelled, then he got an idea. It was a crazy and ludicrous idea, but Harry was desperate. He started chanting a spell called a Cheering Charm, in hope that the lullaby would make the trees calm. A feeling of peace and goodwill descended over the clearing, soothing the angry trees immensely.
The massive oak that had grabbed Severus lowered him down, but Snape collapsed, his ribs cracked and his nostrils filling with smoke.
Harry could feel the heat spreading and he quickly cast a Water charm, so that half the forest was not burning up. Then he cried, “Look, we’re not enemies. At least tell us where it is. It’s important.”
The large black oak sneered. “What is hidden shall remain so.” It seemed the most unaffected by the charm.
“Tell me where. Tell me where.” Harry chanted, putting more of his power into his voice, hoping to persuade them to release the staff Horcrux.
“Here. Here. Beneath the Father Tree.”
“SILENCE! WIZARDS BEGONE!” bellowed the huge oak, and suddenly the sense of peace was dispelled and the malevolent aura returned. The Father Tree leered at the prone Severus, who was gasping and trying to sit up and Harry, who was standing protectively in front of him.
“Back off, Woody!” spat Harry. “Or else you’re going to be kindling for my fireplace.”
“KILL YOU! TEAR YOU SHRED YOU!”
Two massive branches reached for Harry, who quickly erected a Shield Charm. “Protego!
” His mind raced. The other trees had said the Horcrux was beneath the Father Tree, the same tree that was trying to kill him.
His shield buckled as the two huge branches struck it and Harry put a hand up instinctively.
“Harry . . .get out of here . . .” Severus gasped. “Summon the staff and then run!”
“No! I won’t leave you!”
Severus wheezed and turned to Darkmoon, whose teeth were bared in a snarl of defiance. “Take him away, wolfen! Once you have it, take him and go.”
But Darkmoon shook his head. “No can do, sir. Never leave a man behind. That’s a Marine code as well as a wolfen one.”
Severus groaned, his chest was agony. He passed his wand over himself, hoping he could heal himself enough to move, because the two crazy kids wouldn’t use the sense they were born with and save their own necks.
The Father Tree continued to pound down upon Harry’s shield, and wood chips flew all about ricocheting off the shield and several splinters embedded themselves in the Animagus’s arms. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated, calling upon all of his power and then he yelled, “Accio
the Dragoneye Staff!”
The earth quaked and shuddered and then it erupted in a shower of dirt and leaves. A slender staff incised with mystical symbols topped with a blue milky eye burst from the hole and flew straight towards Harry. Harry quickly jammed on a glove from his pocket and caught the staff one handed.
It felt heavy in his hand and pregnant with some evil pulse. He felt his scar flare and burn and he yelled as the pain stabbed through him. Suddenly his Shield Charm fell and a huge branch struck him a glancing blow, lifting him into the air and flinging him hard against a tree on the opposite side of the circle.
Harry hit a rowan hard and his head slammed into the tree. He crumpled at the base of the tree, the staff still clutched in his hand.
Severus staggered to his feet. “Harry? Bloody damn hell, Potter!” he yelled when he saw what had happened. “Darkmoon, pick him up, quickly! I can’t, I’ m barely healed.”
Darkmoon darted across the ring and scooped up Harry and the staff, being careful not to touch the cursed wood. “Go, Severus! I’ll be right behind you!”
“Is he . . .breathing?”
“Yes. Now come on, I don’t fancy being torn to pieces.” Darkmoon panted, then he bolted for the outer ring of trees.
The trees sensed what he was trying to do and began to close the circle. But Darkmoon was not the alpha for nothing and he managed to avoid the trees’ trap, vaulting over the branches.
Behind him, Snape snarled and several trees exploded. “Rest in peace, now you are free.”
Branches swatted and scraped at him, catching in his hair and cloak, but he tore free and raced after Darkmoon. His heart was pounding crazily, but not just from adrenaline. Most of it was concern mixed with terror over his ward.
He must be all right. I did not come so far only to fail now. Please, Harry, I cannot lose you like I lost Lily.
There was a dreadful clamor behind them, trees screaming and branches exploding and snapping as they realized what was hidden was no longer there and they had no way of getting it back.
Severus clutched his side and ran doggedly away from the furious trees, thankful they could not lift up their roots and move. Darkmoon ran some ten minutes down the trail before halting. “Severus, are you okay? You look like hell.”
“I feel like it,” the Potions Master growled. “I need to destroy this abomination.”
He pulled out the silver lined with lead cauldron and the box of Curse Breaking potions. Then he tugged on his gloves and gently pried the staff which had once belonged to Britain’s greatest wizard from Harry’s fingers. Harry was pale and unresponsive, blood trickled from a shallow cut on the back of his head and from his lip.
The Alpha wolfen cradled Harry close and murmured, “Damn, Hawk-boy, but you need my cousin bad. Hang in there, kid.” He cast an angry glare at the staff. “All of that for a damn piece of wood?”
The Potions Master nodded wearily. “And now I must shatter it.”
He held the staff, which had been carved from a sacred silver birch and incised with powerful runes, capped with a golden claw which held the famed white dragon’s eye, lengthwise over his head, regretfully. The Dragoneye Staff had once been a powerful tool for good, with it Merlin had done wonders to heal a land torn and broken by war. But Voldemort’s madness had perverted it and now the only way to destroy the fragment of his soul was to shatter the Dragoneye Staff.
He brought the staff down, reversing it so that it was upright and slamming it into the earth.
The Dragoneye Staff cracked and then broke into four pieces. A foul mist leaked out from the shards and the silvery wood turned the color of old blood.
But the force of the magical shattering knocked Severus to his knees, jarring his half-healed ribs, and pain shot through him, making him double over.
Darkmoon’s hand caught his shoulder. “Professor?”
Severus peered up at the wolfen, his eyes glassy. “Get . . .my potions case and finish it. Remember, gloves.” He held out his hands, which were encased by the mesh and leather gloves.
Darkmoon gently lay Harry beside his mentor and removed the gloves from the lean man.
No sooner had he done so, then Severus toppled backwards in a faint, the combination of using his magic and his injuries was too much for his body to take.
Darkmoon swore, then reached for the staff pieces.
Chapter End Notes:
How did you like Darkmoon here? And the battle for the staff?
You'll note, I'm not following canon here with the creation of this Horcrux. That's because it would be predictable and it's boring following the book all the time. So expect changes in the other Horcrux as well. You have been warned!
Now please review . . .and here's a Felix Felicis for those of you who do! Happy reading all!