Chapter 14 : The Request
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Darkmoon opened the case with the vials of potion, there were only three left, and dumped one into the cauldron. He wrinkled his nose at the pungent acrid odor and thought, Ugh! Gross! No wonder this stuff can melt down cursed objects, it smells bad enough to knock out an eydrith with a single sniff. He gingerly picked up a piece of the staff and tossed it into the cauldron.
Immediately, the potion turned black and began to smoke foully and dissolve the piece of cursed wood. He threw in another one, but discovered that the potion barely dissolved it and figured he needed yet another vial. He emptied a second one into the cauldron and tossed in the third piece. As it too hissed and sparked and then dissolved away in a cloud of vile smoke and dark bubbling brew, Darkmoon felt the atmosphere of the forest lighten and grow easy again.
He drew in a breath, sputtered, then picked up the last piece of the Dragoneye Staff, which was the largest, with the dragon claw grasping the milky eye. He tossed it into the cauldron, only to discover there was not enough to totally dissolve the wood, and so he added the last vial of Curse Breaking Elixir, hoping that would be enough.
As the last piece of the Horcrux melted away, Darkmoon sensed a sudden shift in the aura of the forest. The darkness and despair and evil that had covered Shadow Vale and its surroundings was slowly breaking apart, banished by the destruction of the cursed staff. The wolfen Alpha grinned and let out a howl of victory. The forest is released from the darkness. I can feel the difference, the trees no longer will grow twisted and I think even the guardian ring will someday return to normal. The very air feels light and free. What the Wicked Wizard has done has been removed and after a cleansing ritual, the forest shall be as it always was. Still smiling, for despite the fact that he had been brought there unwillingly and kept against his will, he had come to regard the Forest of the Night as his home, Darkmoon turned and knelt beside Harry and Severus, feeling for pulses.
Still out cold. But your heartbeat is steady, both of you are breathing, and that's a very good thing. My people owe you a great debt. You have freed our home from darkness's taint, wizards. No, not wizards, friends . . .and perhaps more than friends when all is said and done.
He quickly dug a hole and poured the remainder of the Curse Breaking potion, which was only about a thimbleful, into it and covered it over. Then he tucked gloves, cauldron, and the now empty potions case back into Sev's pack.
Now I have to get you home. But even I don't think I can carry both of you together and still be able to walk quickly. Darkmoon mused, then shifted into his wolf form and threw his back and howled, summoning his wolves to him.
The howl echoed long and loud through the trees, powered by his need, and it reached Sylvanor in a matter of minutes. Fenris, Eris, and Vlad, who had been patrolling the border of the wolfen village, stiffened when they heard Darkmoon's summons.
Vlad turned to the tall platinum-haired wolfen and said, "Looks like our fearless leader needs a bit of a hand. Go, Fen! You too, Eris!"
"You're not coming?" Eris asked, shocked.
"Can't. I pledged to guard the border. But you can answer and will, she-wolf. Now move your ass!" Vlad ordered, and in his voice was the command of a Beta turned Alpha.
The two blurred into their respective wolf forms and took off, racing quickly through the trees, following the Alpha's Summoning. They would find Darkmoon unerringly, because that was how strong the bonds of the pack were under Darkmoon's leadership.
Vlad watched until their bushy tails vanished and then sighed. Ah, my brother, what HAVE you gotten into this time?
* * * * * *
Darkmoon pricked up his ears and heard the familiar patter of wolf paws over the ground. He wagged his tail as Fenris, the big silver and white wolf, raced up to him and licked him gently under the chin, saluting him in proper wolf fashion before blurring into human form.
"Sir, Fenris reporting in. What seems to be the problem?"
An instant later, Eris appeared, her dark red coat tipped with black glittering in the moonlight. After she had greeted their alpha herself, she too transformed and said, "So what's all the fuss, Darkmoon? You chip a tooth?"
The black wolf bared his teeth in silent laughter, then he too became a man. "If only. Sev and Harry are hurt and I couldn't carry them all by my lonesome, so I called you to help me." He indicated the two wizards, lying side by side, wrapped in blankets. "How did you get here so fast?"
Eris shrugged. "Both of us can hustle when we need to, sir. And Fen knew a shortcut."
"A shortcut?" Darkmoon raised an eyebrow while he knelt to pick up Harry.
"Ah . . .yeah. It's through the eydrith tunnels," Fenris admitted. "It's a little cramped and smelly and dangerous, but Eris and I can travel quick enough to be past them before they know what smell hit them."
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier, Fen?" Darkmoon demanded sharply.
Fenris looked abashed. "Uh . . .forgot, I suppose. We tend to avoid Shadow Vale since the dark wizard cast that ritual." Then he sniffed. "Wow! It feels different here. Not as dark and gloomy." He looked inquiringly at Darkmoon. "You succeeded then?"
Darkmoon nodded. "We did, but now we must help them. Both of them have banished the dark aura and suffered in the doing. We need to get them back to Meadowsweet on the double."
Eris examined the comatose Severus and purred, "My, but he is fine. I wouldn't mind carrying him."
"He's too old for you and a wizard besides," interjected Fenris jealously.
"So? I like older men."
"He's practically ancient and he has a hawk nose besides."
Eris grinned. "So? It has character."
Fenris snarled and Eris tossed her head, she loved to tease him.
"Enough you two!" growled Darkmoon, for once not amused by their quarreling. "Get a move on, for the love of moonlight! We owe them and the least we can do is heal them."
Fenris grunted, flashed Eris a look that said they would discuss this later, then bent and lifted Severus over his shoulder. He wasn't too fond of wizards, but if Darkmoon trusted them, then so would he, and breaking the curse over Shadow Vale went a long way towards the wolfen's acceptance of Severus and Harry.
* * * * * *
Severus stirred restlessly upon the woven frame pallet stuffed with feathers, muttering unintelligibly, clearly dreaming of something unpleasant. Hedwig, who was perched upon the end of Harry's pallet, immediately flew to Severus and perched near his head, crooning worriedly. The owl was concerned over both of her wizards, both had sustained serious injuries, and though Meadowsweet had completed Severus's healing and patched up Harry as well, it still frightened the raptor to see them lying so still.
She sensed that it could hinder the healing process if Severus were not sleeping peacefully, and so began to soothe him with a raptor's lullaby. Sleep, Warrior, sleep. There is naught to fear, for I am here, watching in the night. Sleep, my dark hawk, let no dream disturb thee, my song shall console thee, let nightmares beware! Sleep, Warrior, sleep, may the Lady of Wings bring you peace.
As the owl hissed and hummed, the Potion Master's face grew less pinched and distressed and he finally sank into a deep restful sleep, all the lines on his face smoothing out, until he looked more youthful than was his wont. Hedwig nuzzled him gently and preened the dark hair before returning to do the same to Harry.
Meadowsweet had declared her wing and shoulder muscle nearly healed and she could fly again by tomorrow. She was relieved to hear that, but hoped that Harry's own recovery might proceed as well, and also Severus'. Harry tossed and turned, but did not wake, and the owl remained alert throughout the night.
* * * * * *
Meadowsweet was absent from her home that night, having been required to participate in the cleansing ritual Darkmoon insisted they perform. It would remove the last of the lingering influences of evil from the earth. Darkmoon lit smudge sticks of lavender and white pine and together he and his pack wafted the smoke all over the trees in Shadow Vale and themselves, while asking the blessing of the Creator. It was soon over and the Vale restored and Meadowsweet returned to her house to find Hedwig singing to a comatose Harry and Severus. The wolfen Healer smiled, checked on her patients, then bid Hedwig goodnight.
* * * * * *
A cool damp cloth was sponging his face, and it felt so good that Harry didn't want to open his eyes. He felt hot and sticky and his head was pounding like an anvil. Oh Merlin, no! Not another migrane, please! Been there and done that. The cloth worked its way down his face and under his chin, deliciously cool and refreshing, then made its way back up the other side and came to rest on his forehead.
Slowly, Harry eased his right eye open. The first thing he saw was a pair of familiar amber eyes gazing down at him. "Welcome back, Harry."
"Meadowsweet?" His voice came out hoarsely, but he could talk. He opened his other eye.
"How are you feeling? You sound like you've got a dry throat." The wolfen said, studying him. She handed him his glasses and he slipped the frames over his ears.
"How did I get here?" he answered, that being more important than how he felt at the moment.
"Darkmoon brought you back, Harry," Meadowsweet replied. "You had quite a concussion but you should be mended by tomorrow if all goes well." She fetched a glass of cool water and helped Harry sit up.
The water tasted wonderful and soothed his parched throat, but as soon as it hit his stomach, he felt it lurch and rebel. "Think I'm gonna be sick-" he warned.
The wolfen Healer grabbed a wooden bowl in the nick of time.
She competently held the Animagus' head while he vomited, Harry was so humiliated he wanted to die right then, but of course he didn't.
"Don't fight it," she whispered. "It's okay."
"S'not," he whimpered wretchedly, throwing up yet again.
"Head wounds nearly always make one nauseous," Meadowsweet said, and used the cloth to wipe his face afterwards. The young wizard avoided her eyes until she cupped his chin and made him look up at her. "Don't look like that, Harry. I'm a Healer, guys puke on me all the time."
"You must have some real winners for boyfriends," he said, a half-smile emerging upon his face.
"I don't have time for boyfriends, but look, now you're smiling." Meadowsweet chuckled, then moved over and mixed something in a glass and handed it to him. "Sip that a little at a time, it's a tincture of chamomile and other herbs that help settle queasy stomachs."
He took the glass without protest and drank, finding that it did not taste half bad. Then he glanced about and asked where Severus was.
"He is out taking a short walk about Sylvanor, he felt much better this morning and Hedwig has mended enough to fly as well."
"That's great!" Harry cried, his green eyes now filled with joy. Then he made a face at himself. "Guess I'm holding everyone back."
"Not at all," Meadowsweet disagreed. "Severus knows how badly you were hurt and wants to make sure you're well before going anywhere. So take all the time you need to get better, Harry. His orders and mine too."
Harry sipped his drink, touched yet again by his professor's concern. Meadowsweet bustled about the room, emptying the bowl into a refuse bin which would later be taken out into the forest and buried. She fetched some bread and cheese and honey from her pantry and began slicing up the cheese and bread, her skirts swishing about her ankles.
Harry eyed her appreciatively while she performed that simple task, finally finishing the tincture and wishing suddenly he wasn't so damned awkward around girls. But being The Boy Who Lived did not endow one with sterling conversational skills or the knowledge of how to talk to a girl he barely knew, but honestly felt attracted to. So he looked and said nothing until Meadowsweet approached with a plate of bread spread lightly with honey and slices of cheese.
"Where did you get the cheese?" he asked, nibbling on a piece, it was soft and mildly creamy with a sweet nutty flavor.
"Before the vamps broke their treaty by killing Flicker, we had a kind of barter system with them, we traded for cheese and a few other essentials, like needles and thread using furs and leather we had cured. For awhile, it worked, until the vampires grew too bold and decided to take what they had no right to. Now all we trade is insults and arrows." She spat upon the ground. "This cheese is the last of what they brought us, spelled by Arborsong to preserve it."
Her eyes flashed and Harry recalled what Darkmoon had said about her having a temper and not always being a serene and gentle Healer. She was a wolf too and fiercely protective of her own.
To keep himself from asking any more awkward question, Harry resumed eating, slowly and carefully, his stomach had settled but the last thing he wanted was to spew all over again. As he chewed carefully and swallowed, Meadowsweet fetched herself her own lunch and ate. They had almost finished when there came a knock on the door and Darkmoon strolled in.
"Hi, Sasha. How's the patient doing?"
"Awake and eating," she replied, waving a hand at Harry. "See for yourself, cousin."
Darkmoon crossed the room to Harry in three graceful strides, moving as only a wolfen can. "Well, Hawk-boy, you look ten times better than you did last night. Didn't I tell you Meadowsweet is the best Healer?"
Harry nodded, setting down the remainder of his bread smeared with honey, because it was impolite to talk with someone while eating. "Yes, and thanks for bringing us back here. Was Severus hurt badly too?"
"Uh . . .he had some cracked ribs, I think, but Sash fixed him up. He's a tough python." He clapped Harry on the shoulder lightly. "You did good, kid. After you found the object, the aura about the trees in the Vale lessened and once I destroyed it, the whole area changed."
"Good, but you're sure the object was destroyed?"
"Positive. I saw it dissolve myself, though I used the last of that potion to do it."
Harry was horrified. "You used it all? But then that means-"
"We will need to make some more, as soon as I can gather all the necessary ingredients," Severus interjected, walking into the cottage, and making his apprentice jump.
The two wolfen, who had of course heard him come in, exchanged amused glances.
"Merlin, Sev!" Harry scolded. "You nearly made me jump out of my skin."
"You look a bit better than this morning," remarked the Potions Master, walking over and laying a hand upon his ward's forehead. "He feels a bit warm to me, Meadowsweet. Has he a fever?"
Before the wolfen could reply, Harry fastened a look of sheer annoyance upon his guardian and said pointedly, "He is right here in front of you, Severus, if you'd like to ask him a question."
"Don't get snippy, Potter. You might hide the fact that you still feel awful in order to be allowed out of bed sooner, and that's why I wasn't asking your opinion. Well, Healer?"
Harry seethed at his guardian's highhanded attitude, but said nothing in return because regrettably, he had done such in the past and Snape was right to be wary of his word when it came to admitting just how crummy he felt.
"He has a slight fever, Professor. Nothing to be alarmed at, it's common with stress and injury and should clear up in a day or two. Rest and my potions will see him right again."
Severus breathed a sigh of relief. Then he gave Harry a stern look and said, "You are to follow her orders and not give her a hard time, am I clear?"
"I wasn't! What's up with you?"
"I know you, fledgling," he said then, using the nickname to ease the sting. "You are a terrible patient and are forever trying to get up too soon."
"Ha! Look who's talking!"
Snape scowled. "None of your cheek, mister. Take your potions and rest. Don't worry about delaying our hunt because we need to take a breather. There are only two more objects we need to find and if one of them is where I expect it, we shall not need too much time to find it." He squeezed Harry's shoulder.
"I'm sorry I used all of your potion up, Severus," Darkmoon spoke up then, to ease the clash of wills between them.
Severus waved off his apology. "You did the right thing, Darkmoon. It needed to be destroyed and you did so. That is what's important. Thank you for your assistance."
"You're welcome too," said the wolfen sincerely. "But you saved my home when you broke that curse and even my life. And that makes you both friends worth having."
Obsidian and emerald eyes met amber ones and shared a moment of mutual understanding that comes only from enduring great hardship together. Then Darkmoon glanced away and said, "I would like to have another brief meeting with all my pack, where I can honor you properly and also make a request of my own, will you be feeling up to that tonight, Harry? Or shall I wait?"
Harry considered. His head still felt muzzy and he was also tired, but he had never been one to let discomfort or pain stop him before. "No, I should be okay."
"Good. I'll see you around then." He smiled and then whirled about and headed for the door. "I have to run, Sylva and Urchin reported that the damn werewolves are starting to try and sneak past the boundary again. Looks like they need another lesson in staying on their own side of the wood again."
"Be careful, Erik!" Meadowsweet called after him. "I don't need two difficult patients to nurse."
"Relax, Sasha. I'll be fine. I'll call you all to the meeting around six o'clock." Then he was gone as quickly as he had come.
Meadowsweet laid a hand upon Snape's arm, using her unique gift to "read" him and make sure he was recovered. "You are mended, Severus. Just don't engage in any wrestling matches because those ribs are still tender," she told him, her eyes sparkling with good humor.
"I shall try to forgo that pastime," Snape remarked dryly. "Would you like me to go and gather more comfrey and cobwebs so that you can brew up more Bone Mend? I believe I remember you saying you used the last vial on me."
"Thank you, Severus, but I can gather my own ingredients," began the young Healer.
"Consider it my way of thanking you for saving my apprentice and myself," the Potions Master said firmly.
"It is the least I can do, Meadowsweet," the wizard declared firmly and then he asked for an herb gathering basket, which the little Healer handed him. "Get some more rest, Harry," he ordered before striding from the hut.
The Animagus rolled his eyes. "Merlin's bones, but he treats me like I was five sometimes."
Meadowsweet giggled. "That's because he cares about you. My mum was the same whenever I took sick with something, which wasn't very often, but . . .it's the nature of a parent to be overprotective of their child."
Harry blushed. "I'm not his son."
Meadowsweet simply cocked her head. "Aren't you? He is your guardian, is he not?"
"Yeah, but . . .we're not related . . ."
"Blood is not what makes a family, Harry. It may help, but in the end it is love that binds us together." The wolfen said serenely. "Only Darkmoon and I are blood-related, but all of us in Sylvanor are family. A very opinionated noisy family but family nonetheless. And that is something the Ministry would have never considered could happen when they abandoned us here. Severus looks at you as the son he never had."
Harry coughed, uncomfortable with her perceptiveness. "But Meadowsweet, I already had a father . . .I never knew him because he died for me . . .but I still want to remember him and honor his memory . . ."
"You can still honor him, Harry, and accept Severus's feelings at the same time. There's nothing wrong with you having two fathers. I would give . . .almost anything to have a real father, like your guardian, rather than the monster who sired me." She said, and he was astonished to see tears glinting in her eyes. An instant later, she blinked them away. "Don't mind me, Harry. It's an old wound, that one, one that nearly every wolfen in Sylvanor shares, except Erik."
"I'm sorry," he felt compelled to apologize, even though he had done nothing to her. But the sight of her eyes luminous with tears wrenched something within him.
"Don't be. What's done is done." She sniffed. "I came to terms with what happened a long time ago. It scarred me, but the hurt has healed. It's only sometimes that it pulls and throbs . . .when I let myself wish for something I shall never have." A wistful look crept into her face, a look that he was intimately familiar with, having worn it all too often himself.
"I know what you mean, because I used to wish for a family from the time I was old enough to understand what the word really meant and to see that my aunt and uncle and cousin didn't consider me a part of theirs." He found himself telling her about the Dursleys then, the words just poured out of him like a dam bursting, and she sat silently listening until he was finished with the whole sorry tale of his unloved childhood-one that she comprehended as only another lost one could.
Then her hand closed over his, warm and comforting, and she gazed at him with a peculiar tender look and said, "We are more alike than I thought. You and I, we grew up too fast, learned to depend on no one but ourselves. And still, a part of us wishes to have had, just once, someone who cared for us like a father does. You have that chance now, Harry. Don't waste it."
Harry considered for a moment, then sighed. "But Sasha . . .I mean Meadowsweet . . .if I let Sev become my father, won't it be like betraying my real one? Sort of?"
"No. Because wouldn't your dad want you to be happy and loved?"
Harry considered. "Yeah . . .I guess so." Would James be glad that Harry had finally found someone to love and protect him at last? Or would he be angry that the man his son had chosen had once been his bitterest rival? It was all so very confusing! "I . . .uh . . .don't really want to think about this now. I'm all muddled."
"Very well. But don't reject Severus out of fear. Such a chance comes along but once, Harry. Trust me, I know." She touched his face and her touch was at once icy cool and burning hot at the same time. "Hmm. Severus was right, you ought to take a Fever Reducer and rest some more."
Harry was about to protest, but then he recalled that staying here meant he could see more of Meadowsweet, whose touch both soothed and excited him like nothing he had ever felt before. In fact, just looking at her made him quiver all over with longing. "Okay," he agreed, and she rose and handed him a blue potion, he gulped it quickly and settled back upon his pallet.
"Sweet dreams, Harry," she said in that soft voice he adored, before turning about to chop up some herbs for the Bone Mend potion. Her back was to Harry as she worked and his eyes stared at her dreamily, noting the way she swayed slightly, like a willow, and how her bright hair fell down her back, and the way her backside curved through her colorful skirt.
I hope I dream of you, Meadowsweet, he thought and smiled, a sort of sleepy wishful smile with a hint of naughtiness in it.
Then he found himself unable to keep awake and he snuggled into his blanket and slept. He slept the entire afternoon, right through Severus and Meadowsweet brewing a batch of Bone Mend, only waking because his stomach was grumbling and it was time for them to go to the meeting in the round house.
* * * * * *
When the Potions Master, Harry, and Meadowsweet entered the round house, they found every eye upon them for a moment. And unlike the last time, they were not wary and suspicious, but approving. Even Vlad Winterknight did not look so antagonistic. One by one, the wolfen nodded at them and Meadowsweet led them right up to the table where Darkmoon was sitting.
At their look of astonishment, the Alpha snickered. "You're not allowed to hide in corners anymore like unwanted guests. Not after what you've done. Now you sit here, at the Alpha table. Right, Meadowsweet?"
The wolfen Healer nodded, her earrings bobbing. "You have to earn that privilege, which you have, ten times over, when you broke the curse upon Shadow Vale."
Urchin and IndigoEyes came and served everyone seated at the table with Darkmoon dinner, which consisted of venison in a rich mushroom gravy, chestnut bread and greens with wild garlic and rice. Moonberry juice and water were served also and everyone ate heartily.
Harry found his appetite returned with a vengeance and he ate like a typical starving teenager. While he ate he snuck glances at Meadowsweet from beneath his lashes. The wolfen Healer was chatting with Darkmoon, reminiscing about their shared childhood in Britain, before the Ministry had come and ripped apart their lives.
After the dinner was done, Darkmoon stood to address the pack, and all talking ceased. The Alpha cleared his throat and spoke loudly enough to be heard throughout the round house. "Thanks to Arborsong and IndigoEyes for a wonderful dinner. I think you would be top chefs in any restaurant in the world, lucky for us you're here, so nobody has to eat my lousy cooking."
There came a round of chuckles as the wolfen acknowledged their Alpha's wit as truth.
"All right, settle down," Darkmoon ordered after a moment and his wolfen settled. "I figured now that we have cleansed the forest of any lingering evil influences and Shadow Vale has been restored to its original state, it was time to thank those responsible for it." He indicated Harry and Severus. "You all know that these two wizards came to Sylvanor as my guests and that some of you viewed them with suspicion, thinking they were like those Ministry assholes who locked us away here. But you were mistaken, because Harry Potter and Severus Snape broke the curse on Shadow Vale and freed the Forest of the Night from the influence of the Death Eaters. They have done what no other wizard before has ever done-helped us because it was the right thing to do."
A smattering of applause followed. Darkmoon held up his hand.
"They have proven my theory that it's still possible to negotiate with wizards for a better life, provided the wizards in question are open-minded regarding wolfen. You all know I love Sylvanor, that it has become my home, as it is all of yours, but I still think we should be allowed to mingle with the outside world if we choose.
"I have seen for myself that Severus and Harry are honorable, respectable, and loyal and it is my privilege to invite them into our pack as honorary members. Welcome, Warrior and Freedom!" Darkmoon gave a low howl of acceptance and it was echoed by all the other wolfen, even Vlad.
Harry was astonished and proud to be considered a member of Sylvanor, he admired the wolfen for their tenacity, courage, and integrity, among other things. He darted a glance at Severus and saw that his mentor also looked pleased. It was the first time either of them had ever been invited to be a part of a group that they respected and who respected them. It was an astonishingly heady feeling. Harry wagered that it didn't matter to Severus if the wolfen were considered outcasts by the rest of the wizarding world, for he knew the truth about them, and better to be a member of Sylvanor than a member of the hypocritical Ministry.
One by one, the other wolfen approached and gripped Harry and Severus's wrists in a friendly clasp and welcomed them.
Vlad grasped Harry's wrist briefly, but there was no rancor in either his eyes or tone when he said, "Welcome, Freedom, to Sylvanor. May the moon shine down upon you."
"Thank you," Harry said sincerely.
Vlad gave a short nod and then walked away.
After the two newest members had been welcomed, Darkmoon turned to them and said, "Nominally, I'm your Alpha, but since you're not really wolfen, you aren't bound to obey me. However, I do have a request to make of you. Before I led you to Shadow Vale, you agreed to grant me a request of my choosing. I'm sure you can guess what I'm about to ask." Darkmoon drew in a breath. "When you return to Britain after you've completed your quest, I want you to speak to your Minister and tell him that we helped you defeat Voldemort. I want you to ask him to release us from the forest and allow us to live normal lives like the rest of you. You've seen us, you know we're not the monsters and fiends they think we are. We deserve to live free, and get a regular education and live like everyone else."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "That's quite a request, Darkmoon. What makes you think the Ministry will listen to us?"
"Hell, Severus, if you finish Voldemort, the Ministry wouldn't dare refuse you anything."
"He's right, Sev. You know how Fudge likes to cater to people with prestige and power, like Lucius Malfoy."
Severus snorted. "Merlin forbid I should ever turn out like Lucius. Very well, Darkmoon. Harry and I will try and grant your request and hope that Fudge is amenable."
"And if he's not, we'll convince him otherwise," Harry promised.
Darkmoon laughed. "You do that, Hawk-boy." Then he cuffed Harry playfully about the ear. "You up for a moonlit ramble or are you still feeling exhausted?"
"Uh . . .only a short one. I am kind of tired," Harry admitted.
"Good enough. Come on, kid, and let me show you how much fun walking in the moonlight can be. The dark isn't your enemy."
Just then, Hedwig swooped down and landed on Severus's shoulder, chirring happily.
"Hedwig, what on earth?" cried the Potions Master, for the owl was rarely demonstrative with anyone except Harry.
Meadowsweet grinned. "Aww, how sweet, professor! She says she is glad to see you up and about and hopes that you enjoyed the lullaby she sang to you."
"She what?" Severus actually flushed and then hissed in acute embarrassment, "Bloody meddling bird, I am not a child!"
"She says that you were having a nightmare and her singing calmed you," Meadowsweet translated, her eyes sparkling with mischievous delight.
Harry and Darkmoon quickly turned and left, managing to hold in their mirth until they were outside and then they collapsed upon the ground, howling with laughter. Hedwig had sung Snape a lullaby!
"Your owl sure has moxie!" Darkmoon said, then cracked up. "Like her wizard."
"Got that right. Oh, I wish I had been awake to see it!" He promptly burst out laughing again. When he had calmed he asked how Meadowsweet knew what Hedwig was saying. "I didn't know she could speak bird."
"She can't, but she was awake and saw the whole thing. So she just . . .improvised." Darkmoon told him gleefully. Then he rose and blurred into the big black wolf and Harry followed, shoving his panicked initial response to the darkness into the back of his head. He was a wolfen and the night belonged to them. Besides, it was too fine a night to waste being afraid of formless phantoms.
Next: Severus gives Harry and Meadowsweet an impromptu herbology lesson as he tries to gather ingredients for the Curse Breaking potion.
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