It was a week before the Christmas holidays. Harry and Hermione had been invited by the Weasleys to spend Christmas with them at the Burrow and the two had taken up their offer. The Grangers (to Mr. Weasley’s ultimate delight) had also been invited so the future in-laws could get to know everyone. Harry was pleased to confirm to Mrs. Weasley that his parents, Sirius, Remus and Tonks, Teddy Lupin, his godson, and Andromeda Tonks would be spending Christmas there as well. It was going to be a full house and Harry was looking forward to it immensely. He was sure that the holiday was going to be the best he ever had.
The school had been attacked with thousands of decorations, the usual along with countless amounts of garland lining every staircase and archway. Clusters of mistletoe could be spotted in places which were avoided by the boys with great care much to the disappointment of a fair amount of females. Harry had been caught by a Hufflepuff third year underneath the stupid plant and had successfully turned the girl down by feinting illness. Though it happened over a week ago, Ron still teased him about it.
Draco had finally made it a habit to spend as much time surrounded by Gryffindors as possible since his entire house seemed to be out to kill him. He didn’t stay in the Slytherin common room anymore for sake of his safety. Harry had received permission from Professor Dumbledore to share his private room with Draco. The professor had been nice enough to even make up another room to accommodate the Slytherin outcast. Draco couldn’t see the Gate Frame inhabitants so Harry had to move meeting with his parents and friends in his bedroom whenever he wanted to talk to them.
It honestly wasn’t so bad living with Draco. The guy actually had a really great sense of humor - that is, only if he found the joke funny. He was also extremely sarcastic and even though they bantered back and forth every time they were together, Harry silently enjoyed trying to beat Draco at his own wit. They didn’t talk too often though but when they did, they always had something to disagree upon. Most of the time when they were in the common room (Draco finishing up his homework and Harry reading books he’d checked out from the library) they would challenge each other to a game of Wizard’s Chess.
Harry liked these challenges because they took him away from the book he was reading, giving his brain a break. Harry had really taken to the library; he supposed it was because the books available were actually really educational. He’d finally discovered that the lessons given by his teachers only skimmed the surface of the magic they were studying. He now realized why Hermione was so smart. Years ago, Harry would have never believed it if someone told him he’d be reading countless library books. Ron had nearly died when he saw the immense pile of books stacked in the common room. He’d even voiced his fear that Harry was turning into Hermione. Needless to say, that comment got him into a really big pit; the only way out was to apologize to Hermione with a large bouquet of flowers and chocolates.
Alexandria – or Alex as she apparently preferred – spent a lot of time in the common room with Draco. Harry had come to know her really well over the past month. Draco made sure to banish her from the room before sunset so as not to give away Harry’s secret but Harry harbored this strange suspicion that Alex knew the truth. It wasn’t that he suspected Draco of revealing it; he was just under the impression that Alex knew. The way she stared at him sometimes – like she was studying a science experiment – really freaked him out. To Harry, her eyes looked as old and wise as Professor Dumbledore’s, which was both intimidating and disturbing.
Despite this, Harry really liked Alex as a person. She was a wonderful girl and she even got along with Ginny when she would come to visit Harry. She had good morals and she always tried to stick up for kids who were being picked on in the halls. Not to mention she was a superb chaser for the Gryffindor Team and had helped them win every match thrust in their way so far. Harry suspected that this year the Quidditch Cup was in the bag.
Studying for the end of term exams had taken their toll on the students for the last week. Harry only prayed that the actual exams taking place the next week would be to his advantage since he hadn’t been able to practice as much as everyone else in the evening hours. Even though he hadn’t had homework, he was just as exhausted and strained from constantly working towards perfecting his Obscurvirgum spells. Dumbledore had taken it upon himself to teach Harry a few tricks on deeper concentration. Professor Merrylow’s classes also focused on constant meditation these past couple weeks so these two vigorous teachers helped Harry immensely over the last month – even though his brain felt like it was about to spontaneously self-combust.
Speaking of Professor Merrylow, she and Sirius were getting along like bread and butter. The two were practically inseparable when they got together and it had been learned a long time ago that when they were alone, it was best to leave them that way. Sirius was being called from the Gate Frame so much that Harry almost had half a mind to keep him in the mortal world constantly (except Sirius had other unspeakable duties he had to attend to in the afterlife).
Despite the slight annoyance of having Sirius and Professor Merrylow constantly asking him when they could get together again (like Harry was the parent and Sirius his overprotected son) Harry was extremely happy for both of them. Sirius was a new man; his very demeanor and happiness a complete one eighty from Harry’s memory. Professor Merrylow had also undergone a change. She was always smiling, sometimes even humming openly in classes, and her cheerfulness seemed to have the ability to affect everyone around her. Every D.A.D.A. class was fun and upbeat and not even the Slytherins seemed to complain about her.
Their relationship was going so well that Harry was sure that any day now Professor Merrylow would approach him to ask if she too could spend Christmas at the Burrow. In preparation for this, Harry had secretly sent Alomier to the Weasleys, asking them if it would be okay for another guest to stay with them. Their response letter had appeared to be extremely optimistic about the whole deal.
Harry had just finished his last class of the day and was making his way down to lunch with the other Gryffindors when Professor Merrylow appeared in the hallway and called his name.
“Mr. Potter, a word if you please!”
Harry looked at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. All of them were smirking. Ginny nudged Ron in the ribs.
“That’ll be two galleons, Ron,” she said.
Ron grimaced as he fished his pockets. “I was sure that if she was going to ask it would have been after the exam yesterday. Why’d she have to wait til now?”
“Because exams are over,” answered Hermione, disapproving of Ron and Ginny gambling. “Honestly, why did you even have to bet over this?”
“We have to follow in Fred and George’s footsteps,” Ron said with dignity, finally finding the gold coins and thrusting them into Ginny’s hand. “Though I can’t believe I lost to Ginny. Those were the only two galleons left from my allowance.”
Hermione pursed her lips. “You two wouldn’t be gambling at all if your dad still worked for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts department.”
Ron shrugged. “Maybe Hermione but now that dad’s promoted and we get allowances, what’s the hurt in gambling a little bit?”
Hermione stomped her foot in impatience. “You two are impossible!” Ginny, Harry, and Ron snickered openly. Hermione rolled her eyes before pushing Harry in the shoulder towards where Professor Merrylow stood waiting. “Get going before she calls you again.”
“See you at lunch,” said Harry before making his way through the crowded hallway to Professor Merrylow. She smiled but her expression was also a little flustered.
“Did you need something, Professor?”
Professor Merrylow looked around before saying, “I just wanted you to step in here for a minute, if that’s okay.”
The two of them disappeared inside her classroom which was decorated beautifully for the Christmas season. Small flakes of snow fell from her ceiling, disappearing four feet above the now empty desks, garland hung on every visible pole, a small collection of snowmen sat against the window sill, each one waving their stick arms merrily, and twinkling lights flashed on and off around the blackboard. Professor Merrylow was wearing rich red robs outlined in white, her ferocious hair spiraling about her face under a matching hat.
She swallowed and began to ring her hands nervously, wetting her lips, and darting her eyes from Harry’s face, to the floor, to her hands. “Listen, Harry, um…”
“Professor, if you want to spend Christmas at the Burrow, I’ve already asked the Weasleys and they said they’d be happy to have you.”
Professor Merrylow blinked several times in surprise. “Y-You did? And…and they already said it was okay?”
Harry couldn’t help grinning. “I thought you might want to spend the Holiday with someone Professor and seeing as he’s going to be spending it with me I suspected that you might ask to tag along.”
Professor Merrylow’s eyes narrowed though Harry saw a merry twinkle within the brown irises. “Rather presumptuous, aren’t you, Harry?”
Harry shrugged. “I just saw a need that I figured needed to be filled, Professor.”
Professor Merrylow immediately began to laugh. She put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I’ve underestimated your observation, Harry. Am I too obvious?”
Harry, somewhat taken aback that a teacher was being so forward with him, tried to feint ignorance. “I don’t know what you mean, Professor.”
“Oh, yeah right,” Professor Merrylow chided kindly, rolling her eyes. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re his godson and you know him better than everyone alive so I thought I’d get your opinion. Now answer me honestly, Harry, is it too obvious that I like him?”
Harry felt slightly uncomfortable. He wasn’t prone to being an expert on girls. This was definitely where Sirius’s expertise would have been appreciated. But seeing as the situation involved his godfather, Harry was finding himself in a definite fix. He rubbed his arm, feeling awkward.
“I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, Professor.”
“I didn’t ask for an expert, Harry,” said Professor Merrylow kindly. “I asked for your opinion.”
This still didn’t relax Harry’s nerves. “From my point of view it’s really obvious but that’s because I’ve seen the way Sirius was before he had you in his life. He’s extremely happy now. And I don’t think you seem like your acting any different to other students. You’re as energetic and upbeat as always and your classes are a knockout success. I haven’t even heard the Slytherins complaining about you and that’s a compliment, believe me.”
Professor Merrylow seemed to relax. Her stiff shoulders slumped as she let out a sigh she’d apparently been suppressing. “That’s good. I was afraid he was thinking I was desperate or something. He hasn’t said anything like that to you, has he?” she asked, grabbing Harry’s shoulders suddenly.
Harry adamantly shook his head. “No! Not in the slightest. Personally I think he might be thinking the same thing. He’s never had someone like you before and that’s coming from my dad not me. I think you shouldn’t worry too much about this, Professor. Just let things work themselves out naturally.”
Professor Merrylow nodded. Then she bit her lip. “You don’t think it’ll be weird for me to be at the Burrow, do you?”
Harry had to refrain from rolling his eyes. “Professor, you’re there to spend the holidays with your boyfriend who happens to be there. There’s nothing weird about that.”
Professor Merrylow hung her head. A low chuckle escaped her lips. “Gosh, I’m pathetic,” she mumbled.
“Yes, I am,” she mumbled, releasing Harry to walk away and look out the window over her snowman collection. “I’ve never felt this way before, Harry. I’ve never felt so comfortable with someone, so open. I’m thinking like a teenage, wondering if he likes me, fussing over what to wear when I’m with him, pondering on if he finds my habits weird. It’s annoying but exciting at the same time.” – She froze, putting a hand over her mouth – “Sorry, Harry, I’m rambling.”
Harry grinned. “You don’t have to apologize, Professor. Everyone feels that way when they have really deep feelings for someone. I feel that way about Ginny all the time.”
Professor Merrylow’s worried expression seemed to finally disappear. She smiled. “Thanks, Harry. I’ve been bottling this up for a while. Can you tell?”
Harry nodded and both of them laughed.
“I’m sorry to have kept you from lunch,” she apologized. “But you did make me feel a lot better. I just wanted to talk to someone about it.”
Harry smiled kindly. “No problem, Professor.”
“Go on then,” she said. “I’ll talk to you later about the holidays, after you’ve stayed up late studying over the exams.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “If by studying you mean running through the snow with the Marauders out on the grounds, I’m sure it’ll be a blast to stay up late.”
Professor Merrylow smiled at his sarcasm. “I’ll see you later, Harry.”
After lunch, Harry found Draco sitting in their common room reading a potions book. Harry raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning to take over for Slughorn?”
Draco looked slightly annoyed at being addressed. “So what if I was?” he asked, peering over the edge of his book.
Harry smirked. “I just can’t see you being a professor, that’s all. Unless you’d like to follow in Snape’s footsteps and get a really bad reputation with a lot of people.”
Draco scowled. “Snape was a better man than anyone I know, Harry.”
Harry sat down, stretching out his legs. “I didn’t say he wasn’t. We already discussed his reputation as a great man; I was talking about his popularity as a teacher. No offense to him but he wasn’t really liked.”
“And you’re saying I’m going to end up having the same rep if I take over for Slughorn?”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe.”
“I bet I’d make a better professor than you would, Potter.”
Harry noticed the glint in Draco’s eye. Those were fighting words. Harry grinned. “Need a break?”
Draco tossed the book aside. “Are you offering to get murdered again?”
Harry pulled out the chess set. “In your dreams. I won’t lose this time.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Let’s face it, Harry. When it comes to chess, you’re not the best.”
“Did you intend to rhyme like a little school girl?”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. “Shut it, Potter.”
Harry grinned. “I will if you take it back about me not making a good teacher.”
“You’re honestly considering a post to teach?” Draco asked incredulously as he set up the black pieces.
Harry shrugged, placing his white pawns into place. “I’ve considered it a possibility. After I’ve finished my auror career of course.”
“Ahhh, yes,” Draco mused, grinning, “You’re going to kill and or capture all the Death Eaters. I’m not going to let you have all the fun, you know.”
Harry looked up from the chessboard, surprised. “You’re going to be an auror?”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t I tell you?” He looked at Harry’s surprised expression. “No, I suppose I didn’t. Well, if you must know, Harry, how else am I going to have the authority to track down and kill my parent’s murderers if I’m not an auror?”
Harry sighed. “Right, you’re pursuing the career for revenge. What an aspiration.”
“If I recall, someone else lost their parents and sought out revenge too,” Draco muttered as he gestured for Harry to make the first move.
After moving a knight, Harry shrugged. “Hey, I didn’t kill him for revenge. It was all part of a prophecy and wanting to free myself from his soul. Besides, he wasn’t a Death Eater and he just happened to be an evil wizard bent on world conquest.”
Draco snorted. “That sums up Voldemort quite well.”
The two continued their chess match in silence for a few minutes. After Draco had successfully killed all of Harry’s pawns, a knight, and a castle, Harry finally decided to speak again.
“What are you doing for Christmas this year, Draco?”
The young blond shrugged. “I invited Alex to the mansion for the holidays but she said she has to return to Egypt until school starts again. So I guess I’ll just spend it by myself.”
Harry scoffed. “Yeah, because leaving you alone in your house while every Death Eater is intent on having you dead is a very smart idea. You should spend Christmas at the Burrow.”
Draco’s hand flinched so bad it knocked over a nook. “Are you out of your mind, Potter?! Spend Christmas with a bunch of…” He stopped at the look on Harry’s face.
“It would be the safest place for you,” said Harry. “Or Hogwarts of course. What fun that will be, stuck here in the castle by yourself.”
“I don’t mind being alone,” Draco slightly snapped.
“Then all the Slytherins will find out you’re staying and then they’ll stay and torture you and drag your limp body off to Lestrange where he can finish killing his nephew as a Christmas present. Yep, sounds like a jolly holiday to me.”
Draco’s scowl was as deep as the lines in Dumbledore’s face. Glowering, he just managed to spit out the words, “Fine, Potter! I’ll go to the Burrow! But if one thing – and I mean one thing – disgusts me, I’m gone! You hear?!”
Harry grinned. Even if Draco planned to leave Harry would do everything in his power to keep Draco alive even if that meant tying him up like a festival pig; besides, that’s what friends were for, right? To keep their friends alive.
It was a little before sunset. Harry was out in the forest, bidding his time for when the sun would disappear. He’d been in the shadow of the trees for about fifteen minutes now. Harry was somewhat grateful for the thickness of the tree trunks because their bare branches held most of the snow, leaving about three inches on the ground. Harry climbed over a fallen log, planning to sit down and take out the Gate Frame, when he heard a noise – a tree branch breaking.
He’d had to wear his invisibility cloak into the forest since so many kids were out on the grounds enjoying rousing snowball fights as an attempt to rest their weary minds from studying. Pulling the cloak from his pocket, Harry pulled it on just before someone broke into the clearing. Harry remained deathly still. It was Alex.
She looked completely different from her usual bubbly personality; her eyes were narrowed, every trace of cheerfulness gone, her expression like that of an Amazon, keen to find and kill anything that she deemed a threat. Her deep green eyes seemed to produce the same x-ray feel that Dumbledore portrayed. She looked around the forest, double, triple-checking, to make sure she was completely alone. Seeming satisfied, she flung her loose copper curls from her face and pulled out a necklace.
It was a simple golden chain with a pendant on the end that Harry recognized as the symbol of life for Egyptians: the ankh. Alex closed her eyes and began chanting. Harry shuddered; he knew that language. It was the same as Sephtus’s.
Alex chanted in a low whisper but soon her voice rose until it filled the surrounding trees, alerting birds that took off into the sky. The snow surrounding Alex’s feet began to stir, like a sudden mini blizzard had erupted under her boots. Harry gathered the invisibility cloak closer around him to make sure it wouldn’t fly off and reveal his location.
As the snow stirred through the air, a small circle appeared at Alex’s feet. Lines inched towards the center, disappearing under her shoes, while a spiral of strange symbols climbed around her until she appeared to be in some bizarre yellow ribbon tornado. Alex stopped chanting and the symbols that had been spinning around her exploded into a burst of blinding white light. Harry’s eyes squinted until the light dissipated, revealing a shocking sight.
A tall figure stood in the clearing, his robes a deep shade of crimson. Long spider-like fingers curled around his lengthy folded arms, drumming against them every two seconds. His face was hooded but long black hair climbed out of the hood all the way down to the man’s waist.
“Alexandria,” came a voice from inside the hood, “you are failing, child.”
His voice was deep and powerful and seemed to speak from the depths of the earth. The whole surrounding area seemed to be rejecting this man’s presence, as if he was a phenomenon invading this time and space. The air had turned dry and Harry immediately felt the need to cough. He stopped himself though his eyes streamed from having to suppress the urge.
Alex looked as if the man had slapped her in the face. “I am not failing, Great One,” she said in a squeaky voice. “The task you have set me has proven to be more difficult than any of us realized.”
The hooded figure drummed his fingers again. “Silence! Excuses are not tolerated. You know this well. You are either achieving or you are failing and we can both agree that your meager excuses fall into the latter category.”
Alex hung her head. “Yes, Great One.”
“So, what do you plan to do to change this? Time is running out and we are growing weaker.”
“I have realized this,” Alex muttered in distain.
“If you do not deepen you attempts, you will not gain the trust of the Sacrifice. Have you even found them?”
Alex sighed. “Yes, Great One.”
The drumming fingers froze. “Really?” Great One said with heavy surprise. “Hmmm, I must say I’m amazed. I thought your last report stated that your search was not fruitful.”
“My last report, Great One, was three months ago. Since then I have been busy attempting to secure a relationship with the Sacrifice but it has taken me time. The people here are very different from us. It takes a long time to gain trust.”
“That sounds like an excuse, child. But this is progress. Does the Sacrifice suspect anything?”
Alex bit her lip. “There may be one person.”
Great One leaned forward. “Yes?”
“The One of Prophecy; I think he’s suspicious of me.”
Harry stiffened. Those words left a chill down his spine. One of Prophecy; that’s what Sephtus had called him. Harry couldn’t believe his ears. Did this mean that the one under the red cloak was Sephtus? And if it was, did that mean that Alex was a spy? And who was this Sacrifice and what were they being sacrificed for?
“Ahhh, yes, yes, he would suspect something, now wouldn’t he?” Great One mused, his tone sounding slightly as if he carried a sneer. “He’s already been exposed to some of our ancient magic.”
“Yes,” replied Alex, though she seemed a little sad about this.
“It is of little importance,” said Great One. “He has been cursed so as to not interfere. You know this quite well, Alexandria. You swore that under no circumstances were you to approach him about it. I trust you have not broken that oath.”
“You know I haven’t, Great One. Breaking the oath would mean death and I value my life.”
Great One chuckled. “Of course you do. Now, we don’t have much time left. The Sacrifice is ripening. We must be prepared when the time comes. You must ensure that you are there, Alexandria, in order for our plan to succeed. We cannot risk another failure.”
Alexandria bowed. “I understand, Great One.”
“I want another report as the next moon cycle begins. Do not miss this appointment, Alexandria, like you did the last three.”
“I won’t, Great One,” Alex promised. She acted like she’d just received a humiliating chastisement; her cheeks were pink, her feet shuffled back and forth, and her hands rung behind her back. “I’m sorry to have failed you before. I will do my best to attain a close relationship to the Sacrifice.”
Great One put his hands behind his back and stood at his full height. “I expect only that from you, Alexandria Write. The Sacrifice is not to die by your hand, only to be nurtured. And might I add a word of caution: do not be easily distracted by those who are clouding your vision. You know your path and you must follow it, casting aside any who might stand in the way.”
Alex looked as if Great One had issued a death sentence. Her face had turned as pale as the snow, her entire frame trembling like a leaf in a hurricane. Tears pricked her green eyes, and her curls seemed to lose some of their volume.
“But what about treasures, Great One?” she asked hesitantly, as if being afraid that he would fry her to a crisp.
“Treasures are distractions, Alexandria! There are more important forces going on right now than you and a treasure that you can easily replace.”
“Not this treasure,” Alex argued but then she covered her mouth.
A powerful force of energy rushed through the trees, lighting the dead leaves in the snow on fire. The flames danced menacingly before sizzling out in the snow, melting holes all the way down to the forest floor. Harry felt like he’d stepping into a sauna. His whole head was dripping with sweat. What had just happened?
“Do not dare to argue with me, child!” Great One roared angrily. “I will not tolerate primitive feelings to get in the way of the fate of the future! Argue with me again and your treasure just might fine the same fate waiting for it as these burnt up leaves.”
Alex shivered uncontrollably as the wind picked up around her. The yellow ribbon-like symbols that had dissolved earlier had returned, swirling around Great One like a whirlpool. Five seconds of roaring wind and twirling snow pounded against the trees, Alex, and Harry’s invisibility cloak before the red robed figure vanished in the same fashion as he had appeared. The second he was gone, Alex fell to her knees, her arms wrapping around her body, trying to hold in her threatening sobs.
Harry was so overwhelmed he didn’t know what to think. Alex, the sweet seventeen year old from Egypt, was in a plot to sacrifice someone at Hogwarts? It seemed so asinine. She was so kind. Why would she even do something like this? Harry didn’t get the vibe at all that she was being forced into the conspiracy. From what he’d guessed, Alex had signed an oath to accomplish one thing: find and get close to this Sacrifice. But who was the Sacrifice that Alex was supposed to find?
Immediately Harry thought of Draco. She’d been kind to him first. But for some reason Draco didn’t seem to fit. Great One had said this Sacrifice was a person that Alex was having difficulty befriending. At least he could rule out himself as the Sacrifice. What had Great One said? Something like he’d had the curse placed on him so he would stay out of the way? So he was a liability? A threat? To whom? To Great One?
Harry needed to talk to Dumbledore. The headmaster should know what was going on. But Harry had less than five minutes and the sun would be down. He looked over at Alex. She had finally stood, getting control over her emotions. Trying to be brave, she made her way out of the clearing, heading back up to the school.
The last ray of the sun finally disappeared and Harry transformed. The burning pain of his muscles was excruciating but Harry held in the cries that wanted to escape his throat. Deeply thankful that the animagus transformation was pain-free, Harry stood up on all fours, panting heavily. Harry was torn with indecision as his eyes darted towards the castle and the various thick tree trunks around him. He wanted to run right up to the school to find Dumbledore but he’d promised the marauders that he would meet them by the lake.
Harry decided that Dumbledore could wait. It wasn’t like Alex was walking around with a butcher knife, ready to slice someone to pieces and stick the remains on an altar. He needed to think rationally about this, study out all the things he’d just learned, and then discuss it calmly. There was no use panicking about it. He made a note to mention it to Dumbledore at the first opportunity before turning towards the lake. Harry bounded through the trees, scaring a few squirrels and birds hovering near the forest floor. Rocketing through the forest at top speed, the chilly winter winds pounding against his skin, Harry came upon the edge of the lake within minutes.
He discovered three animals already resting at the base of the beech tree near the lake’s shoreline. They lifted their heads as Harry ran around the lake’s edge. The large grim-like dog started barking at Harry’s approach. Harry skidded to a halt, spraying him with snow.
“HEY! Not funny Harry!” Sirius growled, shaking snow off his snout.
James laughed. “That was wicked, Harry! A perfect delivery!”
Harry smiled. “I didn’t try to aim specifically at you Sirius, sorry.”
“Then can I ask who you were aiming for?” Remus asked as he stood up, shaking fallen snow off his werewolf body.
Harry shrugged. “All of you, I suppose.”
James knocked antlers with him. “Be grateful you didn’t hit Remus, Harry. He’s in a bad mood.”
Harry looked at the monstrous wolf who displayed a set of ridiculously sharp fangs while growling in James’s direction. Harry backed up a few steps out of instinct. He’d seen Remus and Sirius ‘play’ during an argument and he didn’t want to have those teeth anywhere near him. No, in Harry’s experience with being around the werewolf, when Remus was mad, it was best to keep one’s distance.
“Not another word, James,” Remus muttered.
Harry wanted to ask what had made Remus so angry but thought better of it. “So, why did you ask me last night to let you out in the morning?” he asked, turning to his father.
James grinned. “Oh, we were just putting something together. We couldn’t actually do anything until classes were over.”
“We wanted it to remain a surprise,” said Sirius.
“I think we did a great job,” said Remus, his appearance seeming to soften a bit. “I really needed to get away from the house for a while.”
“Tonks and Remus had a bit of a row,” Sirius muttered. “Best not to ask him about it unless you want to get your neck torn in half.”
Remus snapped at Sirius’s tail. The large dog yelped before turning around to growl at the werewolf. Remus’s yellow eyes were gleaming, each reflecting the snow that had started to fall around them. Sirius snarled and crouched low to the ground. The werewolf mimicked him. Just as they were about to pounce, laughter echoed across the grounds. James perked his ears.
“Not good. Come on, if you two want to fight let’s take this to the woods.”
Remus snapped his jaws at Sirius who growled in response. The two stalked off in the direction of the trees, keeping a five foot distance between them. Harry and James walked behind them, keeping an eye on the two, ready to intervene if needed.
“Are they really angry at each other?” Harry asked.
James chuckled. “No, Harry. This is just how Remus takes out his stress when he’s a werewolf. Since Sirius is a dog, he and Remus were always quite the good match when Remus wanted to beat something up back in our school days. Sirius finds it to be a lot of fun, locking jaws and clawing at each other. You could almost say it’s their dog and wolfish way of playing.”
Harry still remained concerned. “They look like they’re about to tear each other’s throats out.”
James remained unconcerned. “They always appear that way. You’re starting to sound like Peter. He was always scared when they would get this way.”
“I’m not scared,” Harry retorted, silently angry that his father would compare him to that traitor. “I’m just concerned.”
James looked over at him and scoffed, “Sure. You’re shaking. Last time I checked, that means you’re scared. Peter would always climb up and hide on my back when he was terrified of something. We used to joke that if Remus ever chased after him that he’d keel over from fear. No need to worry, Harry; if you get in the way of their fight, I’ll protect you.”
Harry knocked antlers with his father as their shoulders impacted. “I’m not scared,” Harry repeated firmly. “And I don’t cower behind someone else when faced with a threat.”
James stopped. They’d reached the edge of the trees but were still in perfect view of the castle. Remus and Sirius turned around once realizing the two stags weren’t following after them. Harry faced his father, his heart picking up speed, his thoughts suddenly turning slightly wild. He pawed the ground, his body suddenly shivering in anticipation. What was wrong with him?
James stood stock still. “You want to fight me, Harry?” He sounded slightly amused.
Was that what Harry wanted to do? He was angry that his dad had compared him to Pettigrew and that he seemed to be making fun of him. Had his body naturally begun to act like this was a challenge? The animal side of Harry definitely seemed appeased with the idea of charging his father and slamming his antlers into him. But Harry’s human side thought this was ludicrous. Why would he want to fight against his own father?
“You’re hesitating,” James observed. “Are you mad that I compared you to Peter?”
Harry pawed the ground again. It was as if his father was taunting him on purpose, wanting Harry to fight.
“James,” Sirius said with concern.
“Stay out of it, Padfoot,” James muttered.
“You not seriously going to try to fight against Harry?” Remus asked. “You’d slaughter him!”
“I don’t what to have to jump in and stop you from tearing him to pieces, Prongs,” said Sirius.
This ticked Harry off even more. Did they think he was a child incapable of defending himself? Why didn’t Remus and Sirius have concern for James? Why were they trying to stop a fight for Harry’s sake?
Harry pawed the ground. James mimicked him.
“You two stay out of this,” James muttered. “When Harry’s hurt, I’ll stop.”
This was the last straw. Sensing the need to prove that he was perfectly capable of winning this, Harry lowered his head. His body shivered as snow fell and swirled through the slight breeze coming across the Hogwarts grounds. His eyes locked in on his father who had also lowered his head. Sirius and Remus were perched just behind James, watching Harry silently. The two stags seemed to be waiting for some precise movement. Four seconds ticked passed and Harry felt a jolt leap from his head all the way to his toes. He rushed forward, lowering his head, exposing his antlers, without really thinking about what to do; this movement was completely natural.
James must have done the same thing because a millisecond later both their antlers collided, interlinking together. James shook his head trying to wrench himself free. Harry used the interlinked antlers to his advantage. Swinging his body around, he threw James with all his might. James was thrust away from him, his hooves skidding in the snow. Harry didn’t wait for his dad to regain his footing; instead he charged again, lowering his antlers. James just managed to throw his head down to catch the impact before Harry’s antlers smashed into his face.
James pulled the same stunt Harry did, swinging him sideways, attempting to knock Harry to the ground. Harry retaliated by rearing on his back legs, forcing his father to do the same. The two kicked with their front hooves, scraping into each other’s chests. Harry came down on his front hooves hard, his legs disappearing in three feet of snow. James wrenched their antlers apart and Harry nearly fell as he stumbled to regain his footing.
James charged him again, coming at him with full force. Harry stood his ground and just as his father lowered his head, he leapt to the side. Driving his own antlers forward, Harry connected with James’s side, sending him sprawling into the snow. Harry stood over him, panting heavily. A wild desire wanted him to lift up on his hind legs and slam his front hooves into his father’s side but then Harry looked into his father’s eyes and immediately felt ashamed for his actions. He backed off, allowing James to stand. Remus and Sirius bounded over. Harry was sure they were going to chastise him for what he’d just done.
Sure enough, Remus turned to Harry and snarled. “What did you think you were doing, Harry?” he snapped angrily.
“You were about to stomp down on him,” Sirius raged, growling furiously in Harry’s direction.
James got to his feet. He looked extremely irate. “Harry, why would you do that to your own father?” His voice felt like it was drilling deep into Harry’s heart.
Harry backed up a step as all three advanced on him. “I didn’t intend for that to happen,” Harry defended. “It was just natural.”
James looked at Remus and Sirius and then the most bizarre thing happened; they started laughing. Harry’s eyes widened with surprise.
“What – ?”
James laughed. “I told you he was ready!” He said, looking at Remus.
Remus chuckled. “I was afraid he wouldn’t be, James. I was just concerned.”
Sirius let out a bark as he laughed. “You’re just overcautious, Moony.”
Harry was beside himself. “What in the name of Merlin is going on?”
James stepped forward and knocked into Harry’s antler with his own. “That was a test, son,” he smirked. “And you just passed.”
Harry gaped at him, dumbfounded. “A test? A test for what?”
Sirius and Remus both grinned, exposing large sets of pointed fangs. “Everyone has to undergo a rite of passage to join the Marauders, Harry,” said Sirius.
“And you made it!” Remus revealed, smirking. “Welcome to the group.”
Harry looked at the three of them, completely shocked. “You’re serious? So…all that teasing…?”
“Was to get you to fight,” finished James, nodding. “We’re sorry for saying those things, Harry, but we figured that before Christmas we should test to see if you were true marauder material.”
“But I’m not in my true animagus form.”
“That doesn’t really matter. You’ve learned the instincts of an animal and used them successfully in combat. As far as we’re concerned, if you can manage that as a stag you can certainly manage it as a gryffin. So stop arguing and accept our congratulations.”
“I hate you guys,” Harry muttered although he was smiling.
James, Remus, and Sirius laughed openly while Harry secretly reveled in this initiation. He was a marauder. They’d wanted him to be part of the group. The insults were all a ruse to get Harry to fight so he could prove himself worthy of joining them. The happiness Harry was feeling was indescribable. He was part of a group of men he’d idolized (with the exception of Peter of course) and now they’d allowed him to officially join them!
“You’ll need a nickname now,” said James, thrusting Harry away from his thoughts. “Any ideas?”
Harry shook his head.
“Then how about the one we came up for you?” said Remus.
“And what might that be?” Harry asked a little tense. He hoped it wasn’t something dumb.
“The Love Bird,” said Sirius, straight-faced.
Harry stared. “You’ve got to be joking. Please, anything but that.”
“But we already put it on the Marauders Map,” Sirius complained.
“YOU DID WHAT?!” Harry shouted in dismay.
“Well, your life has always been centered around love, Harry,” said Remus.
“The name suits you perfectly,” added James.
Harry felt like he was about to throw up. That, or keel over dead. “For the dignity of everything Merlin held sacred, PLEASE tell me you’re all joking.”
Harry’s desperation was so hilarious the Marauders couldn’t keep up their ruse. They all burst out laughing. Sirius was laughing so hard he fell over. James had to lean against a tree in order to keep himself from joining Sirius in the snow. Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or kick them all in the head.
“That was horrible,” he muttered, slightly angry. “That was not funny.”
“Sorry, Harry,” mumbled Remus, the first to return to a state of maturity. “We couldn’t help ourselves.”
“We had to see your face!” said Sirius, picking himself up out of the snow. “Completely priceless, by the way.”
Harry groaned. “I was right. The three of you are worse than Fred and George.”
“The Weasley twins?” James asked.
Harry nodded. “They had a similar mischievous streak like you three.”
“We have to meet them sometime then,” mused James, “maybe we can come up with a few pranks or something.”
Harry groaned. “I was afraid you’d say something like that.”
“Don’t worry, Harry, our schemes with them won’t be as horrible as this one we just played,” assured Sirius with a grin.
“I hope not. That name is terrible,” Harry muttered.
James chuckled. “It made a good laugh, though. But in all seriousness, we did pick out a name for you.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “If I don’t like it can I kick you in the head?”
James grinned. “Sure but I’ll kick you back if you do.”
“Fine,” Harry said. “Just tell me what it is.”
“Whirlwing,” James revealed.
“We thought it would be appropriate because of your wings,” said Remus.
Harry thought about it. It wasn’t so bad. It did seem to fit his gryffin side. He imagined whirling around in the air, braving storms and rocketing through clouds. The more Harry thought about it, the more he appeared to like it.
The Marauders waited, seeking his approval. Harry decided to repay them for their earlier hoax. He scoffed. “That sounds stupid.”
Sirius groaned. “I told you he wouldn’t like it.”
James looked offended as well as hurt. “But we thought it was great! Why don’t you like it son?”
“Because it sounds like you just looked up the word whirl in the dictionary and stuck it with the word wing. That doesn’t sound too clever to me; it’s almost like you didn’t put much thought into it,” Harry replied, trying to lay on his annoyance really thick.
Remus looked crestfallen. “We spent two hours coming up with that name. You really don’t like it?”
It was Harry’s turn to reel in laughter. His chuckles escaped him and the Marauders froze. Getting a hold of himself, Harry grinned. “Looks like the tricksters have just been tricked.”
Their eyes widened. This only made Harry’s laughter redouble. James was the first to recover from shock.
“I can’t believe it,” he said numbly, “my own son fooled me.” He turned to Sirius and leapt up and down in the snow. “Did you just see that, Sirius? We just got owned! Isn’t it great?!”
Sirius grinned, displaying his teeth. “I never thought I’d say this but it does feel great. But that’s probably because it’s Harry who pulled the prank. Well played, Harry.”
“I think we’ve definitely found the one to fill our open position,” said Remus proudly.
James nodded. “Alright. We’ll update the Marauders Map tomorrow. How does that sound, Harry? Or as I should say, Whirlwing?”
Harry grinned. “Sounds great…Prongs.”
James grinned. “Come on, we still need to stretch our legs.”
Harry grinned. “You want to lead the way?”
James pawed the ground before twisting around and bounding off into the forest at top speed, the other Marauders following right behind him.
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