Chapter 13 : Chapter 13: The Wolf Pack
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“Ah, good to see you up, Mr. Jacobs,” she said pleasantly. “I trust you’re feeling better?”
“Much better,” Michael said politely. “Harry told me you had patched him up enough times, and I figure anything Snape could do to me must be nothing compared to what Harry manages to get into once a week.”
She chuckled. “He does have a tendency to spend more time here than he should. Minerva once suggested we get him a private bed. It’s just before breakfast” she added. “If you hurry, you'll have time to make it up to your dormitory and change into your robes. Then you can join your friends at breakfast.”
“Thank you, I’ll do that,” Michael said, turning to leave.
“Oh, one last thing,” she called as he was almost at the door. “Professor Dumbledore came by and said he needed to speak with you in his office as soon as possible. The password is Lemon Drop.”
Michael frowned. Maybe Dumbledore had decided he was angry with him for the Snape incident after all. Or perhaps this was something to do with STRIKE and the war? Michael had a distinct feeling his ‘vacation’ of a mission wasn’t going to last much longer. “I’ll go see him after breakfast then,” he told her, nodding.
“Goodbye, Mr. Jacobs.”
Michael left, walking briskly back towards the common room, smiling to himself. In a shock of horror, he wondered if Dumbledore had seen him and Luna sneaking around and assumed they were up to something. Even though Dumbledore was never going to put him in detention or anything similar, the thought of the old man reprimanding him for getting up to anything with Luna was…horrifying.
It was also a little exciting.
He passed a few stragglers on their way to eat as he ascended the many staircases, but found the Gryffindor common room deserted. The sixth year dormitory was empty as well, and changed into his Hogwarts robes in silence. As was about to leave, he noticed his school schedule lying on his bed. House Elves?
So first he would have breakfast with Harry and the others, then straight to Dumbledore’s office…that meant skipping Potions. Then Defense…that would be interesting…and after that Charms. And then finally his meeting with Luna.
He found his friends sitting together in their usual spot at the end of the table, talking casually. He slid onto the bench beside Jeff, across from the Trio. They all greeted him happily as he grabbed at everything on the table, just now realizing how hungry he was.
“Listen,” he told them after a few large bites, “I’ve got something to show you after class today. You three know about the Room of Requirement right?” he asked the Trio.
“Yeah, we used it all last year” Harry said, surprised. “But how do you…?”
“I’ll explain later,” he cut through. “Just be there after your last class. Can you show Jeff and Sarah where it is?”
“I will,” Hermione said. She looked determined about something. Michael raised his eyebrows at her, asking her to continue. She continued to look nervous, but after a buildup of resolve asked in a rush, “Does this have anything to do with Luna?”
Michael laughed, which seemed to surprise the others. “You had me figured out from the start, didn’t you Hermione?” he asked easily. “Yes, it does actually. I’ll explain everything soon, I promise. But right now, I have to see Dumbledore.”
“Dumbledore?” Ron repeated. “What does he want with you?”
“Is this school stuff?” Jeff asked. “Or ‘school stuff?’”
“I don't know,” Michael shrugged honestly. “Honestly, there’s a lot it could be.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It could be something to do with STRIKE and Voldemort, or it could be related to Snape or Luna. Personally, I’m hoping for Voldemort.”
“What did you –?” Sarah began, but Michael shook his head at her.
“I told you, you’ll find out later,” he said repressively. He snapped his fingers at the back of Ron’s head, which was currently turned towards the Ravenclaw table.
Harry sighed. “What should I tell Professor Slughorn when he asks about you?”
“Tell him I’ll Snape him if he gives me trouble,” he said, standing up and wiping his mouth with a napkin. “Just kidding,” Michael added with a smirk as Hermione made an irritated and irritating noise. “I also won't be around for whatever comes after Charms.”
“What exactly are you doing, Michael?” Harry asked suspiciously as he threw his napkin down and quickly navigated away from the table.
“Room of Requirement, after class!” he called back.
He struggled to find the Headmaster’s office, but prevailed after ten minutes of wandering stupidly around the castle. Thinking he should ask Dumbledore for a map after this was done, Michael looked curiously at the two gargoyles, who were not moving or doing anything to acknowledge his presence.
Michael cleared his throat and glanced around once. “Lemon Drop,” he said clearly, if a little quietly, as he felt a bit silly talking to a statue. Neither gargoyle gave him any sort of response whatsoever. Now irritated as well, Michael repeated the password a little louder and much more forcefully.
“We heard you the first time, kid,” one of them said to him.
“There’s really no need to yell,” the other snickered.
“Can I just go up to see Professor Dumbledore?” Michael asked, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger.
“Fine,” the first said a little moodily, and they both sprang apart to permit him entry. “But it would be nice if a student actually talked to us, you know!” the second yelled as he quickly climbed the spiral staircase. He knocked on the door, and Dumbledore called him to enter, sounding tired and troubled.
He was sitting behind his desk, resting his chin on his clasped hands, eyes closed. He didn’t look up or open his eyes as Michael stepped inside, closing the door carefully behind him.
“You wanted to see me, Professor?” he asked, trying to figure out what had happened. Dumbledore did not reply, he merely motioned for Michael to take the seat before his desk. He did so, looking curiously around the office as he did, observing a number of curious instruments he had no idea as to the function of.
“Michael,” he said after a moment, “you’ve had some dealings with Rufus Scrimgeour before, have you not?”
Michael clenched his fists involuntarily. “Yes sir, I have,” he said through his teeth.
“You do not like the man, I hear.” Dumbledore said. What was this about?
“Not particularly,” he growled. “What about you, do you approve of him?”
He sighed sadly and opened his eyes. “I had tried to, at least until last night, when he refused to release Severus Snape.”
“He did what?” Michael almost shouted, sitting up straight. “But I signed that paper! I said it was an accident!” As strong as his feelings of happiness had been after his encounter with Luna last night, the anger that was boiling in his belly towards the Minister wiped them totally from his mind.
“I know, and I believe he does too,” Dumbledore said, uncharacteristically angry. “But he maintains that there is insufficient evidence to release Severus, and so he remains in Azkaban.”
“What’s he playing at, insufficient evidence?” Michael snarled. “You have a signed statement from the victim, advocating his innocence!”
“Not anymore,” Dumbledore said gravely. “The Minister tore up the statement the moment he read the name at the bottom. He refuses to accept any sort of testimony from you or from myself.”
“So this is some kind of personal vendetta against us?” Michael said loudly. “He picked the wrong set of enemies….” He stood up and actually drew his wand, which emitted small amounts of green sparks.
“No,” Dumbledore said firmly, “You cannot hope to walk out of the Ministry a free man if you challenge the Minister now. You are needed here, as well as on the hunt for the Slytherin Seven, if I recall. We have already lost Severus, we cannot lose you as well.”
“I’m not just going to let him rot in prison because Rufus Scrimgeour and I are this close,” he held two fingers a centimeter apart, “from dueling in the middle of the Ministry!”
“No Michael,” Dumbledore corrected him quietly, “it is because of me, and I suppose Lord Voldemort as well, that Professor Snape is in such trouble. Whatever your feelings towards the man, the two people that Scrimgeour hates most in the world are quite possibly Tom Riddle and myself. As Severus has had connections to both of us, Rufus is incredibly suspicious of him.”
“So what do we do?” Michael asked, grudgingly sitting back down. “What’s the plan?”
Dumbledore hesitated slightly as he said, “I am going to ask you to do something I know you will dislike having to do. I'm asking you to do nothing.”
“Professor?” Michael asked in astonishment, “You know what I am, and what I can do! I can help!”
“Before I consider what you may or may not be able to do,” Dumbledore said evenly, “I’d like to know why it is you and Rufus detest each other so. I cannot imagine he approves of your group.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Michael said, rubbing the back of his neck roughly, “but I don't care about that. STRIKE and Scrimgeour were never going to get along. But no, it was when I was an Auror under his command that we started this.” Michael looked away from Dumbledore’s piercing eyes. “He used me and my partner as bait to draw out Bellatrix and Voldemort. He didn’t tell us because he thought we wouldn’t be convincing if we knew what we were there for. A sacrifice for the war effort, he told me later, after Voldemort scarred me and murdered my partner.”
Dumbledore didn’t react, at least not immediately. He was studying Michael closely, and Michael suddenly felt compelled to turn back to him.
“What would you have done in Rufus’ situation?” Dumbledore asked. Michael frowned at him.
“Are you asking me if I would have sacrificed two of my men to get a shot at Voldemort?” Michael wondered aloud.
“It is a fair question, if not a pleasant one,” Dumbledore replied.
“I understand how important killing that snake-freak is,” Michael said fiercely, “but I wouldn’t lie to the people who trusted me like that. If anything, I’d go myself and use my position as bait to draw out Voldemort. Sir, you know my position in STRIKE,” Michael added. “I haven't ever tricked any of my men into facing Voldemort with even numbers.”
“And instead you place yourself in the greatest danger?” Dumbledore inquired, his glasses sliding down his nose slightly.
“I've never set out for a suicide mission,” Michael answered. “Whatever dangers I face, I have to be confident I'm capable of handling them, along with my friends. That's the only way we can win this war, isn’t it? If the best of us give what we can?”
Dumbledore smiled. “You are not the only one who believes this struggle will come down to the quality of Wizards on each side, not the quantity. We have suffered great losses already, but I am, as you say, confident, in the quality of this coming generation. I am glad to have you here with us, Michael, but I'm afraid I must insist you do not interfere with the investigation of Severus Snape. Consider for a moment, your relationship with the Minister. I'm sure you can see why you would complicate matters,” Dumbledore urged him. Michael greatly resented the old man’s common sense.
“My presence would do more harm than good…” he muttered furiously. “I understand, and I’ll leave this to you. But who will be the Defense teacher?”
“Until Severus is released, I will fill the position myself,” he said, tapping his fingers on his desk. “I have no chance of finding another teacher on such short notice, and I will not allow a second Dolores Umbridge to wreak havoc upon my school.”
“So I’ll stay out of this, and continue with my current assignment then,” Michael acknowledged, standing again. “But if it comes to it, I will be paying Scrimgeour a visit, and rest assured you will hear about if I do.”
“Before you go,” Dumbledore said, sounding at once more like a teacher, and less like an exhausted general “There is one more thing, Mr. Jacobs.”
Michael stopped, recognizing the use of his last name. Teachers always did that when he were in trouble. Did the omniscient Dumbledore spy on his students nighttime prowling?
“Yes, sir?” he asked respectfully. Sir always helped.
“I hear from Mr. Filch that you and Miss Luna Lovegood where wandering the hallways of Hogwarts in the late hours of the night yesterday,” Dumbledore said, not accusingly, more questioningly. He was not jumping to conclusions, he gave him the chance to explain.
Michael turned and looked Dumbledore straight in the eye. He had to tell Dumbledore what they had been doing, but was resolute in that he would not betray Luna’s secret, not even to the mighty headmaster.
“Luna and I had something very important to talk about,” he said eventually. “I can't tell what we talked about, because it is extremely personal. But I can tell you nothing happened. We weren’t…you know.” He felt very uncomfortable discussing sexuality both concerning Luna and in the presence of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore watched him closely for a moment, then smiled. “I believe you, Michael. And I applaud your loyalty to your friend. I see it was no accident you were placed into Gryffindor.”
“Thank you, Professor.” He made to leave again, but then one more question swam into his head. “Wait, if the caretaker thought we were up to something, why didn’t he try to stop us?”
Dumbledore’s smile grew the tiniest amount. “Because he nowhere near the Wizard that Severus Snape is.”
Michael couldn’t help but laugh at that. He made one more attempt to slip away, but was stopped by Dumbledore yet again.
“Michael,” Dumbledore said very seriously, once again fixing that look on him.
“Yes, sir?” Michael asked, wondering what else he could have to say to him.
“Be good to Luna Lovegood. She has not had an easy life.”
“You don't know the half of it,” Michael couldn’t help muttering.
“Nor, I suspect, do you,” Dumbledore replied, none of his usual lightness in his voice. “Enjoy your classes the rest of the day.”
“You're going to be late for Charms,” Dumbledore reminded him, a little of the twinkle returning to his eye. Deciding to leave Dumbledore to his own devices for now, Michael finally escaped the Headmaster’s office.
In Charms, Professor Flitwick had decided that given recent events, namely the near death of a student, they should learn how to properly heal at least moderate wounds and injuries. Michael was vaguely familiar with basic Healing Charms, having needed many of them over the course of the last year. He found the Charm somewhat difficult as they practiced on gashed pumpkins, but enjoyed the challenge of learning something of actual use.
Ignoring his friends’ snide comments about him looking nervous and jumpy, Michael bade them goodbye as soon as class was over, and hurried off to the Gryffindor common room to meet Luna. He got there first and waited for her, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, ignoring the Fat Lady’s snide comments. He had already realized it was rather poor manners for him to make her come to him, but he really had no idea where anything else was in Hogwarts and didn’t think it was wise for either of them to be meeting in a very public place like the Great Hall yet.
She finally appeared after about a five minutes wait, out of breath and carrying a stack of books. “I’m sorry!” she said as soon as she was within audible range, “I got held up by Professor McGonagall in Transfiguration…it seems she heard something about the two of us being out late last night and wanted to talk to me, since she was sure Professor Flitwick wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, I talked to Dumbledore about that,” he said, taking the books from her arms. ”Don’t worry,” he added quickly, “I didn’t tell him what we spoke about, but I convinced him to leave it alone.”
“That’s good,” Luna said cheerfully. ”It was very awkward having Professor McGonagall try to ask me if I was having sex without actually using the word, I'm glad we won't have to have that conversation again. Shall we go to the Room of Requirement then?”
“Sure, lead the way.”
It took them a few minutes to reach the room, and they talked happily about random, trivial things along the way. It wasn’t until they were on the seventh floor that Luna turned the conversation more serious.
“So, I was wondering,” she began, still laughing at a story he had just finished about his, Jeff, and Sarah’s adventures in STRIKE, “if you could tell me about my mum? What she was like in STRIKE?”
“I wasn't there, obviously, but she’s a legend in the organization,” Michael told her. “It’s crazy to think she was doing the same job I am now when we were kids…making us sandwiches by day and taking down Dark Wizards at night. Your mom was pretty well liked by everyone, Luna. She…well they don't talk about her a lot around STRIKE, because of what happened to her…but when they do, it’s with a kind of awe. If she wasn’t so popular and skilled, I might never have heard about her. I’d never have known what happened to you…there’s two degrees of separation between us, actually. I replaced Captain James Fargo when he died three months ago; he had been head of Special Forces since your mom…left. I –” Michael hesitated, balking at the idea of suggesting an idea he might not ever be able to make real.
“Some time…later,” Michael said slowly, “if things ever change – between you, me, and STRIKE, I mean – I could try to find someone who worked with your mom to tell you about her. One of the other Captains I know would have been in the same role when your mom was. He and I don't exactly get along, but maybe I could find someone who knew her.”
“That would be nice,” Luna smiled. “So did she do the same kind of work you do? Protecting people and going to fight?”
“Well, Luna, there are really two kinds of operatives in STRIKE: One kind which tries to always save as many lives as possible, while still handling the job efficiently. The second type of person doesn’t care about lives other than his own and his close friends, if anyone. They do usually get the job done without fail though.
“Your mom was the first type,” he told her. “She never took a life if it meant innocent blood would be shed, and she was the best at making sure that never happened. She still holds the record for most ever missions run by an agent without a death on either side.”
“And what about you?” Luna asked him. “Which type are you?”
“I think mostly the first, but…my body count is up there,” he muttered, looking away from her. “It’s not like I go looking for it though.”
“Well, I think you sound exactly like the first type,” she said confidently. “I can't imagine you killing anyone, unless it was really necessary.”
“You’ve only known me for a day” he reminded her.
“No, I've known you for years,” she corrected him. “But I wouldn’t have to, to know that. Anyone who spoke to you for more than a few minutes could tell that you’re a good person.”
“Does it bother you that I've killed someone?” Michael asked her bluntly. She was already starting to rub off on him. “That I've killed multiple people?”
“No,” Luna said after a moment, shaking her head. “I can't imagine you enjoy it very much –”
“No,” Michael said quickly.
“I believe you're doing good,” Luna said, suddenly serious. “I believe that. I believe you're special.”
“Special?” Michael repeated, frowning.
“Yes,” Luna answered. “I can tell, when a person is special. When they're more. Harry is special, and Professor Dumbledore is special, and so are you.”
“I don't know about that,” Michael shrugged. “I'm just a guy. I’m not special in who I am, just maybe in what I can do.”
“I hope you can learn to see things differently eventually,” Luna said, sounding a little disappointed.
“I’ll do my best,” he said, smiling again. “Is this it?” he added as they came to a stop before a large expanse of blank wall.
“Yes, it is.”
“Luna, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but there’s nothing here…” he said doubtfully.
“What are we using this room for?” Luna asked him, ignoring his doubt.
“To practice and train in,” he answered, still looking at her disbelievingly. “But what room are we talking about here?”
“Just wait,” she said patiently. She paced back and forth in front of the wall, eyes closed. Michael watched her, wondering what she thought would happen. His eyes widened in surprise as a large wooden door appeared where the wall just was, and Luna stopped walking and looked at him.
“Does every part of this castle have some great ancient secret?” he asked, still staring uncertainly at the door.
“Come inside,” Luna offered. She pulled the door open and stepped inside, Michael followed behind her, looking around in awe. The room was enormous, filled with everything they could possibly ask for to train seven people.
There were piles of books in one corner, a number of humanoid dummies in another. The floor was soft and padded, and there were a number of wooden swords, staffs, and other weapons hanging on a wall.
“Wow,” he said, amazed he had doubted Luna. “This is really something else you’ve got here. Ever use it for anything else?” he added after a moment.
“Like what?” she asked, also examining the features of the room.
“I don’t know, anything,” he said, shrugging. “This would be good for anytime you wanted to be left alone, I bet,” he finished, a knowing look in his eye.
“Like do I ever hide here when people are cruel to me?” she asked bluntly, seeing exactly what he meant.
“Well…yeah,” he muttered uncomfortably. He hadn’t intended to pry. “Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have –”
“Yes, when I was younger,” she told him plainly. “I couldn’t always handle it as well back then and sometimes it made me very sad. But it turned out to be a good thing. Because of that, I was able to show Harry where the DA could meet last year,” she added brightly.
“So, how exactly do you get in?” he asked, badly wanting to change the subject.
“Oh, it’s easy,” she assured him. She explained how to make the door appear, and how to make it become exactly what you desired.
“This is great,” he said enthusiastically. “So, can you be back here after lessons today? Harry and all the others are coming so we can get a start on everything. I think you’ll like my first trick.”
“I’ll be there,” Luna promised. “But, can you do something for me Michael?”
“Probably,” he said confidently. “I can do a lot of things, what’d you need?”
“Could you help me tell Harry and the others about all this?” she asked softly. “There are still some parts I'm not completely sure about, and I think it would be helpful if we did it together.”
“Of course,” he said in the most comforting voice he could bring up. “When do you want to do it? We can wait if you like, I’ll make some excuse.”
“No, they should know today,” she said, shaking her head and sending her blonde hair flying. “I don't want them to think I’d keep anything from them.”
Michael thought that sounded a little strange, but he let it go.
“Whatever you think is best,” he nodded. Michael glanced at a clock that hung opposite the weapons. “We should probably go. It’s almost time for class.”
“I thought you chose to go to class or not yourself,” Luna said dreamily. “Or did Professor Dumbledore threaten to send you into the Forbidden Forest?”
“The what now?”
“The Forbidden Forest,” Luna repeated calmly. “It’s a rather horrible place filled with all kinds of interesting creatures like giant spiders and Feasting Flies. Professor Dumbledore sometimes sends students there for detention.” Michael blinked. “He’s a very good teacher besides that though!” Luna added earnestly. “And after all, there’s a very nice giant who lives there too, I think he might be Hagrid’s brother, his name is Gwarp. He doesn’t get along so well with the Centaurs though, they're rather territorial. I think they at least know better than to encroach on the Werewolves.” She smiled placidly at Michael as he took stock of the horrors she had described to him. Michael marveled that anyone without combat training managed to survive this school for seven years.
“But anyway,” Luna went on, as if none of the creatures she had mentioned – though Michael had never once heard of a Feasting Fly – had the ability to tear them limb from limb, “I thought you chose what classes to go to?”
“Well, I do!” he said defensively. “But if I just stop showing up to anything, people will start to wonder.”
“Yes, I suppose I need to go too,” she agreed. “Where are you going?” Michael had to rummage in his pocket for his schedule to double check.
“Erm…Transfiguration,” he read aloud. “What about you?”
“Arithmancy, with the Slytherins” she said, a strangely mundane tone of annoyance slipping into her words. It didn’t suit her.
“Ah, well, maybe you'll get to pick a few fights, eh?” Michael said, trying to sound jealous. He immediately felt stupid saying it.
“You haven't ever been in an Arithmancy class, have you?” Luna asked, now with a smile.
“I actually have no idea what Arithmancy is, to be honest,” he admitted as they left the room together. The second they were out the doorway, it melted back into plain wall. They parted ways at the first floor. Michael handed her back her books and headed down to Transfiguration, to join the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws.
“Where the hell have you been?” Jeff snarled at him the moment he caught sight of Michael, who slid into his seat closest to the door at the last second before the bell. He and Harry where wearing looks of equal annoyance and humor, while Ron and Hermione scowled at each other, sitting on Jeff’s left and Harry’s right. Sarah was idly scratching a drawing into the wooden top of the desk she sat at using her uninked quill.
“Why, what happened?” he asked warily as Professor McGonagall began her lecture. Fortunately the lesson today was all theory and they would not be asked to perform any magic in front of her. They spoke in broken exchanges each time her back was turned to write something on the large board behind her.
“Didn’t I tell you if anyone tried to kill each other, I'd have to deal with it?” Jeff asked angrily.
“What the hell are you talking about Allero?” Michael asked, eying the group in turn, lingering on the furious Ron and Hermione. “If two people nearly died in two days, things really have changed in the year I haven't been at school.” He thought of what Luna had told him about the Forest.
“These two!” Jeff replied in a whisper, pointing at Ron and Hermione, who were now glaring in opposite directions. “I thought you and Scrimgeour had big fights, but that’s nothing compared to them.”
“Well, if Ron wasn’t a pig, maybe we wouldn’t!” Hermione said harshly. She crossed her arms and turned to the front of the class, determined to pay attention only to McGonagall. She flushed bright red when she realized she had spoken far too loudly and drawn both the attention and ire of the Professor.
“What?” Ron shot back at her, after McGonagall had finished punishing Hermione with her stare. “It was a compliment!” Sarah buried her face in her hands and shook her head. Hermione’s only response was a quick ‘sushing’ noise and a flaring of her nose.
Michael laughed quietly to himself – everything seemed about three times as funny lately – and copied Hermione, turning his attention to the Transfiguration Master, who had thankfully failed to pick up on any more of the war being waged in the back of her classroom. Again Michael enjoyed the lesson, once he actually thought to pay attention to it. He had thought after a year of living independently and free, fighting dangerous duels almost daily, he might find school incredibly routine. And in fact, he did. What surprised him was that he was actually pleased with this – he had never especially liked lessons at Salem, after all. But for all his talk – most of it backed up – he had to admit, a little boring routine was nice. He was relishing this sheltered life, though he knew it could not last. Contrarily, Jeff and Sarah seemed restless and bored, ironic considering Sarah’s enthusiasm to come to Hogwarts. There was no denying the strong appeal of reconnecting with Luna as well, who made life anything but ordinary or dull. So for now, Michael was happy to live like a seventeen year old, daydreaming about spending time with a girl later and catching up on some of the more day-to-day forms of Transfiguration he had missed along with his final year at school.
He knew, still, it wouldn’t last.
It was time. As they packed away their things in Herbology, dirt under their fingernails, on their noses, and in their mouths, Michael knew he couldn’t put off his task any longer. He looked around to ensure they were alone enough to avoid being heard and then put his hand up to signify he wanted their attention. All five turned to look at him at once – it seemed they had been expecting this.
“It’s time I told you what I'm really doing here,” Michael said, mostly to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “Everything I told you was true; I'm here to keep an eye on the school for Dumbledore and stay with you three until we locate the Seven item we’re chasing. And as far as STRIKE knows, that's the only reason I'm here.” He sighed. “I didn’t come here for the cushy assignment or because of some agreement with Dumbledore. I came here because I knew Luna was here and after seven years, I couldn’t stop myself anymore. I had to go looking for her.”
“You’ve known her that long?” Ron asked, obviously surprised. “She's never mentioned you.”
“No, she wouldn’t have,” Michael grumbled, a little irritated by Ron’s phrasing. “She wants to explain everything to you in person but the short version is that we haven't seen each other since we were ten years old.”
“When her mother died?” Hermione surmised, looking slightly guilty for even bringing it up. Michael nodded.
“Yeah, we separated after that,” Michael told her. “For a long time, I had no idea why, and I won't lie, it messed me up a little for a while. All I knew was my best friend was gone without a word. After a while, of course, I made new friends, I met Jeff and Sarah a year later,” he said, gesturing briefly at the pair of them. “But I never could let go about what happened to that girl. A few months ago, I finally got my answer. Last night, I told her about it – about everything.” He paused. “For better or worse, Luna’s now as involved in this as any of us.”
Michael wasn’t sure how he felt about that last statement. Harry seemed like he wanted to ask something, but was concerned he should not. Michael frowned at him, giving him a look that urged him to get it out.
“Michael…” Harry said slowly, not quite looking him in the eyes. “Was Luna always…what was she like when you were kids?”
“Very similar,” Michael chuckled, knowing what Harry was getting at. But then he rubbed the back of his neck and moved slightly to force Harry to meet his eyes. “But back then she…well, I think there was a little more balance between her parents. Her mom was like her, don't get me wrong, but she was grounded in a way her dad never was.”
Ron grinned at that, and even Hermione smiled a little.
“I'm going to have to stay mysterious for now,” Michael said apologetically. “But actually…she wants to see us all right now, up at the Room of Requirement. I think she’s going to explain everything to you. She said you were her friends, and deserved to know. I’ll understand if anyone can't afford to miss dinner though,” he added with a laugh, eying Ron.
“No mate, I’m going,” Ron said, very seriously. Hermione’s smile became a little more noticeable, but Ron didn’t notice.
Without any more questions to ask or time to waste, the six teenagers headed off to the seventh floor to meet Luna, Michael leading the way, proud of himself for finally learning the layout of at least a bit of the castle. As they reached the corridor which contained the Room of requirement, Michael stopped abruptly. Turning to look straight at them he took a deep breath.
“Listen, there’s something I need to say. Luna was the one who insisted we tell you everything about her past, which means she trusts you a lot. But I know she doesn’t want you to treat her any differently….” Michael's own choice of words stung him. “What she's about to tell you is a big thing, and frankly, it’s a horrible thing. But –”
“Michael,” Harry cut across him, “whatever she tells us in there…Luna’s always going to be Luna, there’s no changing that.”
Michael laughed. “Good point,” he acknowledged. “C’mon, let’s go. Maybe then I can act like a person again.”
They all nodded seriously, and continued down the passage. They found Luna waiting outside the door, and she greeted them all cheerfully. The Trio greeted her warmly, but Sarah and Jeff hung back a bit to wait for Michael to make introductions. But Michael didn’t say anything to either of them; he was staring at Luna’s feet.
“Is something wrong?” she asked Michael, noticing his look.
“Luna, where are your shoes?” Michael asked, rubbing the back of her neck. Jeff and Sarah glanced down as well, and Harry gave him a look.
“I'm not sure,” Luna said thoughtfully, scrunching up her face. “I had them on during Charms, then I took a nap before Runes. I sleep with my shoes on, you know, but they were gone when I woke up. I wear them to bed because –”
“You sleepwalk,” Michael finished. He grinned. “I remember. You made your parents breakfast with your eyes closed when you were eight, you told me all about it the next day. But why don't you have your shoes now?”
“Well, someone probably hid them,” Luna hypothesized. Michael frowned.
“Your friends playing a joke on you?”
“No,” Luna replied with a small smile. “I don't really have any friends besides you.” She nodded at the assembled group, all of whom showed varying degrees of embarrassment. Michael wasn’t sure what to say – Luna hadn’t been especially popular when they were children either, but Michael supposed teenagers could be crueler than young children. He felt distinctly horrible for Luna, who seemed totally unbothered by this. “It’s all right,” she assured Michael, “with friends like you all, why would I need anyone else?”
Michael was suddenly seized by a desire to hold Luna very close to him; his heart seemed to jump against his chest in an attempt to be closer to her. But there were a number of reasons this would be highly inappropriate at the moment, so Michael compromised by merely touching her arm as he walked closer to the wall. A look Michael had not yet seen crossed Luna’s face as he did so. It was gone in a second, as was his hand, and Michael turned his attention back to the task before them.
Michael proceeded to make three passes before the Room, causing the same door to reappear. He opened it and led everyone inside.
The Trio, Jeff, and Sarah gaped at the room the same way he had. Jeff marched over to the weapons and began inspecting them, while Harry and Ron pulled a few of the dummies into the center of the room. Hermione, Sarah, and Luna remained standing with Michael. Hermione looked slightly awkward, waiting to hear this secret of Luna’s. Sarah, on the other hand, was staring at Luna sideways, a thoughtful look on her face. Luna suddenly turned to look at her, and Sarah jumped slightly and hurriedly looked over at Jeff.
“How was your summer, Hermione?” Luna asked politely.
“Oh,” she said, obviously surprised, “it was fine. I spent most of my time with Ron and Harry.”
Luna smiled. “That's good,” she said dreamily. “Maybe someday I’ll spend the summer holiday with you. I think we’d have a fun time working on Runes together.”
“Runes?” Hermione asked, frowning.
“Yes,” Luna said enthusiastically. “I've been trying to finish Erenheimer’s Translation, but I've run into some difficulties. Maybe you could help me?”
“Erenheimer’s?” Hermione repeated, her eyes widening. “Luna, that translation was lost during the sacking of Berlin in the forties.”
“No, the majority of it was recovered by some French Wizards after the war,” Luna disagreed pleasantly. “But it remains incomplete in some very important areas. I have a reproduction at my house, maybe you could come over and I could show you some time.”
“Luna, do you want to tell us something?” Hermione asked bluntly. Michael could tell instantly she was not trying to be rude, she simply had a hard time focusing on anything else when this one large revelation loomed before them.
“Oh, yes,” Luna said, shaking her head, almost as if she had forgotten, distracted by more important matters. “Michael?”
“Will you help me?”
And so Luna began her tale. She presented everything plainly, objectively, and honestly, pausing only to confirm certain bits with Michael, who felt strangely like an intruder, filling in details about the murder of Elysina Lovegood and her daughter’s resulting injury.
Sarah and Jeff already knew the majority of what had happened, and thanks to too much alcohol and too late of nights joining forces, they knew quite a bit of what Luna had meant to Michael as well. Harry and his best friends were far more shocked by what Luna revealed to them, especially the fact that Michael and Luna had once been nearly inseparable. Jeff was watching Michael rather than Luna for much of the story, but Michael paid him little attention in reply.
Finally, the deed was done and after somewhat tentative gestures of compassion and support from the Trio, Luna smiled and turned to Michael.
“So then, you said you had something very cool to show us,” she said, clasping her hands behind her and rolling back and forth on her heels.
“Remember the demonstration we got from Captain Fargo, Sarah?” he asked the other STRIKE agent. She smiled reminiscently.
“When he offered to teach us? Of course,” she said. “How could I forget? Is that what you’re going to do with them?”
“It made an impression, didn’t it?” Michael asked. Sarah laughed.
“Yes, I suppose it did.”
“Great, let’s get to it then.” He closed his eyes tightly, muttering under his breath. He opened his eyes and looked around expectantly, and was pleased to see a stack of thick books lying near the other volumes of literature.
He walked over and picked them up with a grunt. As he carried them to the middle of the room, where Ron and Harry were already taking practice shots at the dummies, he called them all to him.
Jeff put back the long sword he had been studying, and seeing what Michael was doing, grinned as he strolled into the center to join the others, all of whom looked confused and expectant, apart from Sarah.
“Catch,” Michael said, tossing Harry one of the books, which he caught easily. “Jeff, Sarah, back up a bit,” he continued, throwing Ron, Hermione and Luna all one in turn, keeping one clutched in his hand.
“These are full of blank pages,” Hermione said, already having cracked open the thick tome. She flipped through the pages hopefully, but closed it with a disappointed look.
“I know,” Michael said. “I didn’t want you to lose your mind in the next minute. Anyway, do me a favor and tear those in half for me,” he added casually.
They all shared bewildered looks. “Tear it in half?” Ron said uncertainly. Michael nodded once at him. “Um, okay…” he began to pull it all different ways, employing all his strength, but to no effect. The others copied him, although Luna muttered strange words under her breath, apparently convinced that this would increase her strength. If it did, it was still not enough and she gave up, instead placing the book at her feet and sitting down on top of it. She propped her chin in her hands with her elbows on her knees and watched.
“Well, there’s an easy way to do this,” said Hermione, who had barely tried to do any damage. She drew out her wand, but the second it was out of her pocket, it flew across the room, and Michael was looking at her with his wand pointed at her and a complacent smile on his face.
“My wand!” she cried indignantly.
“Is a Dark Wizard going to let you keep your wand?” Michael asked boorishly. “Is he going to leave you any way to defend yourself? No, no he will not. That is why you have to leave yourself a way to protect yourself.”
With that he dropped the leather-bound book in his hand to his feet, and took a breath. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Luna all stared in disbelief as before their eyes, Michael Jacobs transformed from a man standing in front of them, into a lean white wolf.
It snatched up the book its jaws and proceeded to tear it apart, shaking its head rapidly. Once it had been reduced to shreds, the wolf spit the remainder out of its mouth, threw back its snowy head, and let out a howl. Luna was staring wide eyed at the wolf, which was now bounding around the room at blazing speeds, near her.
“I think that’s enough showing off Michael,” Jeff muttered, as Michael made to take another lap. The wolf skidded to a stop inches from him, looking up at him, fangs bared and growling. Jeff, however, didn’t seem impressed. ”Think you’re a big man, huh? We’ll see….” With that Jeff too morphed into a wolf, this one with a dark brown coat of fur. The two wolves circled each other, Sarah backing off a few paces.
“Guys,” she said slowly, actually looking afraid, “There’s no need to – Oh my God!” she cried as the two wolves launched at each other, leaping through the air like demons, claws out and with equal howls of fury.
Hermione screamed and turned away, shielding her eyes. Luna stared, her mouth wide open. But there was no need: Michael and Jeff were lying in a heap, back in human form and roaring with laughter.
Sarah looked absolutely furious.
“What the hell?” she screamed hysterically. “That’s not what Fargo did to show us the wolf form! I really thought you were going to kill each other!” Both boys continued to laugh. “I'm going to kick your asses!”
“Sorry, sorry,” Michael wheezed, out of breath from laughter. “But you can't deny that was hilarious!”
“Yeah, it was!” Jeff put in, “We planned it out right before we came up here! The looks on your faces!” he said, turning to the other four, who had remained rooted to the same spot, watching with horror at first, now mingled admiration and laughter on Harry and Ron's faces, terror on Hermione’s, and polite curiosity on Luna’s.
“How long have you been doing that?” she asked, as Sarah stormed away, not amused by her friends’ antics.
“Four or so months. And get the hell off me,” he added, trying to disentangle himself from Jeff. “Sarah can too, but I don’t think she’ll oblige with a demonstration right now….”
But at that exact moment a slender black wolf came speeding at the two, who rolled opposite directions to avoid it. It slid a few feet, then spun around to face them, snarling menacingly.
“Look, sorry okay?” Jeff apologized, picking himself up and dusting off his robes. “No need to go all she-wolf on us, okay?”
“Yeah, it was a bad idea,” Michael said, hastily getting to his feet too. “Sorry we scared you.”
With a last growl, she slowly changed from a wolf on four paws, back to Sarah Crystalake, standing on her feet, and still glaring at them.
“You, scare me?” Sarah repeated. “Not likely.”
“So how long will it take us?” Ron asked excitedly. “How long did it take you?”
“Glad to see you appreciate the usefulness of such a skill,” Michael said with a satisfied grin, “Our Captain in STRIKE taught us the Animagus form shortly before he died. There’s a book we used, I’ll get you all a copy. If you want it, that is.”
“Of course!” Harry and Ron said at the same time. Luna considered him for a moment.
“Well, I have heard that wolves frighten Heliotropes,” she said fairly. “Okay, I’ll do it. But you didn’t say how long it would take.”
But Michael was watching Hermione, who was staring at the destroyed book, a fearful look on her face.
“You all want to be able to do that?” she asked, pointing to the mass of wet paper strips. “You want to do that to a human being?” There was incredulity and disgust in her voice.
“That’s no worse than what they would do to us!” Ron said angrily. But Michael shook his head.
“Actually, none of us has ever killed another person in wolf form,” he said coolly. “That is a huge part of why we learned this power. Imagine how many fights you could prevent just by changing forms. It’s enough to make most Death Eaters run before they have a chance to kill anybody, namely you.”
“So it’s a scare tactic?” Harry asked.
Michael shrugged. “Partially. I mean, it definitely has useful combat applications as well. The heightened smell and animal sixth sense help with recon and tracking too. And lately we’ve found it has other uses besides all that.”
“What else?” Ron asked, his excitement only growing.
“STRIKE has a running list of the most dangerous Death Eaters in Voldemort’s army,” Michael told them all. “Bellatrix Lestrange sits at the top, followed by Lucius Malfoy. No, really,” he added at an audible scoff from the male members of the Trio. “He’s become a bit of a fuckup lately, no denying that. But during the first war he killed and tortured almost as many Muggles as Bellatrix, and what's more – he's got more resources than her.”
“He’s still a respected member of high society,” Hermione murmured. Michael nodded.
“It’s amazing how much more deadly an innocent face can make a man,” he said darkly. “Don't underestimate him. Until recently Antonin Dolohov was listed as the third…he won't be an issue anymore.”
“Did you –?”
“Not really,” Michael replied. “He was cut down by friendly fire.”
“Snape doesn’t make an appearance on this list,” he added before Harry could say anything. He grinned a little at him. “But his replacement isn’t much better. You’ve all met him. You especially should remember him, Hermione.”
“Greyback,” she said coolly, obviously remembering her near death experience at the Burrow earlier that summer.
“Exactly,” Michael confirmed. “And while he isn’t an especially talented Wizard, you all know what he is. But more than that, he's a leader. A leader to his people, his Werewolves. If he’s working closely with Voldemort –”
“It means more Werewolves are coming to join him,” Jeff said, his voice full of spite and his fists clenched. “We know this for a fact – STRIKE and the Order both came to this conclusion on their own. And if the Werewolves are coming, it doesn’t bode well for the situation with the giants, or especially, the Vampires.”
“Vampires and Werewolves both have particular senses honed to hunt humans,” Luna said quietly. “But they can't detect animals, can they?”
“Not any more than ordinary,” Michael responded. “A Vampire on the lookout might recognize an Animagus if he had enough time, but as a general rule, shifting forms is the best way to avoid being stalked and blindsided by a Dark creature.”
Five of them nodded agreement at Michael. Hermione looked at him oddly, her eyes narrowed slightly. Then she sighed.
“You make a lot of good points Michael, I'm sorry I jumped at you like that. I think it’s actually a good idea. It’s necessary. I’ll do it.”
“Great,” Michael said, relieved. He didn’t have a contingency if one of them had refused. “And here’s your wand, sorry about that,” he added, summoning it wordlessly and tossing it to her. “And to answer your earlier question, it could take anywhere from a month,” he gestured at himself, “to two,” he gestured to Sarah.
“Do you have the book with you?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, here….” He waved his wand and four copies of a small paperback book fell into his hands. “Don’t worry,” he added with a smirk to Ron, as he had blanched at the sight of extra books, “it’s mainly a lot of pictures.” Ron cracked into a smile at that.
He handed each of them one. Hermione immediately began flipping through hers, eyebrows raised, impressed by the simple, yet precise instructions. Harry took his with a question.
“This is brilliant and all,” he said, “but we’ve got lessons, Quidditch season will start soon, and lives to live on top of it all. When are we going to find time for this?”
“Just read the book during class, as long as it isn’t Dumbledore’s or McGonagall’s,” Michael suggested. “I don’t think you'd survive if one of them caught you slacking off.”
Just then he heard a loud growl and thought that Jeff or Sarah had returned to wolf form, but then realized it was his own stomach.
“Wow, I'm starving,” he said, suddenly aware they were missing dinner. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Seconded” Jeff murmured.
“Thirded” Ron grumbled.
Let’s go then,” Michael said, as the others headed out the door. “Join us for dinner, Luna?”
“At the Gryffindor table?” she asked, though she smiled. “I'm not sure if that's allowed.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” he said carelessly. “None of you have a problem with that, do you?” he added, glancing around at the others, all of whom shook their heads. Luna beamed even more.
“I hope we’re having soup,” she said enthusiastically. “Did you know onion soup is very good with Maltese beetles? And sometimes I like to mix my pumpkin juice with stew, it’s very good –”
“And I thought you looked excited,” Jeff muttered to Ron as Luna went on.
“It’s going to be so nice to eat together, all of us friends,” Luna said eagerly. “You don’t see too many Slytherins at the Hufflepuff table, do you?”
“Well no,” Michael said slowly, considering this. “But that’s just because the Slytherins are too stupid to tell snakes from their own –”
All the boys laughed loudly, cutting off his final, but unnecessary, word. Sarah bit her lip and stared determinedly away from anyone else, although she was letting out small giggles. Hermione looked like she would rather be with Voldemort than Michael at the moment. But Luna turned to Michael, eyes wide.
“I remember that,” she whispered. “I…I remember that horrible, horrible saying from when we knew each other!”
“Yeah, and you thought it was funny then too,” Michael said proudly.
“Hold on,” Harry said, “what kind of ten year old talks about – that – anyway?”
“Hey,” Michael said defensively “I was nearly eleven, give me a break!” They laughed all the way to dinner, where they heaped large portions of spaghetti onto their plates, thrilled at the prospect of their new powers.
“Are you sure we’ll all be able to actually become wolves?” Luna asked Michael as he contemplated his goblet of pumpkin juice. She was sitting on his left, paying more attention to him than to her food.
“Yeah,” Michael said, shrugging and adding a small amount of the orange liquid to his bowl of stew. “Normally you don't choose what form you take when you become an Animagus, but Fargo was something of a master shifter. He created a learning technique that allows a person to choose their animal, if their will is strong enough.” Michael tasted a spoonful of stew and was surprised to find it actually was very good.
“Captain Fargo was pretty great,” Sarah agreed from across the table. “He always took an interest in us.” She leaned in closer so only the group of seven could hear. “He was the one who recommended we not register with the Ministry.”
“Captain before your mother was a renown Metamorphous,” Michael said, looking over at Luna. She set down her drink and raised her eyebrows. “Your mom didn’t have either of those skills – as far as I know – so it’s even more impressive she was able to become Captain. Special forces usually likes their heads to have one of those powers.”
Luna raised her pale eyebrows. “I wonder what kind of powers she did have…” she said thoughtfully. Michael had a feeling she was talking more to herself than to him. “I never saw her fight anyone for any reason.”
“Neither did I,” Michael replied, knowing deep down what Luna had just said was not really true. He repressed that – they'd deal with that later. “But that's a pretty shallow way to judge a Witch or Wizard’s skills.
“I wonder if Mum was an Animagus,” Luna said pensively. “She loved to fly…maybe she was a bird?”
“I don't know Luna,” Michael said doubtfully. “Your mom didn’t need gimmicks to be an amazing Witch –”
“– whereas Michael needs to revert to an animal form to frighten anyone,” Hermione quipped, obviously still sore with him for the argument as well as the destruction of the books.
“You're mad Hermione,” Ron said disbelievingly. “He might look like a scrawny bloke, but he's got some serious magic.”
Jeff nearly spat out his drink as he laughed at Ron’s joke, but Harry seemed deep in thought about something, as he had been since Michael had shown him his Animagus form. Michael took out his wand with his left hand and aimed it back and forth between Jeff and Ron, unsure whom he wanted to hex more. Just as he settled on Ron, Luna placed a small hand on top of his own and gently pushed his wand arm back down to bench they sat on.
“You can't spend your whole life fighting,” Luna said serenely. “Your stew will get cold.” Michael opened his mouth, glanced at his friends, then shut his mouth again. He picked his spoon back up, but didn’t move his left hand from its position; Luna made no effort to free her hand either.
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