The Battle Ground
Sirius was irritated with Kreacher. There was no denying that there was something not quite right about the servant. Sirius, for want of a better description, was getting frustrated, not just with this living vestige of his suffocating upbringing but with every aspect of being trapped in a house that reminded him continually of his Black heritage. He was trapped, incarcerated, imprisoned and whatever word that there could be in the English language to describe his miserable state.
He’d thrown a glass down on the floor in anger.
“Clean up this mess at once!” he yelled stomping off to his room. It was late and he may as well be in bed. Heaven forbid it if he didn’t get enough rest in order to do nothing tomorrow again. It was worse than being in Azkaban. At least in prison he’d had his revenge against Peter to look forward to and keep him going.
He threw himself on the bed flicking his wand to light the lamp next to his bed. He’d read until he fell asleep. He would die of boredom if something didn’t happen soon.
“I’ve been waiting for your esteemed presence for nearly an hour, young man,” said the portrait of Phineas Black snootily. He stood in his frame across the room with his arms folded. The portrait wore that familiar and handsome Black family severity that Sirius knew so well. He had the like on his own face.
“What’s happened?” said Sirius excited. Dumbledore only sent Phineas Black when something important had happened.
“I’m not sure,” said Phineas with a sniff. “I’ve missed most of the excitement while waiting for you to saunter through that door.”
Sirius gritted his teeth. “Please tell me why you’ve been sent, sir.” The portrait was as much a pain as the real Black must have been.
Phineas smiled smugly. “He’s told me to tell you that he’s coming soon.”
“I imagine it should be fairly quickly since you took an age and a day to come up to your rooms.”
“You could have called from a portrait downstairs. We’ve seemingly dozens of relatives down there,” said Sirius not even attempting to hide his impatience.
“Your dear mother and I don’t get along,” said Phineas. “I hesitate to wake the lady.”
Sirius laughed out loud with a release. “You and me, both, sir,” he said. “Now, why’s he coming?”
“I’ve no idea.” Phineas appraised his nails with some interest.
“Of course, you do.”
“I imagine that I might have heard a thing or two.”
“There’s the possibility that the Ministry of Magic is going to let Dumbledore go.”
“Dumbledore sacked? No!”
Phineas looked up disgusted. “Young man, I’m not accustomed to relaying false stories.”
“He asked me to ask you to alert Kingsley Shacklebolt at the Ministry, as well.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” spat Sirius suddenly panicked. “I hope it’s not too late!” He started to head for the door.
“You needn’t bother, as I’ve already taken care of the matter,” said Phineas. He was looking at Sirius strangely.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I took the time before arriving to hasten to a small and insignificant portrait of myself at the Ministry where I held a position before becoming Headmaster at Hogwarts. From there, I was able to convey the information.”
Sirius waited for a broader explanation.
“I wished to speak to you before things got, well, too involved.” Phineas narrowed his gaze and lifted his nose to give emphasis to the gravity of his behavior.
Sirius moved closer to the portrait. He couldn’t help being suspicious. It was a habit of his upbringing to be wary any other Black’s agenda. The portrait was behaving strangely. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Your heritage,” said Phineas severely. “You are the last male in a long line. You have responsibilities to your family name.”
Sirius’ mouth dropped. “You’re joking.”
“I do not joke, young man.” Phineas wagged a threatening finger at Sirius. “There are other Blacks but frankly, they are women. They cannot carry on the Black name and from what I’ve seen they are nefarious in character or in other ways unacceptable. To put it bluntly, I didn’t have much hope at all until you proved yourself heroic. It’s a less than appropriate Gryffindor trait albeit, but more commendable then being a slave to that Voldemort creature. The point is that you must see to it that the line is carried on. I must overlook your often less desirable qualities due your being sorted into Gryffindor. The Black blood is in your veins. Blood will prevail, you’ve only to procreate.”
Sirius chuckled good-naturedly. “How would you propose that I accomplish this?”
“You’re a Black. There must be innumerable young women of appropriate blood to marry.”
Sirius sat on the bed, his mouth open until he doubled over with laughter.
“I fail to see the humor in your situation,” said Phineas dangerously. “The Headmaster will back be up, won’t you, Albus?”
Albus Dumbledore had quietly appeared at the door. He ignored the portrait to enjoy a rare moment of Sirius in laughter. “It’s good to see you laughing again, Sirius,” he said. His eye twinkled with merriment.
Sirius jumped up. “What’s happened, sir? Is Harry all right?”
“He’s fine, fine. May I come in?”
“Of course, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable downstairs?”
“No, no,” said Dumbledore accepting an offered chair and nodding to Phineas. “I wish Phineas to hear our conversation so that he might report back to the others.” Albus had created a complicated network of knowledgeable spies throughout the castle and he wished them to be informed in order to continue to be his eyes and ears while he was away.
“What is your concern, Phineas?” asked Dumbledore with a little smile forming on his lips.
“Nothing that need concern you.” Phineas folded his arms petulantly and looked away.
“He’s decided that I have a responsibility to my heritage,” said Sirius bitterly. “The Black’s need a male heir, you see.” Sirius laughed, but this time the sound was stained with self-pity. “As if that was possible trapped as I am in this mausoleum.”
Dumbledore’s expression changed to one of concern. “It’s important that you stay here, Sirius. You mustn’t let yourself be caught or bring any attention to Grimmauld Place, for Harry’s sake.”
“I’m doing him no bloody good cooped up here!” His frustration was bubbling over again.
“Ah, but you are,” said Dumbledore calmly. “You are. He finds comfort in knowing that you’re safe. You’re the most important person in Harry’s life and he needs you.”
Sirius said nothing.
“You might consider Harry as your heir. That would make your bond as guardian even stronger. He needs you, Sirius. I could arrange for the papers to be drawn up.”
Sirius looked thoughtful, happier even.
“He’s not a Black!” said Phineas beyond them.
Sirius grinned. “No, he’s not a Black but he’s my godson.”
Satisfied, Dumbledore relaxed a bit and they discussed recent events at the castle. The Ministry had arrived when they’d discovered Harry and his friends in the Room of Requirement. It had been a planned coup orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge. Dumbledore had taken the blame for Dumbledore’s Army and been sacked. It was nothing that he hadn’t seen coming or planned for. “You must stay alert while I’m in Wolvin, Sirius,” said Dumbledore.
“I should be there with you! You know it!” Sirius hated always being left behind. “Wolvin is protected from the Ministry. If Voldemort can hide there, then why can’t I? I need to fight, Albus.” He was a desperate man. “Pettigrew would be there with him. Give me the chance to avenge James and my wasted life.”
Dumbledore was stern. “Harry needs you here, Sirius. You can’t be risked.” His face softened. “You’re all he has left in the world. You must be patient.”
“That word should be written on my gravestone,” said Sirius bitterly.
Dumbledore grimaced. He stared hard at Sirius. “Severus said those exact words to me, recently. You’ve more in common then you’ll admit with him, my friend.”
Sirius said nothing. He stared off into space resenting his life. Severus was a git bugger out there enjoying his life while he wasted away to nothing in his the tomb of his childhood. He’d rather face Voldemort.
Felicity was in hunting mode and felt exhilarated. Every fiber of her body was alive with the adrenalin of the chase. As she floated in the sky with the breeze lifting in her wings and the moist rush of cloud in her nostrils, she felt alive and free. It was glorious.
She circled the forest waiting for her prey. If Remus tracked down Barnabus, which he surely would, he would either talk him into returning with them or flush him out. She would see him running from this height. A dragon’s eyesight is precise. Like a hawk floating in the wind, she waited above. She would see anything that emerged from the forest.
As she waited, she contemplated her place in the world. Long hours in flight meditation came back to her. This is what had been missing from her life. This was what had led to her misery at Hogwarts. A dragon must fly, if only to commune with the wind, and the clouds. She twitched her wings to catch an updraft and considered never returning to the school. It would be so easy. Severus barely needed her, now. The students were bored with what she was forced to teach them anyway. She hated Dolores Umbridge and was horrid at all the diplomatic dodging that the zealot required. She could stay here in Wolvin and be of more use to the Order’s cause.
Suddenly, Felicity saw movement and all thoughts of self disappeared. Her instincts kicked in. Prey! Prey in flight! She swooped down toward it with a lightning speed, her head in a dive and her wings held close. She dropped out of the sky so fast that the thestral had barely topped the trees and she was upon them.
Memories, dragon memories of hunting cautioned Felicity against plucking the prey out of the sky. Felicity was fearless in many things but she remembered her near death experience when she’d become she, when girl had become dragon. Felicity and Felicity had become who they were because of such a hunt. She circled the thestral that reared in terror when she brushed it with her great wing. A thestral had an eerie call when in distress. It was high pitched and hurt Felicity’s sensitive hearing. She roared in response.
Barnabus held onto the thestral with a look of fright on his face. The dragon circled, pushing the pair in a herding way. She tried to steer the thestral away from where it’s rider wanted it to go. The thestral became confused and panicked. It circled erratically crying out with alarm. The great dragon flapped its wings and held itself vertically in the air. It roared ferociously. The thestral turned in the direction that Felicity was heralding it to fly.
Felicity had spotted a crowd gathering on the back lawn of the Gray’s house. She aimed the thestral there. Her mind reached out to the frightened creature and she tried to soothingly coax it onward toward the crowd on the ground.
Barnabus seemed to find his wits when he realized that Felicity was controlling the thestral. He turned his wand toward Felicity, who laughed with a dragon’s laugh at the insignificant spells the boy was throwing at her. A dragon cannot be touched by the weak kneed threats of an underage wizard!
She reared then. An underaged wizard in the sky would alert the ministry to the existence of Wolvin! The fool! She roared with magic fire at the idiot child who was putting them all in danger. Before she realized what she’d done, both thestral and rider were falling from the sky, wounded and burnt.
Felicity bent her head and dove for them. Snatching both in her talons and flapping her wings with great effort to gently bring them to the ground. The load was almost too much for her. She had to compensate with a spell to lighten them, something very difficult to do in her dragon form. By the time she finally reached the ground, just behind the Gray’s barn, she was panting with fatigue and her quarry were as limp as rags.
The crowd of people had witnessed the fight above and come running. Felicity limped away from them too weak to change. She was furious at herself. She would never survive Voldemort if a mere pup of a boy could wear her out like this. It was only the exertion of the weight that had weakened her but now she was certain that she needed to gather her strength, not as a human, but as a dragon. Her human form had weakened her.
She searched the jumble of humans that gathered about the limp forms of the thestral and Barnabus to find Remus and mewed to him. It was the pitiful sound of a young dragon for its mate or its mother. She was deeply ashamed of her disability and felt guilt at harming the foolish child.
Remus turned from the horrific scene of the burnt form of the boy. It sickened him. Some sort of fire had damaged half of the boy’s body. Wizards weren’t burnt by fire! Every school-aged child knew that.
Felicity called him again and he hastened toward her. Though he’d seen Felicity as a dragon, he’d never seen her complete while he was in his fully human form. She frightened him. She was an animal, brutal and deadly. He was ashamed of himself. He moved tentatively toward her. She bent her head in submission and guilt. She’d not meant to hurt the boy, only stop him from endangering the safety of Wolvin from the Ministry.
Remus felt her thoughts reaching out to him and softened, touching her head with his hand. She mewed the pitiful sound of her guilt again, a dragon in abeyance.
“It’s all right, Felicity,” said Remus gently. “You were protecting us. I think I understand, now. I only hope he’ll live. I’ve no experience of these wounds. Will he? Will he make it?”
He would live, she thought bitterly; the foolish child. She wanted to help him but she could not change yet. She needed to regroup, to restore herself as a full dragon. Dumbledore, she thought and transferred the image to Remus’ mind. Dumbledore could help the boy. He was on his way.
Remus nodded in understanding and Felicity turned from him. She would need a large rock or a warm perch somewhere high to gather her strength and shed the weaknesses of her human form. She turned one last time to look at the man that she loved and who loved her. The wolf, a predator like herself, he was standing alone and looking forlorn. She could not help him now, not without gaining her dragon strength back. A larger predator than both of them lurked now within Wolvin.
Turning, she willed herself into the sky. She knew that she would have to find a rock that rose high in the sky. She would warm herself when the sun rose from the east. Her instincts guided her. The sky was darkening. Night had come. She went out alone to become a strong dragon once again. Voldemort was waiting out there somewhere. She must be ready.
The night was the darker kind where the starlight is shrouded by deep and ominous storm clouds that blanket the sky. The moon was almost full and somewhere in the world it could be seen in its bright globe glory but not here, not in Wolvin, not on this night. Albus Dumbledore arrived in Wolvin late. It was well after midnight when he apparated to the front lawn of the Gray’s expansive house. He’d not been there in many years.
The great wizard paused on the threshold communing with the place. Though it was late, he could feel many awake and agitated souls within the house. It was alive with the worry and adrenalin of those readying for an attack. Felicity had certainly alerted them and they were gathering, readying to protect themselves. His heart constricted in remorse. Who would lose a life? So many had already been lost. This war was not to be. This war should not have happened. Voldemort should already be dead. Only the prophecy had led him to suspect otherwise for all these years. As he had watched Harry Potter grow into a young man, he had waited for it to reveal a path, knowing that Tom Riddle, the fiend that was Voldemort was still out there somewhere.
Voldemort had not died that night in Godric’s Hallow, and was like a cat with many lives. How many lives? The diary had given him his first clue of Voldemort’s hold on immortality. It made his blood harden in his veins to accept what Voldemort must have done to create it. Tom Riddle had lived in that diary and he’d created it with a blood magic of the very worst, most sinister kind when he’d only been sixteen years old. Dumbledore had suspected a Horcrux when Harry had explained how he’d saving the Ginny Weasley. When the nature of the diary had been revealed but the concept was so revolting to his very nature that he’d taken longer than he should have to come to the conclusion that he had. To halve your own soul for immortality was a death worse than death. The question now remained. How many Horcruxes had Tom Riddle created and what form had he used? So many lives were at risk on the battlefield being prepared this night and yet they might all die in vain if even one Horcrux still existed.
Albus stood on the threshold of the Gray’s household. He let the damp dark air caress his face. Were he a younger man, he may have been less patient. He was not.
A bat sent out a trill.
He was not young.
A soft rustle in a tree near the house revealed a nesting bird alerted to his presence.
He was patient.
Dumbledore turned and opened the door into a room in an uproar. A sea of faces turned when he entered. People were talking all at once and John Gray, who was standing in the hall with the crowd that spilled into the parlor looked up to see Albus Dumbledore enter. John raised his hands for quiet.
“You’ve come,” he said to Dumbledore. “Thank you.”
Dumbledore looked seriously from face to face in the room. He recognized none of them but John, who he hadn’t seen in many a year. The room had silenced. Albus Dumbledore had that effect on people. “I’m sorry that our circumstances are as they are, my old friend,” he said.
John nodded. “We need you upstairs,” he said. He turned to one of his sons standing next to him. “Get started,” he said simply and abruptly went up the wide staircase toward the bedrooms expecting the headmaster to follow. At times of crisis neither man stood on ceremony. A boy’s life and all their lives were at stake.
Albus followed up the stairs until they came to a lavatory room. It was a large and tiled room with the fittings and accoutrements of any fine bathroom. Remus sat in a chair beside the claw footed tub looking completely out of place in his tattered brown robe. He was dirty, as if he’d crawled through mud and had the cuts on his face as he often did after a full moon. But it was not yet moon night. He stood and smiled sadly at Dumbledore’s entrance.
Agatha, who was tending to the boy in the bath looked up as the men entered the room and instantly burst into tears upon seeing Dumbledore. She ran to him and it was then that Albus saw Barnabus, a boy he’d never seen, lying naked and burned in the bath.
“Albus,” she cried into his shoulder. “Do something, please. It’s magic fire. I don’t know what to do. The potion in the bath should heal him and revive him. It’s as if I’d never been a healer. He won’t wake up.”
Albus looked past the crying woman in his arms to Remus. “Felicity did this?” he said surprised.
Remus sighed and looked down at the boy. “He knew where Voldemort was,” he said quietly. “Felicity and I drove him into the forest where I found him and tried to convince him to come back to help us but he escaped into the air on a thestral.” He stared hard into Albus’ face. “She was herding he and the beast back to the ground when he started casting spells at her. She reacted instinctually, not wanting to alert the ministry to Wolvin. They were high above the shielding spells.”
“I see.” Albus looked down at the boy while Agatha still whimpered in his arms. “There, there, now Agatha, my dear,” he said softly. He kindly shifted her with a squeeze to her husband and leaned over the boy in the tub. The water was a pale blue hue that glowed and smelled of lavender. He smelled the parts of the potion sensing its strength. “Did you use the Weasles Wort?”
Agatha nodded. “I gather it in the forest and dry it myself every year. I used the alcohol base.”
“And the lavender?”
“The short form, and crushed, sir.”
Dumbledore stroked his beard. He looked at the boy thinking hard, and then opened his robe to reveal containers, just as Felicity had in her robes. He chose a silver vial that sparkled when touched and withdrew it. He dumped the contents into the bath. The pale blue water began to swirl. Dumbledore hummed to himself as he drew out his wand and swished it as if he were guiding the water to swirl faster. It did swirl faster and began to boil and churn and spit sparks.
The boy moaned as if waking. His head was held magically above the potion on a pillow while the rest of his body was completely submerged. Then the potion began smoking and spurting so much that nothing could be seen of Barnabus at all. Agatha, John and Remus stood transfixed as Albus calmly hummed to himself a strange jumpy tune and swished and flicked his wand. After a good five minutes the potion began to change color, to darken and then after another five minutes it slowed and began to die down to reveal a vividly black goop in the tub.
Barnabus’ head still rested on the pillow looking now completely serene but bizarre sticking as it did out of the thick inky pool.
His eyes flew open suddenly and he gasped for air in a panic. He sat bolt upright and then stood. The potion ran down his body in a black brackish mess. Barnabus starred wildly at Albus.
Agatha gasped when she saw his naked skin. “He’s completely healed,” she cried. She grabbed a robe from the door and went to cover the boy.
“Don’t touch him,” said Albus in a faraway voice. He stood watching Barnabus with a strange and stern look on his face while Barnabus had not moved and stood starring back. It was surreal to witness.
The black mess dripped from the boy’s body and no one in that lavatory moved a muscle. The boy stood with his mouth open and his eyes wide in a trance. Dumbledore never broke eye contact.
Then it was over. Albus flicked and swished with his wand once more and the blackness was gone. As if in an elaborate day, the boy stepped gracefully from the tub and walked past them down the hall. Agatha with a single nod to Dumbledore went after him.
The three men stood around the now white tub.
“What just happened, Albus?” said John.
Remus nodded in agreement.
Dumbledore smiled serenely. “The boy’s been duped. He’s been through a great deal.” He smiled at John. “Voldemort promised him his mother’s life. It was a lie, most likely, but Tom will say anything to intimidate the young and helpless. Felicity was right to stop him. He would have died if he’d reached where Voldemort is hiding.” His face darkened. “I’ll have to discuss her methods of persuasion, however. If I hadn’t come tonight, the boy might have been permanently maimed.”
“But Barnabus’ mother is dead,” said John. “He told us his family was all dead.”
Dumbledore said nothing.
“Did you find out where he is, Albus?” Asked Remus excitedly. “Did you see it in his mind?”
Both Remus and John cried out at the same time, “Where?”
“A great stone fist with two houses built into the rock base.”
“Of course,” said John grimly. “It’ll be the farm at Hidden Fist, then. Poor old Hank.”
“We must go. We should attack them at once!” cried Remus.
Albus smiled. “No, Remus, we must wait. It’s not possible to surprise a wizard such as Tom, and he will flee before we have a chance to wound him.”
“Wound him?” strangled Remus, so suddenly angry that he nearly lost his voice. “Wound him? We must kill him, Albus! You can do it. I know that you can. You killed the wizard Grindelwald. If anyone can rid this world of an evil wizard such as Voldemort, it’s you.”
Albus kept his face impassive. He wanted to smile. It would have been ludicrous that they were standing in a bathroom if it weren’t so serious a situation. So much emotion twirled within the room. The young always thought victory so simple. Kill the bad one and all would be right in the world again. Albus Dumbledore had lived too long and seen too much. Ridding the world of Tom Riddle would not be as easy as that. It had not been that simple with the wizard Grindelwald and it would be worse with Voldemort. It would be much, much worse this time, for he had no idea how many times it would need to be done.
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