Harry limped slightly as he made his way down the steps of Grimmauld Place and onto the ground floor. He had injured his leg quite badly duelling with Minerva the day before on the third floor of the house when she had sent him flying down two flights of stairs where he landed on the first floor and knocked himself out. Since then the rules of duelling at Grimmauld Place dictated that no one was to duel in the house. This had made the field beyond the garden the number one spot for any duelling to take place. “Anyway I beat you to a pulp!” Hermione was arguing with Ron as they walked down the stairs infront of him. Since Harry had duelled with Remus twice previously everyone else had taken up the idea and now just about everyone in the house spent some portion of the day out on the field either duelling themselves or watching someone else. “No way, you did!” Ron said, his voice rising slightly in volume. “If I hadn’t tripped then I could easily have won!” “Yeah, right!” Hermione scowled at him. Harry only rolled his eyes and focussed on not feeling the pain in his leg. It was odd that the house was so quiet for a change, but then that was to be expected; the whole house, but for those three and Ginny, were in the Order meeting in the kitchen and the four of them didn’t need to be listening at the door with Extendable Ears (‘Buy yours now! Only 1 Galleon and 7 Sickles! Purchase before 16th July and receive a free Skiving Snackbox!’ – George Weasley of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes) to know what the subject of conversation was. More than one week ago Tonks and Kingsley had gone on a mission for the Order and Severus had been summoned to the side of the Dark Lord. As of yet, none of them had returned and no news of their whereabouts had been gained. Harry hoped that all of them were okay, naturally. He didn’t want anything awful to happen to them, not even Snape from whom he had not yet had a single Occlumency lesson from and Dumbledore warned that if he got a single dream from Voldemort then he would have to teach him himself. There were fears that Snape had been discovered to be a spy for the Order in which case he was probably already dead, although no one knew what had happened to Tonks or Kingsley. The three of them reached the end of the stairs and walked across the hall and into the lounge where Ginny was sat charming things around the room, although not with much skill. “Hey, Gin.” Ron said to her as they walked inside and sat down. They talked for some time about nothing in particular although the weight of the three missing people was on all of their minds as they wondered what could have happened to them all. “I just hope that they’re all okay.” Hermione said thoughtfully during a lull in the conversation and at that moment there came a crash from out in the hallway, causing the four of them to leap to their feet to see what all the commotion was as Mrs Black began to howl. “TONKS!” Ginny cried as she was the first one out of the door and sure enough Tonks and Kingsley were both stood outside in the hallway, Kingsley was holding a watch which Harry presumed had been used as a portkey and Tonks was on the floor, after having fallen and knocked a vase of flowers onto the floor which Molly had put there earlier. It didn’t take a moment to realise that Tonks and Kingsley were close to exhaustion as Kingsley’s legs gave in underneath him and Rom quickly moved to his side to support him before he fell. Meanwhile, Hermione and Harry went to help Tonks up, although she was just as fatigued as Kingsley was and didn’t look as if she had the energy in her to get to her feet. A moment later, the noise of chairs hastily being pushed away from the table could be heard and the kitchen door was flung open to reveal all the Order present and looking stunned and relieved at the arrival of Tonks and Kingsley. “Thank god!” Molly cried as she ran out of the kitchen and charmed Tonks to her feet. “What on earth happened?!” This question was repeated a number of times by just about everyone who emerged from the kitchen until Dumbledore silenced them all. “Now is not the time for answering questions.” He said quietly, although when he spoke everyone was silent, even Mrs Black. “Bill, Molly, please escort Tonks and Kingsley up to bed for some well needed rest.” He said and everyone watched as Molly and Bill levitated the two people upstairs. Once they had gone there was a strange silence down in the hallway whilst everyone just looked around them in an awkward silence until Ron turned from the group and walked into the lounge, quickly followed by Harry, Hermione and Ginny. “It would appear that our meeting is over for tonight.” Dumbledore said and Mad Eye nodded. “I’m just glad they’re back in one piece.” Minerva said. “And alive, of course.” Mad Eye muttered and with that everyone else stood in the hallway followed the younger residents of the house into the lounge. Remus sat down next to Harry as his mind whirled with thought. He couldn’t help but feel slightly anxious for Snape, despite the fact that he had spent seven years of his life detesting him whilst at Hogwarts, but now everything was different and they had no choice but to at least be civil to one another whilst they lived in the same home and worked for the same side. His eyes flickered to the boy sat beside him and wondered what he made of recent events. Looking closer at him he could see how worn out he was and he supposed that recent lessons in apparition and becoming an Animagus had taken their toll on him as well as the constant bickering between the adults who were now coaching the trio. Harry was learning to become an Animagus from Minerva, which everyone who had bet on him were very pleased by, and his tutor in apparition was still Mad Eye, who was naturally harsh on him and was in the habit of challenging him to a duel after their lessons when Harry was generally nearing collapse. The weight of Harry’s head against his shoulder brought him out of his thoughts to find everyone in conversation about something or another, most likely the reappearance of Tonks and Kingsley and the fact that Severus had not yet returned. Harry didn’t seem particularly enthralled by the conversation as he leant drowsily against him, not that Remus could blame him; the conversation was one which had been repeated by many different mouths over the last week, the more so as people’s anxiety began to rise. “I hope that Severus is alright, wherever he is.” Minerva said worriedly. “I’m sure he’ll be okay.” Charlie said, although he didn’t sound particularly certain in himself. “Maybe Tonks and Kingsley know what happened to him.” Harry said, making a rare contribution to the conversation which no one had yet voiced. “But if they did wouldn’t they have brought him with them?” Hermione asked softly. “Maybe they couldn’t because he was still pretending to be a Death Eater.” Fred said and there were a few murmurs around the room, either of hope or of doubt. “I never thought I’d be so worried about Snape.” Remus muttered and Harry smiled slightly as he curled up closer to him. “Where did you send Kingsley and Tonks?” Ron asked. “To Azkaban.” Filius answered, “They were to go and discover Voldemort’s defences. Apparently their defences are very strong indeed.” Harry’s mind wandered back to the conversation he had overheard from Arthur and Mad Eye almost a week ago about Voldemort finally taking control of Azkaban and everyone inside it. Time drifted on but the conversation rarely changed its course. It was past midnight when the talk began to languish and Remus noticed that Harry had fallen asleep against him. Ginny was also sleeping soundly in a comfy chair by the window and Hermione was drifting off on the floor by the fire as her mind ran over her day’s apparition lessons. Only Ron stayed awake out of the four school students and listened to the conversation with interest. “Wherever he is, I’m certain he’s fine.” Bill said quietly. “And Kingsley and Tonks might be able to tell us something of him tomorrow.” Minerva sighed resignedly. They seemed to have said everything a hundred times over and yet the conversation just carried on moving around and around in the same circle. “I think it’s time for bed.” Dumbledore said softly. He had kept out of the conversations which had gone on and had only responded when spoken to directly. His mind was filled with thought as many possibilities of the location of Severus raced each other around his mind, although most ended up at the frightful end of death. The certainty that he had sent one of his students to his death saddened Albus as he glanced around at the room of people, each and every single one of them had been a student under him and the loss of any of them would be great to him. “Good night to you all.” He said, before disappearing from the house with a crack. “Night.” Molly said to them as she levitated Hermione up from the floor and out through the door. “Come on, Gin.” Bill said as he lifted his sister up from the chair she was sat in and carried her up the stairs. “See you in the morning.” Ron said to them before disappearing from the room. “Remus, wake up.” Filius said and the man jumped awake. “Everyone’s going to bed.” “Oh.” Remus said, slightly disorientated from waking up in an emptying room. Harry was still slumped against him and was sleeping soundly. Remus yawned slightly before taking out his wand and was about to cast a levitating charm on Harry before Filius interjected, “Let me, you look dead on your feet.” Filius said to him, “There’s no point in you levitating him if you’re going to fall asleep half way up the stairs.” He said and Remus smiled gratefully as the three of them made their way up the stairs and onto the third floor where Filius put Harry into his bed and charmed a pair of pyjamas onto him before turning to the door. “Night, Professor.” Ron mumbled from his bed. “Good night, Mr Weasley.” Filius said to him as he left the room.
The next two days seemed to pass slowly for most of those that were in the house. The entire building seemed smothered in a blanket which muted most sounds, giving the house an eerily silent feel to it. Harry felt as if he were in a library and could only speak in whispers when he met people on the hall and even Fred and George seemed to think like this as they hadn’t shouted or laughed loudly once since Tonks and Kingsley had arrived back at Grimmauld Place.
Tonks and Kingsley were sat down at breakfast that morning and both of them still looked rather ill but after a lot of restorative potions from Molly they were looking a lot better than when they had appeared in the hall two days ago. No one had yet dared to ask them about their ordeal however, except for Dumbledore who had been informed by a teary Tonks that she believed Severus to be dead: killed by the wand of Voldemort on account of being a traitor. After that there had been no more questions asked to either of them; as far as most people were concerned, that was all that they needed to know.
Harry ate little as always when he sat down to breakfast that morning and stared into his bowl of cereal which contained a few cornflakes swimming in milk. His habit of taking very little food and leaving quite a bit of it was becoming almost like routine and because people saw him eating and didn’t see how much he had to start with then no one noticed that he was barely taking anything in. Dumbledore had informed him earlier on upon meeting him in the hallway that he would be teaching him occlumency beginning in one week’s time. Although Dumbledore would almost certainly be a great improvement on the teaching methods of Snape, Harry doubted that he would like learning to defend his mind any better. He also disliked the fact that he knew inside of him that he would rather be learning Occlumency from an irate but alive Professor Snape instead of learning it from calm and kind Professor Dumbledore whilst Snape lay dead in Azkaban.
He glanced up and noticed the ever critical gaze of Remus on him who narrowed his eyes slightly at the bowl infront of him which he knew hadn’t had much food in it to start with. He opened his mouth, possibly to say something on the subject but if he was Harry never heard it.
There was a thud in the hallway. Silence filled the kitchen as everyone glanced around the table. Everyone was present and accounted for. Snape. Each individual at the table thought instantly and there was a dash for the door.
“Severus!” Minerva said as she saw her ex-student lying on the floor. Although he had been of her rival house, she had always thought his bravery to be rivalled by none and had accepted him soon after he had joined the Order the first time round. She was the first one to the foot and quickly walked out of it and to the man lying on the dark carpet. Mad Eye quickly followed and then Filius. Remus, Arthur, Charlie and Bill held everyone else back as Dumbledore passed through them all and to Severus who was unconscious on the floor.
“Severus.” Dumbledore said quietly to the man, “Can you hear me?” There was no response from him and Dumbledore ordered Minerva and Filius to take him upstairs as soon as possible.
“He’s alive.” Tonks said, sounding utterly stunned although not particularly relieved. Harry glanced at her when she spoke but presumed that she was so shocked that he was alive that it had taken away all feeling of relief for a moment until the thought sunk in.
“Go finish your breakfast, everyone.” Dumbledore said to them and they all turned and re-entered the kitchen, Dumbledore included as he left the care of Severus to Minerva and Filius.
Now that they knew of Severus’ safety there was a lot more talk in the kitchen, mostly of his shocking arrival back at the house and his apparent lack of injury, although Remus had noted that he was twitching and shaking slightly, even though he was unconscious. He didn’t even want to think how many times the Cruciatus curse had been used upon him and turned his mind back to other things, such as breakfast and Harry’s apparent refusal to eat it. He had concealed it well and even Molly’s scrupulous gaze had failed to notice that he was barely eating more than a few mouthfuls of cereal every morning to keep suspicions low.
“Harry, if you don’t start to eat then I am going to force-feed you.” Remus said coolly to the boy across the table.
“I have eaten!” Harry argued, despite the fact that they both knew that he was fighting a losing battle, “You watched me eat!”
“Yes, I saw you eat a few mouthfuls of cereal and I have done for every morning these past few days.” Remus scowled.
“I cannot believe you’ve been eating so little, Harry!” Molly said to him as she overheard their conversation a few seats down, “I’m sure that if there is anything else you would rather eat then Dobby or I can make it for you if that’s the problem…” She said kindly.
“I’m fine, really!” He insisted, “I’m just not very hungry, that’s all.” The three of them knew by now that this was an unacceptable answer in both Molly’s and Remus’ eyes and both planned on joining forces in the war of Harry vs. food although they both allowed the subject to be dropped for the present.
“So do you fancy a duel?” Remus asked Harry with a slight smile after breakfast. “You would have Animagus lessons now, I know, but Minerva’s still upstairs.” Harry didn’t appear to have any way out of the situation and supposed that he was going to have to duel Remus.
“Alright then.” Harry sighed. He had been carefully avoiding Remus for the past week at times such as directly after breakfast when he was the most prone to asking him to duel unfortunately due to the commotion about Severus’ arrival back at the house he had forgotten and had unwittingly walked into him in the hall.
He had been duelling with other people throughout the week though, as Remus had told him that he should and he was becoming ever so slightly better than before. He had even duelled Mad Eye once, although that had ended quite quickly and Mad Eye left him in a leg lock for a minute or so just for the amusement afterwards. He had enjoyed duelling with the Weasleys though. He had duelled with all of them but Molly since even Ginny had challenged him to a duel, although he beat her easily. Hermione had been more difficult to beat than he had expected though but he eventually won by apparating behind her and putting her in the full body bind. Mad Eye, who had been watching at the time, had been positively overjoyed at his use of apparition in a duel and the fact that he had managed to apparate almost twenty feet without splinching himself or falling over.
The good thing about duelling with just about everyone who had been willing to duel with him was that they all gave him advice afterwards about where he had gone wrong, even Hermione although he beat her. The most difficult advice so far to follow had been that from Filius, who had told him quite plainly and repeatedly that he was always putting himself in the defence. He knew that he had to attack more instead of focussing on defending the spells that were being sent straight at him, but more and more he was beginning to get attacks in before his opponent and even a few that would have finished the duel in his favour, it was just a shame that his opponents were always so fast and seemingly always one step ahead of him. At least he had got a lot of practice in that week and with lots of different people he had experienced lots of different styles: Filius stuck rigidly to the same sorts of disabling attacks such as leg locking curses and chose to dodge any spells sent his way instead of blocking them, where as Minerva tended to create distractions by transfiguring things around him and then hexing him quickly. Once Harry had tried to ignore what she had transfigured but this failed miserably when part of the wall leapt on him and pinned him to the ground. Remus seemed more into the elemental types of spells, such as fire and ice, although he also used disabling charms and blocking spells, making him seem a very daunting opponent but he had been reassured by Mad Eye that he was not particularly difficult to beat if you were fast enough and kept on your toes. The unfortunate thing for Harry was that he just wasn’t fast enough and was easily knocked off his toes.
His mind was filled with various techniques that everyone else had used as he walked down to the field with Remus. He was dying to attempt to transfigure things like Minerva did but he knew that if his transfiguration failed then he would lose instantly. He also wanted to attempt apparating again but whether or not that would work would depend on whether or not everyone had talked between them about their duels. If they did then Hermione would have said how he had beaten her and they would know to watch out for that in the future. His mind buzzed with thought until he remembered a conversation a while back.
“Yeah, try summoning one when duelling with Harry; I can’t see that working out well.” Ron had said on the subject of summoning a snake during a duel. Summoning a snake… that could be very useful, especially to him.
“What’s on your mind?” Remus asked him as they neared the wall and Harry realised that he had been silent for quite some time as they travelled. “You won’t duel well when lost in thought.”
“I don’t duel well anyway, Remus.” Harry reminded him and Remus smiled slightly.
“You know that’s not true, just as well as I do. You’re excellent for your age.” Remus smiled at him. “Did you duel much this week like I said you should?”
“A little.” Harry lied, knowing that he had duelled just about everyone at least once. He wondered whether Remus knew this as he studied his expression. They leapt over the wall and into the field beyond where they both stood far apart, wands drawn at the ready.
“Ready?” Remus asked.
“Yep.” Harry replied and Remus couldn’t help but notice how much more confident he seemed than the last time they had duelled. They both knew that he was going to lose, but whether he would lose as badly as before remained to be seen.
There was silence and stillness all around them for a second. Harry took the advantage of this and made the first move.
“Impedimenta!” He cried and Remus leapt to the side. Irritatingly enough for him, Harry had anticipated this and had also noticed that he almost always dodged spells to his right and had sent the spell that way. It struck Remus in the chest and instantly the man slowed down. “Stupefy!” Harry then tried, although both of them knew that it wouldn’t hit.
“Protego.” Remus said and the spell was absorbed by his strong shield.
“Incarcerous.” Harry said and vines leapt towards Remus, twisting around his legs.
Incendio.” Remus muttered quickly, burning away the bonds that wrapped around his legs.
“Gelotrium!” Harry said as he desperately focussed his mind on the cold, which was rather difficult to do in August. A blue streak of light shot out of his wand and at Remus’ chest. The man jumped quickly to the side as the vines around him finally broke apart. He stared at Harry in amazement; he had been nowhere near this good a week and a half ago, when they had last duelled. He wondered just how much he had been duelling during the week, although he had heard no one mention it he knew that there had been a lot of duelling going on recently.
“Stupefy!” Remus tried, attempting to catch Harry off his guard but he reversed it and sent it straight back at him.
“Protegium. Remus cried and the stunner flew straight back at Harry once more, who dodged it to the left and it flew past him and across the field.
“Serpensortia!” Harry said and a giant snake shot out from the end of his wand. Remus’ eyes opened in disbelief as the snake slithered towards him across the ground. He heard Harry say something in parselmouth and the snake went for him.
“Petrificus Totalus!” Remus said as he aimed the spell very carefully. It shot out seemingly towards the snake but it skimmed it’s skin and flew straight at Harry whom it hit hard in the chest. Harry silently cursed himself as he felt the spell lock his arms and legs rigidly to his side. “Evanesco.” He said, pointing his wand at the snake which disappeared in an instant. He walked over to Harry and looked down at him with interest and amusement apparent in his expression before muttering the counter curse and movement came back to Harry’s arms and legs as he slowly sat up and looked to the side where Remus was crouched next to him.
“Are you alright?” Remus asked him.
“Fine.” Harry smiled slightly as Remus helped him to his feet. He felt quite pleased with himself; he had done a lot better than he had done the last time he had dared to accept the challenge to duel from Remus.
“Just how much have you duelled this week?” Remus asked him interestedly.
“A little.” Harry lied and Remus scowled.
“There is no way that you could have become that good by duelling ‘a little’ in one week, Harry.” Remus said to him as they walked. “Who did you duel?”
“Erm…” Harry thought for a moment, “I duelled Ginny once, Ron three times, Hermione once, Fred and George twice, Bill twice, Charlie three times, Arthur once, McGonagall three times, Flitwick twice and Mad Eye once.” He glanced up at Remus’ surprised expression and laughed.
“And you class that as duelling ‘a little’?” Remus demanded with a slight smile as they walked back towards the house, “I’m not surprised you’re getting so good at it!” Harry smiled slightly at his praise but didn’t say anything; he still thought he was in pretty poor shape. “So, how are your lessons going?”
“Becoming an Animagus is going to be really difficult.” Harry said, “McGonagall’s a good teacher and all and I know I’m further than Ron and Hermione with it but I’m still about as close to becoming a thestral at my own free will as I am to beating you in a duel.” Remus shook his head at the comparison but allowed him to continue, “The apparition lessons are a bit easier and I can apparate further and further now, although last time I tried to apparate further than half a mile I splinched myself.”
“How are Ron and Hermione faring?” Remus asked him.
“Hermione’s doing quite well, I think.” He replied, “She can apparate from the house down the garden but she can’t go up and down, so she can’t apparate down the stairs without getting confused and ending up in the attic.” Remus grinned, mostly at the idea of Hermione failing, “And Ron’s pretty much useless at it, Fred and George are getting really annoyed with him, they even asked Charlie if they’d swap and they could teach Hermione but he said no and then hexed them.” Remus listened to him talking without bothering to interrupt, except for to ask questions when he wanted more information. It was nice just to listen to Harry babbling on about nothing much in particular except his friends and his own attempts at becoming Animagi and learning to apparate. It was a shame that they would be going back to Hogwarts in a matter of only two weeks; he was loving living in the House of Black and that was something he never thought he would experience. There was always something going on and even if there wasn’t then it was still an interesting place to be. Of course Remus knew it was the people inside the building which made it so, but still, he couldn’t imagine things being this close somewhere else.
“So what are Ron and Hermione going to turn into?” Remus asked him and Harry looked at him nonplussed for a moment until he realised that he was talking about their Animagi forms.
“Don’t you know yet?” Harry asked him with interest.
“No, Filius and Bill are keeping very quiet on the subject.” Remus replied to him. Filius was teaching Hermione to become an Animagus and Bill was teaching Ron. Although neither of them were Animagi themselves, they were the only ones in the house who so much as had any idea as to how to go about becoming one. Therefore, with a lot of research in Hogwarts library, followed by the reading of dozens of books, they were teaching the pair to become animals at will.
“Hermione’s going to be a Kneazle.” Harry said and Remus looked at him with interest, “A black one though, I think. I wasn’t there when she had the spell put on her and I’m not certain enough of the spell to go put it on her again.” Remus’ mind went to Crookshanks who was curled up in Hermione’s room. He was part Kneazle and he wondered what the difference was between the strange crossbreed he was and the animal that Hermione was going to become. He remembered learning about the creatures but that had been long ago when he had been in OWL care of magical creatures classes.
“What about Ron?” Remus asked and he noticed a very slight change in Harry’s demeanour. His curiosity was instantly incited by this and he couldn’t help but wonder just what Ron was going to become.
“He’s going to be a snake.” Harry told him and Remus laughed aloud.
“Never.” Remus said, studying Harry’s expression for any signal that he wasn’t being truthful but he found none. “You’re serious?!”
“Yeah.” Harry grinned, “Ron’s pretty irritated by it but he’s still going to be an Animagus, just because me and Hermione are.”
“So Snape was right…” Remus said, a slight smile on his face as they reached the door of Grimmauld Place.
“I know, I hate it when Snape’s right.” Harry said as they walked inside the kitchen.
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