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Fic: The Snow Wolf (second part)

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Jan. 17th, 2017 | 08:06 pm
posted by: starfishstar in rt_morelove

Author: starfishstar
Title: The Snow Wolf
Summary:
     While on his undercover mission to the werewolves, Remus disappears. Tonks is determined to find him, no matter what the cost.
Notes: The second part of the story (simply because it wouldn't all fit in one post) – sections IV and V, out of an eventual seven total sections.


IV. The Two Witches of the Shetland Islands

Tonks stood on a little rocky beach at the base of the small cliff, beneath where the garden and the flowers perched, looking northwards out to sea. The waves were choppy and grey and the wind was raw again, now that she was no longer within what she now knew had been an enchanted garden.

At least she was wearing her own clothes again, her own jeans and shirt and cloak, though the cloak wasn’t really warm enough for this weather. Tonks wrapped her arms around herself and squinted harder out over the slate-coloured expanse of the Atlantic.

The woman with the garden had arranged for some acquaintance with a fishing boat to ferry Tonks further north, as far as the Shetland Islands. The boat was to arrive around dusk, which was now, which was why Tonks was standing alone on this desolate shore, straining to catch any glimpse of someone approaching over the sea.

She hadn’t particularly wanted to accept this favour, but it wasn’t like she had a lot of other options. Go north was the only lead she had to follow, and she’d run out of land on which to do it. All that was left to her now was the open sea.

There: a dark speck of motion made itself known in the distance, through the rapidly encroaching gloom. As Tonks watched, it grew larger and larger until she could make out the outline of a small fishing boat, its hull painted blue and the small cabin atop it painted white, large enough perhaps for two people to hunker down and shelter inside it, but not much more than that.

Sooner than she would have thought, the boat was nearly at the shore, bobbing on the swell a stone’s throw from the land. A head poked out of the cabin’s door: the boat’s pilot proved to be a woman with white, flyaway hair and a big black weatherproof cape flapping around her shoulders.

“Can’t come any closer, too many rocks!” the woman yelled over the constant susurration of the surf. “You’ll have to wade out. But it’s shallow here. You can dry off when you get on board.”

It was hard to properly express any sort of surprise or chagrin at the thought of plunging into the icy Atlantic when all communication was conducted via shouting, so Tonks simply called back, “All right!”

She made sure her wand was secure, bunched her cloak up high around her shoulders so at least that wouldn’t get wet and have to be dried again, then she took a big breath and plunged into the water as fast as she could, before she could let herself think about it too much.

She shouted with the cold of it. Even with the water only up to her hips, and each incoming wave slapping only as high as her waist, it felt as though the ocean had its grip on her whole body, trying to drag her under with the sheer intensity of a chill that shivered straight into her bones. She shouted aloud in defiance as she forced her frozen legs forward through the water, shouted to remind herself that she was alive and not the ocean’s prey, until she finally stood abreast of the bobbing fishing boat, waist deep and shivering convulsively with cold and stymied by this last and seemingly simplest step, how to heave herself on board.

The fisherwoman reached out with surprisingly strong arms and hauled Tonks onto the deck of the little boat, where she landed, gasping.

“S-so c-c-c-cold!” Tonks shuddered, barely able to speak for the chattering of her teeth.

The fisherwoman looked distinctly unimpressed. “You’re a witch, aren’t you? Dry yourself off and come inside.”

Tonks nodded, her head bobbing erratically from all the shivering and shuddering. She fumbled in her robes and finally managed to produce her wand with numb fingers. She cast a good strong drying charm on her wet clothing, then a warming charm for good measure as well. When she’d stopped shaking enough that she thought she might manage to stay upright on both legs, she cautiously stood.

The fisherwoman had disappeared into her boat’s little cabin, so Tonks followed her and found the woman at the tiller, coaxing the boat back into motion. Tonks wondered if it ran on petrol, or magic, or some combination of both. There were so many things she would be curious to ask about the workings of the boat under other circumstances, but this was hardly the time.

“Er, so,” Tonks said, though the woman seemed very caught up in her work and very much not at all interested in the fact that Tonks was standing there beside her. “I don’t know exactly what agreement you’ve worked out with the woman with the garden, but I certainly can pay you for this trip. It seems like you’re going an awfully long way out of your way when you could be doing your own work instead, and I do have gold –”

“Don’t want your gold,” the woman interjected curtly. “A dream or two’ll do.”

“A – dream?”

The woman nodded once, sharply, and for a moment she did turn and look at Tonks. “It’s a long crossing,” she said a little more gently. “Ten hours or so, and that’s if the weather’s fair. We’ll be travelling overnight and there’s little enough to see out here in the nighttime, my lass. You might as well curl up on that pile of rope there and try to get some rest. And if you’re visited in the night by a dream or two, so much the better. That’s payment enough for the likes of me.”

Tonks found this enigmatic in the extreme, but she also knew better than to argue. If this woman was willing to take her halfway to Norway for the price of a dream, Tonks would take that offer.

And what then, when she got to Shetland, which was after all still only in the middle of the ocean and doubtless not nearly as far north as she needed to go? How would she continue from there – how would she even know where she was meant to continue?

Well, she would just have to figure it out once she got there. The best she could do was to keep travelling, keep moving, and never, never give up.

So she pulled her cloak around herself, huddled down until she was halfway comfortable on the coils of rope collected along one side of the little cabin, tucked her head into the crook of her elbow and determinedly told herself to sleep.

Time passed strangely, as Tonks huddled on her pile of rope and swayed hazily between sleep and wakefulness. Again, as when she had been running north with the wind, it felt as though many days passed in the course of that one night, but it was impossible to say for certain. Whenever Tonks surfaced enough of the way towards wakefulness to look out through the open door of the boat’s little cabin, the sea was stormy and dark and brooding, cold rain lashing down at a slant against the churning grey waters.

And when she slipped far enough down into sleep, she dreamt, and the dreams seemed to rush past as smoky figures on the night winds. Tonks saw Remus on the back of a huge, white wolf, riding the howling winds through the air. Then she saw Remus on the ground, lying flat on his back in an endless, blinding, icy expanse of snow, pinned in place by the paw that the enormous wolf pressed down against his heart.

Tonks gasped awake, so real had it seemed, but of course there was nothing there but the old fisherwoman hunched under her big black rain cape, hands on the tiller, staring out into the limitless dark.

Another time, she awoke and the sky was a little lighter, the barest hint of pale dawn creeping up from the unbroken line of the horizon in the east, and Tonks was sure she saw that the woman was gone from her place in the cabin and instead a big black raven was flying out ahead of the boat, flapping its wings and staying just above the spray. But she fell asleep again and when she awoke of course it was just the fisherwoman, steering her boat, not a bird at all.

They hit land concurrent with the arrival of true dawn. The fisherwoman dropped Tonks at a little rocky shore that was nearly the mirror of the one she’d left on the mainland, though this time at least the woman was able to manoeuvre in alongside an abandoned dock instead of making Tonks wade ashore.

Tonks climbed out, yawning and shivering, cloak clutched tightly around her in the fierce wind that had kicked up just as they came in to land. The fisherwoman fought with her tiller just to keep the boat parallel alongside the dock.

“Thank you!” Tonks called to her from the dock, over the whipping of the wind. “You’ve done me a great favour and I appreciate it. It was very kind of you.”

The woman shrugged, looking almost irritated at the praise. “There’s magic on Shetland, if you know where to look,” she said, her focus still on wrestling with the tiller. “Witches and wizards here, more than you’d think. Two witches, in particular.” The wind calmed a little, so she no longer had to shout. “One’s something of a princess, you could say, comes from a long line of Shetland mages. Other one is her partner, the one she chose for her wisdom. If there’s someone you’re searching for, those two should be able to tell you something.”

Tonks looked at her in surprise, but that seemed to be all that the woman had to say about that. As Tonks watched, she began to steer her boat away.

“Wait!” Tonks called. “These two witches – where will I find them?”

“There’s a castle!” the woman shouted back over the rising wind, sounding unconcerned at her own lack of specificity. “Ask around, you’ll find them.”

Then the boat lurched, and its engine growled, and then it was truly out of range of any conversation.

Right. Find a castle somewhere on these islands. Well, that was already more to go on than ‘follow the wind north.’ Tonks wrapped her inadequate cloak around herself and began picking her way up the rocks of the shore to the somewhat more level land above, where a grassy expanse stretched out ahead as far as she could see, no one and nothing in sight.

There was nothing for it but to start walking.

She walked long enough that she lost track of time. The position of the sun was no help, since it was hidden constantly behind deep layers of clouds. As she walked, Tonks thought of Remus, her mind worrying helplessly at the mystery of what might have happened to him, where he had disappeared to so suddenly and without leaving a trace.

The awful thing was, he’d gone on the mission knowing it was dangerous. The Order had needed someone who could live among werewolves and find out what they were thinking, and there was Remus, perfect for the job and so stupidly, wonderfully noble, so desperately loyal to the Order. There was never any question whether he would go.

Tonks couldn’t blame him, of course – in his place, she’d have done the same.

Squinting out over the sea as she continued to walk more or less parallel to the long, jagged, north-south coastline, Tonks reflected yet again on what little she knew of Remus’ disappearance, throwing all her Auror resources at the problem now that she had a bit of time and space to think.

The odd thing was, it didn’t seem like the straightforward violence of a feud between werewolf packs. That wouldn’t account for the terror in the eyes of the young werewolf who’d first sent Tonks north. Nor did it seem like the malicious cruelty of Death Eaters. If the Death Eaters had managed to pick off a member of the Order, they would gloating about it.

Fenrir Greyback, too, would be gloating.

Who, then?

At long last, around what Tonks would roughly guess might be mid-afternoon, she reached the track of a narrow road and was able to continue her way north on that, instead of over the rougher, open terrain.

After another age had gone by, she heard a rumbling behind her on the road, and turned to see an old Vauxhall in an indeterminate mustard yellowish colour rattling her way. Muggle or magical? It was hard to tell at a distance.

Tonks flung out an arm as the car neared, and it coughed to a halt beside her.

The driver leaned out his window, a man of perhaps sixty with a weather-beaten face and a battered cap on his head. He raised his eyebrows at her in greeting and said simply, “Afternoon.” She still couldn’t quite guess whether he was a wizard or not, and really wished she could. It would change a lot about how and how much she chose to ask him.

“Good afternoon,” Tonks said, trying to look very casual, as though she often went for walks along desolate roads in far-flung corners of these isles. “Do you happen to be heading towards –” And then she stopped, remembering that she didn’t even know the name of her destination. “…towards the north?” she finished lamely.

The man’s eyes twinkled. “Aye. You could say so.”

“And is there…is there a castle, somewhere up that way?”

The man’s gaze sharpened. “And what castle would that be? One that’s home to two wise witches, perhaps?”

All right. The man was a wizard, then, not a Muggle. Even if he was driving a very Muggle vehicle. And that meant there was nothing to be lost by asking.

“Yes,” Tonks said firmly. “Those two witches, exactly. I need to find them. I have to ask them something.”

The man looked her up and down, then nodded slowly. “Well,” he said, “you won’t be the first. Plenty of folks come from far and wide to seek their counsel.” Then he said, suddenly brisk, “Get in. I’m going that way, or most of it. I’ll drive you there.”

“I – all right,” Tonks said. “Thank you.” She’d depended on strangers every step of the way so far. She might as well keep making a habit of it.

They rattled along northwards for the rest of the afternoon. Most of the journey was spent in silence, but it was a restful silence. A gloomy dusk was falling when the driver pointed and said, “Up there.”

Tonks looked, and saw a castle perched on a rocky crag some distance ahead of them. It was old and solidly built of stone, almost certainly medieval. Though she could see the castle in its complete form, somehow Tonks could tell that if Muggles looked at it they would see only an old ruin – just as they did with Hogwarts. 

“The car won’t get much closer than this,” the man said. “It’s a powerfully magical place. Modern things go haywire if you get too close. But I’ll drive you as far as the road goes, and you can walk from there.”

“Thank you,” Tonks said, the words feeling inadequate. “I don’t know where you meant to drive today, but I can tell you went out of your way for me. Can I pay you back for the lift somehow?”

The man shook his head. They were jostling now over a rutted track, the very last section of the road. “The mage and her companion will know I brought you. Keeping in their good books, that’s all the currency that matters to me.”

He let her out where the dirt road dead-ended in a field containing several unconcernedly grazing sheep, then the driver carefully backed the yellow Vauxhall around and pulled away.

Tonks turned her eyes uphill, to the looming castle of this Shetland mage who was said to be so wise. It seemed beyond naïve to think that a witch on a remote Scottish isle might know what had happened to Remus hundreds of miles away in an entirely different part of the country.

But she’d come north, as the werewolf had said. And these witches were wise, the woman with the boat had said. And she was here now. There was nothing to lose.

Tonks turned her steps resolutely towards the stone castle that squatted atop the hill above. It was not large, but it made a solid and imposing impression, outlined there against the evening sky.

When she reached the top of the hill, Tonks found the castle’s great wooden door flung open, no moat or portcullis or guard to block her way. That seemed a tad eccentric, but then what about this journey hadn’t been eccentric? Cautiously, Tonks stepped forward between the massive stone walls.

The inside of the castle was utterly opposite to the impression made by its outside, with all that hulking stone. Inside, the walls were draped with tapestries in warm colours, and soft light emanated from a source she couldn’t see. Tonks stood in a narrow entryway, but she could see up ahead that the passage opened into some sort of great hall at what must be the centre of the castle.

Tonks glanced behind her, out through the doorway of the castle where the last, weak light of the evening sky still filtered in. When she looked forward again, a woman stood in front of her.

“Hello,” the woman said, smiling. She had long, dark hair and a flowing robe, and she wore a simple circlet of bronze about her forehead. Tonks saw at once why people referred to this woman as a mage, not merely a witch or even a sorceress. There was something timeless about her, as though she had sprung straight up out of the ground or emerged from one of the ancient stone circles that still dotted the British Isles.

“Good evening,” Tonks said. “Er. I hope I’m not intruding?”

The woman shook her head. “No seeker is unwelcome here. That’s why our doors always stand open. The castle knows the differences between a threat and a seeker of wisdom. Won’t you come inside?”

Without requiring a response, she turned and walked deeper in to the castle, towards the great hall at its heart. For a brief but very unpleasant moment, Tonks thought of the woman with the garden, who had seemed so kind but had harboured such unpleasant intent. Did Tonks dare to walk into such a complete unknown once again?

Yes. She had no choice. She must find Remus, and to do so, she had to trust anyone who offered even a chance of telling her where he might be.

The woman – the mage – led the way into an enormous, high-ceilinged hall, larger than seemed possible from the size of the castle as seen from the outside. A magical expansion, of course. Tonks smiled privately to herself. Whether it was musty old canvas tents or grand stone castles, magical folk always had to make magical improvements. Some things were the same everywhere, and it set her a little more at her ease to notice that.

Although the hall was so large, it was not unwelcoming. Here, too, the whole space was suffused with warm light, and the floor was soft and pliant beneath Tonks’ feet. In fact, when she looked closer, it appeared to be live moss, as though an entire forest floor had been transplanted inside the castle.

Two thrones stood at the far end of the hall, each one carved from a single, massive tree trunk. In front of one of them stood a second woman, shorter and more solidly built than the mage, and with hair the colour of honey. The mage crossed the room to this second woman, ascended the two steps of the dais on which the thrones stood, and reached out to take her counterpart’s hand in an affectionate clasp.

“Our visitor,” the mage said.

As one, the two women turned to look at Tonks. Then they both sank gracefully onto the seats of their thrones.

Tonks stepped forward, stopping a few paces short of the dais, where she could look at both of them. How did one address ancient mages? ‘Ma’am’? ‘Your highness’?

Fortunately, the mage saved her the trouble of blundering through the various options, by speaking first. “Now, tell us, dear one,” the dark-haired woman said. “What is it that you seek?”

Tonks breathed deeply and straightened her spine. She had to believe that this would work, that these women would be able to help her. If they couldn’t, who would?

“My friend,” she said. “A very dear friend. The man I…the man I love. He’s gone missing, very suddenly, no one knows to where, and I know he wouldn’t have left by his own choice. The only clue I have is that someone told me to ‘follow the wind to the north.’ It doesn’t sound like much, I know, but it’s all I’ve got to go on.” The words tumbled out, now that she’d started. “I made it this far by always heading north, and once I reached Shetland I heard about you, that you’re wise and help people who are searching for something. So I’m here, and I’m hoping maybe you can give me some direction.” She spread her hands out in supplication. “Can you help me? I’ll go anywhere, truly, and do whatever it takes to find him. I know he would do the same.”

The dark-haired mage fixed gentle eyes on Tonks. “Where was he, when he disappeared?”

Tonks hesitated. How much should she tell? Some things were Remus’ secrets to share, not her own. “Er…in Scotland. But living on a moor, much further south.”

The fair-haired wise woman spoke for the first time, and her voice, like her hair, was as smooth and as rich as honey. “You’re concealing something,” she said, but there was no accusation in the words, only such infinite tenderness that Tonks felt unexpected tears pricking at her own eyes. Suddenly she missed Remus hard, with such fierceness, worse even than on the day when he’d first left for the werewolf pack. Worse than when Dumbledore had brought the terrible news that he was missing. Tonks saw the mage reach for her partner’s hand, their fingers twining together in a sharing of strength and support, and Tonks missed Remus like a hole being cut out of the centre of her chest.

“He’s a werewolf,” she gasped around the pain. “That’s what you want to know, isn’t it? He’s a werewolf, and he was living with a werewolf pack, and he disappeared.”

The two women both looking down at her like that, with such endless compassion, was almost worse than all the rest of it.

“Ah,” said the dark-haired woman.

“If that is the case,” said the fair-haired woman, “if he is a werewolf and his disappearance is otherwise unexplained, then it’s likely he was taken by the Snow Wolf.”

Though she’d never heard those words before, they sent a chill straight down Tonks’ spine.

“Who, or what, is the Snow Wolf?” she managed.

“The Snow Wolf lives near the top of the world, on the archipelago of Svalbard,” the fair-haired wise woman said. “He does not often venture south, not more than once in a generation, if that. But when he does, it is werewolves that he targets, those who are, like him, both human and not. He is known to abduct them back to his fortress in the north. So far as I know, the Snow Wolf had not left his icy stronghold in many years. Perhaps it was his time.”

“But what – what does he do with the werewolves he abducts?” Tonks asked, feeling a chill all the way through her.

“No one knows for certain,” the dark-haired mage said gently, “since those he takes do not generally return. But we believe he drains their life force, and uses it in some way to fuel his magic. The Snow Wolf is very powerful, and very, very old.”

“Remus,” Tonks gasped. She could see him in her mind, in something very nearly like a vision, Remus held captive by a great, white wolf amidst a glittering, terrible expanse of ice. She remembered the dreams she’d had on the fisherwoman’s boat and shuddered. Those dream images had faded now, but she still remembered Remus, and a wolf, and a howling expanse of snow. Perhaps the dreams had been more than dreams.

“How do I get there?” she asked resolutely. “How do I find this Snow Wolf?”

The two women’s gaze never left Tonks, they didn’t turn to look at each other, but Tonks nonetheless felt the ripple of understanding that passed between them, as if they had communicated a feeling to one another without needing words.

It was the dark-haired mage who spoke. “Dear one,” she said, “the Snow Wolf is a dangerous predator with powerful, ancient magic. He is difficult to find and impossible to approach in safety. Are you certain this is what you want to do?”

“Yes,” Tonks said firmly. “I’m certain.”

Again, she felt a ripple of understanding pass between the two women.

“Very well,” the mage said. “If you are determined, then we will do what we can to help you in your quest.” Her tone shifted into the realm of more matter-of-fact matters. “How are you at defensive spellwork?”

“Good,” Tonks said honestly. This was one area where she didn’t mind being immodest. Both because it was true, and because there was no point in lying about your skill set, when it came to magical duels. “I’m an Auror with the Ministry of Magic. I’m young, but I’ve trained well.”

The mage gave a slow nod.

The wise woman beside her asked, “And your heart? You’ll need more than magical ability to face the Snow Wolf; you’ll need great bravery and clarity of heart.”

“I – I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Tonks said, looking back and forth between them. “But if you’re asking whether I’m sure about this… Yes, I’m certain. I know what my heart wants. And I don’t give up on something once I’ve started.”

This time, the two women did turn and look at each other, and they nodded.

Their decision thus apparently reached, all at once they were all action. They outfitted Tonks in a thick winter cloak and fur-lined boots for the Arctic journey she would be undertaking. Then the fair-haired wise woman explained that Tonks would be welcome as their guest in the castle for the night, since night had already fallen, and in the morning she herself could take Tonks by Apparition as far as the south of Norway if she wished.

“But that’s as far as I can go,” the woman said. “The witches and wizards of the north countries are our sisters and brothers, but I myself am of this land. My magic is strongest here, when I am at home in Shetland.”

Tonks nodded, grateful beyond measure simply to have someone who could take her the next piece of the way – and to have at last a clear goal towards which she was heading. She was grateful, too, that she would be crossing all that cold, churning breadth of the Norwegian Sea by Apparition rather than in a fishing boat.

Tonks adjusted the clasps of her new cloak, and looked at her fair-haired guide. “When can we leave?” she asked.

“We rise and leave at first light,” the woman said.


V. The Robber of Norway

Tonks opened her eyes, her stomach still churning. She’d always hated the sensation of Side-Along Apparition. Performing her own Apparation never made her sick, but going Side-Along with someone else did so without fail. Besides, she hated not being in control of where her body went. She’d told that to her dad once, and he’d laughed and said some Muggles were just the same about only liking not drive their own cars, not be driven by others.

She looked around. They’d landed in a forest, surrounded in all directions by a dense crowding of trees. It looked like winter now, though it had been autumn when Tonks left London, and surely that had only been a few days ago? Thin patches of snow huddled in the shaded places where the trunks stood thickly, and all the leaves were gone from the trees.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Norway,” the woman replied simply.

Tonks repressed the urge to say, Well, I knew that much.

“I leave you here,” the woman continued, turning her gentle eyes on Tonks. “I wish I could aid you on your quest, for the Snow Wolf is a formidable foe, but my own land needs me. My own love needs me.”

Tonks nodded her understanding, then looked around, thinking that if her guide was preparing to leave her here, she must have missed some obvious sign of what she was supposed to do next. But no, it was still just woods all around, identical in all directions. She turned back to the wise woman. “Where do I go from here?”

“Keep walking north,” the woman said. “I think someone will find you and show you the next steps of the way soon enough. It’s happened all along your way so far, has it not?”

It was true, Tonks had to admit. She’d set out without a plan, foolhardy in the extreme, and yet she’d found guidance again and again.

“Farewell,” the wise woman of Shetland said. Tonks was startled to see tears of sympathy pooling in her eyes. “I wish you success in your quest, dear girl. May you find your heart’s desire.”

Then there was a whirl and a crack of Disapparition, and she was gone.

Tonks squared her shoulders and looked around at the trees, the overcast sky, the patchwork of snow on the forest floor. Weak sunlight filtered through the banks of clouds, but it was hard to tell the angle of the sun or the directions.

Luckily, Tonks thought firmly, I have magic for that. She pulled out her wand, performed a directional spell, and set out walking north.

She walked for what must have been at least an hour, her senses alert, but she saw no sign of life in the woods beyond the rustlings of small animals and a few birds alighting in high branches. At one point a wood pigeon landed on a low branch and cocked its head at Tonks in what seemed a rather knowing way, then fluttered away again.

Tonks walked with her wand in her hand, held loosely but at the ready, glancing from side to aside and occasionally performing her directional charm to be sure she was going the right way. And all the time, the woods remained calm and still.

Until they didn’t –

“Aha!” cried a voice, as a figure leapt out in front of Tonks, dressed in high boots and a coat of leather, with pale hair under a bright red cap. The person had the lightest lilt of an accent, but addressed her in English. “What have we here? A visitor trespassing on our territory, hm? Who’s this strayed into our lands, I wonder, friend or foe or what all together?”

Auror-trained though Tonks was, the red-capped figure had a wand pointed up under her chin faster than she could blink.

“I am not foe,” Tonks said, careful not to move her jaw too much, with her assailant’s wand pressing hard into the soft flesh beneath it. “I mean you no harm.”

“Not foe, hm? Easy for you to say, but I don’t even know you!” Yet the woman – on a closer look, Tonks saw it was definitely a woman – stepped back and removed her wand from Tonks’ throat, waving it dramatically in the air instead. “We’ll soon find out, won’t we? State your business!”

Tonks spread her hands, the universal gesture of ‘I’m not going to hurt you’. It probably didn’t help to those ends that she was still holding her wand in her wand hand, but at least she was demonstrating a willingness not to point it anyone…unlike the woman in front of her.

“I mean no harm, and I’m sorry if I unintentionally trespassed on your territory,” Tonks said, her hands still extended to her sides. “I’m searching for a friend of mine and I’m just passing through. If you can tell me the way north from here, I’ll be on my way.”

“Not so fast!” the woman cried, but Tonks thought her voice expressed enthusiasm rather than malice. “We want to get a bit of a look at you, see what manner of human or beast you are, don’t you see? You’re coming with me back to the camp to meet the rest. And if you’re very lucky, we might treat you to a bite to eat before we send you on your way.”

Tonks studied the woman in front of her. If Tonks lunged, she was certain she could incapacitate her opponent long enough to get away, using a spell or even with her bare hands. The woman no longer had the element of surprise in her favour, and Tonks was a trained Auror.

And yet…she didn’t sense danger from this woman, for all she’d begun their acquaintance by threatening Tonks with a wand. The Shetland woman who’d brought her here had seemed certain that Tonks would continue to meet people who could guide her along the way. Perhaps this was another time to say ‘yes’ to a strange encounter.

So she said, “All right. Lead the way.”

The woman led her quite a distance through the woods. Tonks wondered if she truly controlled all this area as her ‘territory’, or if she simply roamed this far through the woods because she enjoyed the chance of meeting strangers.

The camp turned out to be the ruins of an old abbey, where a small band of people had made a home among the crumbling stone walls. In the central space, in what had once been the abbey’s nave but now stood open to the sky, an enormous cauldron burbled over a campfire. The stew inside it smelled marvellous. Several people were there and going about their business – tending the fire, mending clothes, and in one case sharpening a wicked-looking knife. Rugs rolled up against the open-air walls suggested that the band really did sleep here, out of doors beneath the sky.

“It may not be much, but it’s home!” Tonks’ guide declared, spinning in a circle with her arms flung wide to encompass all of the abbey ruin around them. “This motley band here’s my crew, and if you get on with them then I figure you’re all right. Now, I’m Dyrfinna, and what I want to know is, who are you?”

Tonks looked around, and saw all the men and women of the camp watching her with interest. “I’m Tonks,” she said. “I’m a witch, and I’m from England, though I think you guessed that already, since you spoke to me in English from the start. Is that what you wanted to know?”

Dyrfinna cocked her head at Tonks, looking thoughtful. “It’ll do for now. Now!” She clapped her hands, grinning. “Who’s for a spot of lunch?”

The others all gathered around as Dyrfinna ladled out the fragrant stew into bowls hewn from wood. Tonks counted six other people there, not counting Dyrfinna, but her host told her there were also several others away at the moment.

“Scrounging,” she said, with a careless toss of her head, as she handed Tonks a bowl of stew. “We do what we have to do to get by, and sometimes that means scavenging and sometimes that means stealing, and I’ll thank you not to judge us for it, if that’s what you were thinking of doing. When you live on the edges of things like we do, you don’t get the opportunity to be so strict about morals like regular folks do.”

A band of outsiders, living beyond the bounds of society and scavenging to survive – it sounded a lot like how Remus had described most of the werewolf packs he’d known over the years. “Are you werewolves?” Tonks blurted out, before she could stop herself.

Dyrfinna laughed, a big, throaty, unabashed laugh. “No, not werewolves. But – hm, something like that, you could say.”

Tonks had no idea what ‘something like werewolves’ would be, but she refrained from asking. She’d already asked one question that was far too personal and impolite.

Instead, she settled back against one of the walls to eat her stew, which was as delicious as it had smelled. The man nearest on her left was chatty and told her nearly his whole life story over the course of the meal; then the woman on Tonks’ right did the same. It seemed everyone in this mismatched band nonetheless had a similar tale as to how they’d ended up here, living so far away from everything, and they were all tales of heartbreak and loved ones lost or left behind.

Tonks looked across at Dyrfinna, and saw her observing the conversation. There must have been a question in Tonks’ eyes, because Dyrfinna said, more quietly than Tonks had heard her speak so far, “I loved a honey-haired lass from across the sea. She came here to study our magic and she stayed for a time, but in the end she felt the pull of her own country and returned there. She loves another now.” She shook her head, defiant again. “And I formed this merry band of misfits here, and I’ve never had cause to be sorry!”

There was a fluttering over their heads, and Tonks looked up to see a wood pigeon land on a protruding bit of stone that might have once held a candelabra, when this ruin was the nave of an abbey.

To Tonks’ surprise, Dyrfinna leaned her head back and shouted up at the pigeon, “Dúfa, don’t be a goose now, there’s no need to be shy. Come down and meet our visitor.”

The pigeon fluttered down from its perch, and somewhere in the process of the fluttering it transformed into a plump young woman who landed awkwardly on the stone floor with both feet, blinked, and looked around.

“Hello,” she said.

Tonks said, “But! You’re –”

Dyrfinna laughed that irrepressible laugh again. “We’re all unregistered Animagi, yes. Come on, didn’t you guess? Not werewolves but like werewolves, what did you think that meant?”

“Am I too late to have some of the stew?” the newly arrived young woman asked. She looked perhaps seventeen, eighteen at most, and her accent was much more noticeable than Dyrfinna’s, although she too spoke English in deference to the visitor in their midst.

“Not at all, kid!” said Dyrfinna jovially, jumping up to fetch another bowl. Now Tonks desperately wanted to know what Dyrfinna’s Animagus form was, but it seemed rude to ask.

Once she’d collected her food, the young woman, Dúfa, came and sat on the floor a small distance from Tonks. She seemed curious to talk to their visitor, although also shy.

“I saw you, you know,” she said softly. “When you were walking through the woods, I landed on a branch and looked at you. I suppose it was rude to spy, but I was very curious.”

“That’s…all right,” Tonks said. She’d never, to her knowledge at least, had an Animagus spy on her before, but she wasn’t as annoyed at the thought as she probably should be. The kid seemed sweet. And also way too young to be living a hardscrabble life out here in the woods, no matter how well Dyrfinna might look after her little band.

Then again, the young werewolf Tonks had begged for news of Remus at the start of this journey hadn’t been much older. And she’d had it much worse, probably. At least Dúfa wasn’t a werewolf. She could change into her animal form or not, as she chose. And no one was likely to try to kill her out of fear and prejudice.

“I’m curious, if I may,” Dúfa was saying. “Where is it that you were going when Dyrfinna found you? We don’t get so very many visitors here.”

Tonks set down her empty bowl and gave the girl her full attention. She’d told this story so many times in the last days, but it never got easier.

“I’m looking for my friend,” she said. “My very dear friend. He went missing and I’m trying to find him. I’ve just learned that he might have been taken by…” She hesitated to say it, not knowing what reaction it might bring. But if she didn’t tell anyone, how could anyone help her? “He may have been taken by the Snow Wolf.”

Dúfa gasped and nearly upset her bowl of stew. “I’ve seen him!” she cried. “I saw your friend, oh, I’m certain it was him!”

“You saw Remus?” Tonks exclaimed. She’d lurched to her knees, trying to get closer to the girl, desperate for any news she might have.

“Yes, yes!” Dúfa gasped, reaching out to grab both of Tonks’ hands, forgetting her shyness utterly. “I was flying low over the woods and when I saw a white wolf running, I swooped down to see. Oh, it was terrible, the biggest, fiercest wolf you can imagine. I’d heard the stories of the Snow Wolf, but I didn’t know if they were true. He was like a nightmare, a nightmare that comes to you out of the far north of dreams.” She shuddered, staring at Tonks with eyes that remembered the terror of what she had seen.

“And Remus?” Tonks asked breathlessly. She was vaguely aware that everyone else in the camp had gone completely still, watching the two them. 

“He’s a man, older than you, with hair going grey and a face that looks kind and weary?”

“Yes!”

Her hands squeezed Tonks’. “I saw him. The Snow Wolf was carrying him, kind of – clutching him in his jaws. But he was alive!” Dúfa hurried to add, when Tonks recoiled. “I don’t think he was exactly awake, but I know he was alive. I saw him moving.”

“Where was the Snow Wolf taking him?” Tonks whispered.

“I don’t know!” Dúfa cried out, anguished. “I wish I could tell you! I was too frightened, and I didn’t follow them to see!”

“I can tell you that,” Dyrfinna said darkly. She’d circled in closer during Dúfa’s last exclamation, and now she crouched down next to where Tonks and Dúfa still clasped hands. “The Snow Wolf was taking your friend to his lair, far up in the north, where he lives in a terrible fortress made entirely of ice. I don’t know where it is exactly, because nobody with any sense goes near the Snow Wolf by choice.”

Tonks turned to look at Dyrfinna. “I’ve heard his fortress is on Svalbard.”

Dyrfinna shuddered. “Yeah, that sounds about right. Far past the Arctic Circle and nastily difficult to reach. I take it that’s where you’re planning to go to rescue your friend, am I right?”

Tonks looked at Dyrfinna. She looked at Dúfa. She looked around at all the band of outcast Animagi who’d been kind enough to take her in as one of their number for the day. “Yes,” she said.

Dúfa cried out, a little wordless noise of distress. Tonks squeezed the girl’s hand in what she hoped was comfort.

Dyrfinna, though, gave an almighty, put-upon sigh. “All right, fine,” she said.

Tonks turned to look at her in surprise, releasing Dúfa’s hands. “Fine…about what?”

“I’ll take you there! I think you’re a fool for seeking out the Snow Wolf, but as anyone here can tell you, I’ve always been a sucker for a hopeless mission. I’ll take you as far north as Finnmark at least; you can ride on my back.” When Tonks continued to look at her in confusion, Dyrfinna grinned. “We’re all Animagi here – didn’t you wonder what animal I was?”

She stood up from the floor, striking a dramatic pose. Then her skin gave a sort of whole-body ripple, and there before Tonks stood, in all its huge and shaggy glory, a beautiful, long-legged reindeer. 



to be continued:

VI. North and North Again

VII. At the Snow Wolf's Fortress


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Comments {10}

author_by_night

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from: author_by_night
date: Jan. 19th, 2017 07:21 pm (UTC)
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I do want to read the original, as I think it might help me appreciate it more, but I still understood and enjoyed this. :)

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starfishstar

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from: starfishstar
date: Jan. 19th, 2017 08:06 pm (UTC)
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I recommend the original story! It's pretty weird and wonderful. (And not depressing like most of Andersen's tales...) And a surprisingly great representation of a strong female character - a whole lot of strong female characters, actually. Really striking, given the time period.

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