Harry grabbed the Firebolt, stuffed his father's cloak into his pocket, and headed for the castle. Capricio led on the return trip. The incident with the skrewt apparently forgotten, the dragon toyed with Harry by skirting behind trees, adroitly dodging limbs and other obstacles. Harry's nerves settled as he began to concentrate wholly on the skill-demanding flight. So absorbed was he that he didn't realize how close they were to the forest edge until they burst full into the light. The sun had cleared the mountains in promise of a new day. They made straight for the secret entrance on the seventh floor tower, not even bothering with the invisibility cloak.

He had no more than stowed the Firebolt and stepped into the Headmistress' office when..."Harry James Potter!" The words caught at his heart. No one ever used his full name.

Standing in the middle of the circular room was Minerva McGonagall. The look on her face was majestically terrible. "I get a frenzied report of a dragon on the grounds! A dragon flying into the forbidden forest! It didn't take vaticination to determine who was to blame. Potter do you think me spooney or is this just a game to you?"

Harry felt as if McGonagall's eyes were going to bore a hole through his chest. The explanations had only begun to form in his mind when Phineas Nigellus spoke up, "You know, Headmistress, I was a stickler for obedience to school rules while I was Headmaster." Other portraits voiced either approval or opposition. "But since I've been hanging around here, I have come to recognize some greater good than Hogwarts rules."

"Surely not!" exclaimed Dilys Derwent.

"Quite so," retorted Phineas Nigellus. "As much as it pains me to say it, I am beginning to trust Harry Potter's judgment."

McGonagall open her mouth and then closed it, thought for a moment, and began, "Mr. Potter, rather than try to attempt to validate the student's report, I am going to strongly suggest you put away, for safety's sake, anything that might cause additional trouble. Your standing as a student may well hang in the balance."

"I'll do my best Headmistress," said Harry quietly.

With a final scathing look, McGonagall left the office.

Harry's marveling at Nigellus's defense was interrupted by Dumbledore's Porcrux, "Other than the reception upon return, how was your excursion?"

"Enlightening. I have had the value of friendship reaffirmed. I need to learn to value my friends more fully," said Harry.

"At times friendship can carry a heavy price," said Dumbledore. "If you look inside yourself, you may find examples of what I mean."

"I have done quite a lot of introspection lately. I know I need to try and make things right with Ron," said Harry.

"Just remember, in any friendship there are ebbs and flows. Do not make the mistake of demanding your time schedule. It may take patience." Dumbledore smiled.

Harry thanked the portraits, gathered Capricio and headed back to Gryffindor tower. He slipped into his dormitory, careful not to wake his classmates. He encased Capricio in a protective globe with a handsome amount of food. Then he went looking for Ron, his heart still racing from the run-in with both Asgoth and Minerva McGonagall.

The Marauder's map showed Ron in the Great Hall. Harry found him there, eating a solitary breakfast.

"Can I sit here?" Harry asked tentatively, motioning to an empty bench across from Ron.

"That depends," said Ron with a defiant look on his face. "Do you still have that bloody dragon?"

"Capricio is in our dorm room eating breakfast," explained Harry.

"What's to keep the little terror from eating Dean, or Neville, or Seamus?" demanded Ron, surging to his feet.

"They are perfectly safe. I encased Capricio in an unbreakable sphere. He can't get out unless I let him out."

"You're all-mighty confident in your new abilities," said Ron who remained standing.

Harry looked into his friend's eyes. What he saw almost made him shrink. Ron's expression was most terrible. It was as if a dark cloud was enveloping him.

"Look," said Harry, holding out his hands in placation, "I know Capricio acted badly when you first met. I've tried to make sense of him but I can't seem to understand what he's trying to tell me. He has agreed to halt hostilities for the time being."

"Acted badly!" exclaimed Ron. "He bloody well would have eaten me if you hadn't been there. I'm not taking that chance again! Charlie has told me how temperamental dragons are. Yours isn't temperamental. It's just plain mental!"

"Ron," began Harry, "Capricio has agreed..."

"I don't care what kind of agreement you have with that monster!" yelled Ron. "Your as balmy as Hagrid. You can't turn a monster into a pet!"

"Weasley! Potter!" scolded a crimson-faced McGonagall as she rushed toward them. "What do you think you are doing raising such a disturbance in the Great Hall? And I might add, if there were anyone else present, there could be Ministry repercussions. Consider what you were shouting."

Harry had the good grace to look ashamed, but Ron maintained his defiant attitude. "I'm sorry Headmistress," said Ron in an utterly unconvincing tone. "I was about to leave anyway. I seem to have lost my appetite."

Ron stalked away from the table. McGonagall looked at Harry and grimaced. Then she hurried after Ron shouting, "Mr. Weasley, I'll escort you back to your common room."

They disappeared through the huge doors, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.

Harry didn't know how long he sat at the table, but he was finally roused by other Gryffindors coming to the table under the escort of Headmistress McGonagall.

His appetite squashed by the confrontation with Ron, he got to his feet. "Ginny thought it would be beneficial if I attended regular classes with Ron. What have I got to lose?" thought Harry.

Although he had a pass on all remaining classes, he knew Ron had Defence Against the Dark Arts the second hour of the day. He made his way to an empty classroom intending to use the time to settle his nerves and prepare himself mentally for his next meeting with Ron.

Professor Lupin walked in to the classroom shortly after Harry arrived. Harry started as Lupin entered.

"Harry, this is an unexpected surprise. Headmistress McGonagall informed me that you were exempted from all regular classes. I didn't think I'd be seeing you until our private lesson Tuesday afternoon."

"I'm actually here to think up a way to come to an agreement with Ron. We are having a bit of a row, and I'm considering attending class with him to try and mend some fences."

"I see. I'm finishing preparations for a class scheduled in an hour. That can wait. Would you like to talk?"

Harry considered for the briefest moment. "Apart from Sirius and Albus, you are the only adult I feel I can really talk to." He looked at his feet.

"Harry, sit down." Lupin motioned to a desk. "What's troubling you?"

Harry dived in. He explained the conflict with Ron revolving around the dragon. He omitted time travel, Slytherin's grimorie, Asgoth, and his other attending struggles. He made it sound as if he had simply found the dragon in the forbidden forest.

Lupin listened patiently, never interrupting with any questions, never trying to interject solutions.

"...So I'm out of ideas. I don't want to lose my best friend. Ron's too important to me. What can I do?" Harry put his head in his hands.

"I am reminded of a time Sirius and I had, shall we say, a personality conflict, similar to what you are experiencing. During our seventh year at Hogwarts, I became acquainted with a rather beautiful girl who also happened to be a werewolf."

"There was another student at Hogwarts who was a werewolf?" asked Harry, his interest stirred.

"No. In fact she was particularly adamant about not having anything to do with Hogwarts. She was raised with a fierce prejudice against Dumbledore and the Ministry. She wouldn't come to the castle, so I sneaked off to see her. Those rendezvous put a particular strain on the relationship I had with your father and Sirius. Both wanted to meet her, to get to know her. Your father listened to reason. Sirius, however, didn't understand the true extent of the danger she presented. He had an unreasonable expectation of werewolves, having known me for seven years. He wanted to be included, but it was much too dangerous. There were too many werewolves, too much bad blood, to allow a full human near them."

"Did she live in the werewolf colony in the forbidden forest?" asked Harry.

Lupin's eyes narrowed. "How do you know about the pack in the forest?"

"I've seen it as I've explored. Is that where she lives?" asked Harry.

"Lived, Harry," said Lupin sadly. "She is dead. When the pack found out about the clandestine meetings, they killed her. They felt her actions were traitorous to the werewolf brotherhood. Those who have been raised away from human influence are more inclined to follow the capital law of the pack..."The individual exists for the benefit of the pack"... If any member participates in anything that might threaten the pack's survival, they have two choices; become a lone-wolf through banishment, or suffer death. She tried to reason with the pack. They were not reasonable."

Harry stared in shock at Lupin.

"Yes Harry it was a terrible time. My human friends could not comprehend, and I had no friends in the shadow world of werewolves." Lupin paused momentarily to compose himself, and continued, "I count myself a principle in her death. I thought I could walk the razor's edge. She paid for my arrogance."

Harry thought of Ron's fear of Capricio. The dragon was every bit as dangerous as a werewolf, possibly more so he told himself.

"I think I see what you are trying to tell me," said Harry. "Even though the dragon poses little danger to me, by trying to blend it with others, I may put everyone in danger."

"Very good Harry," said Lupin. "Sirius didn't catch on as quickly. We discussed it after he escaped from Azkaban. He told me he had felt like I was replacing him. I am deeply sorry to say, but a little judgment on my part could have averted a lovely girl's death and a tremendous amount of pain and suffering."

"I don't want to make the same mistake..."

The words were in the air before Harry realized what he had said. "I'm sorry Professor. I didn't mean to intimate your actions were a mistake. I...well...I..."

"No reason for an apology Harry," said Lupin. "You can not possibly say anything to me that I haven't already said to myself. I thought at the time I had it all under control. How wrong I was."

"What do I do?" asked Harry.

"That I cannot tell you," replied Lupin sadly. "You will have to weigh your options in relation to your goals. I dare not give you advice. I have already made my mistakes. I don't want to lead you into error. Ultimately, you will have to make your own decision."

"I don't want to put my friends in danger, but removing the dragon is easier said than done," lamented Harry.

"You are already wiser than I," said Lupin.

"I seriously doubt that," said Harry. "I just want to do the right thing."

The scraping of a wooden chair against the flagstone floor caused Harry's heart to jump. Seated at one of the desks, obviously listening to the conversation, was Ron.

Lupin looked from Harry to Ron. Muttering something about a book he needed for the upcoming class, Lupin hurried from the room.

"Did you mean it?" asked Ron with supreme doubt in his voice.

Harry mastered his annoyance at being eavesdropped upon. "Yeah, I did." He scuffed the floor with the ragged sole of his trainer. A full minute passed.

"I can give it a bit," said Ron, with the tiniest note of conciliation. "IF you promise to never leave that menace where it could hurt Hermione or Ginny."

A new realization blossomed in Harry's understanding. Ron was worried that something would happen to Hermione or Ginny and he wouldn't be able to stop it.

"That's a promise," said Harry honestly.

"Good because there's something I've got to show you and I don't want "him" around when I do," said Ron in a rush.

However his explanation was cut short by Lupin ushering students into the classroom for the beginning of Astronomy class. Ron and Harry quickly hurried to Moody's DADA class.

Moody had set a class on practical defensive spells. It fit nicely with what the D.A. had been working on. Harry spent the class listening to the pitch of the magic used by each student. He was pleased to find he could identify and negate every spell and charm. True to Ginny's admonition, he did not show his prowess. He even let Ron's Rictusempra charm through his defenses and ended up on the floor in paroxysms of laughter.

Harry spent the entire day with Ron in classes. Even though there were a few tense times as he knew answers or spells, he thought he felt the rift gradually healing.

After their last class, as they were being led back to their common room, Harry turned to Ron and said conspiratorially, "I'm going to get Capricio and head to Hagrid's. When I get back we can take a look at what you wanted to show me. Let Hermione and Ginny know that the D.A. meeting is still on for tonight. I'll be back in a bit."

Harry hurried to his dormitory room, gathered a very disgruntled looking Capricio, and under the invisibility cloak, headed for Hagrid's cabin.

Harry found Hagrid behind his house tending to crates of gigantic slimy grubs. "More treats for the giant spiders?" he asked as he swept off the invisibility cloak.

"Oh it's you," mumbled Hagrid distractedly.

Harry was taken aback by the lukewarm reception. He hadn't talked to Hagrid since Dumbledore's funeral. Sudden compassion for the loss Hagrid was feeling softened Harry's demeanor. "I'm sorry Hagrid," said Harry. "I should have thought more about what you were going through. Are you all right?"

"Well enough," said Hagrid, but he dabbed his eyes with his huge spotted handkerchief. "I've gotten on a'right. Jus' need sum'n ter talk ter that's all. Fang's a good listener, and so's Grawp. I'd jus' like ter 'ave sum'n who'd understand." He blew his nose with the sound of a trombone and turned to Harry. "What brings yeh 'ere, and without a teacher chaperon'n yeh?"

In answer, Harry reached inside his robes and withdrew Capricio.

"Blimey 'arry, cover 'im up and let's get inside," said Hagrid. He fitted the lids back on the crates he had been tending and hustled Harry into his cabin.

Once inside, with the curtains drawn, Harry placed Capricio on the table.

The dragon raised its head and sniffed. It let out a sound somewhere between a growl and a purr.

"Bless 'im," said Hagrid as he looked longingly at Capricio. "That's the same sound Norbert made when 'e was contented. Where'd yeh get 'im?"

"That's sort of a secret," said Harry shiftily. "I wanted him to meet you. If this goes well, I have a favor to ask."

Capricio took to flight and circled Hagrid's cabin. He inspected the hams and dead birds in the rafters, landed momentarily on Hagrid's bed, and after inspecting the huge haversack, flew back to the table. Fang watched the dragon's inspection, shivering silently on the mat near the front door.

As soon as Capricio landed, he hopped to Hagrid and clawed his way up the giant's sleeve to his shoulder. Poking his scaly snout into Hagrid's ear, the dragon sniffed loudly. Apparently satisfied, Capricio dropped to Hagrid's chest and started pulling at Hagrid's tangle of a beard. Very quickly the dragon was obscured from sight by the thick mat of wiry hair.

"What's 'e on about?" asked Hagrid.

"No idea. I've never seen him act like that," said Harry. He thought he saw the hairs on the back of Hagrid's neck prickle. "He must like you though."

"I'm not sure, but I think 'e's gon' ter sleep," said Hagrid in amazement. "Generally speakin', dragons prefer sleepin' on gold."

"Capricio is no ordinary dragon. He's very old. Perhaps over a thousand years old," explained Harry.

"Well, it's best if we wait 'im out," said Hagrid. "I don' want ter aggravate 'im."

"That's good," said Harry, "because I've been wanting a word with you. I've had quite an experience in the last few days..."

"I kin see that," said Hagrid eyeing Harry. "Yeh've changed, growed up. Yeh remind me of yer father after 'e graduated from 'ogwarts. Yeh've got a purpose, a direction"

"I don't know so much about a direction, but I do have some questions. Some of them regarding you." Harry paused to watch Hagrid.

"You see I have a monster for a pet," said Harry, holding up his hand to forestall Hagrid's argument. "I know. To you and me he's not a monster. I think I understand, in a small measure, what your pets have meant to you. It's because of that understanding that I need to ask you a question about your pets. I have acquired another of Vold..."

Hagrid shuddered and put up a warding hand.

"...Tom Riddle's diaries. In it he talks about something that happened to your "pets" at the time of your expulsion from Hogwarts. Can you tell me about that?"

Hagrid cleared his throat. Harry was alarmed to see tears well up in Hagrid's beetle-black eyes. It was fully two minutes before the giant responded. "That's a sensitive subject, that is," said Hagrid in a cracked voice. "Don't know if I want ter tell yeh about that."

"It could help me defeat Voldemort."

"Stop sayin' the name," said Hagrid, glancing around his cabin like a trapped animal.

"All right," said Harry, "but I do need to know what happened, and I'd rather hear it from you than have to track the story down other ways."

Hagrid looked lost. He wrung his huge hands together and hung his head. Great tears splashed the floor. "It's a 'ard thing," he said in a choked voice. "But then yer nosy enough ter find out on yer own. I might as well give it ter yeh straight."

He squared his shoulders and looked Harry in the eyes. "When I was young, I didn' fit in. Dumbledore knew about me mum being a giantess, but 'e pulled in some favors ter give me a chance ter attend 'ogwarts. I wasn't great shakes at magic, but I loved bein' 'round magic an' magical creatures. I love ter stroll in the forest. It wasn't out of bounds then, see. Anyway, I made friends with some of the creatures what lived in the forest. It was before there was any centaurs. I met trolls, and blue caps, selkies and werewolves; I even counted some of 'em friends.

"You had wild werewolves as friends!" exclaimed Harry.

"Well, yeah," said Hagrid. "That's where the story really starts. I don' know if yeh know, but there's a werewolf pack in the forest. They keep ter themselves, mostly. Most other creatures don' like 'em much. Anyway, one day I was in the woods and I came across some werewolves what had run afoul of the trolls. Trolls and werewolves don' get on too well. The trolls 'ad fought with the werewolves and killed many of 'em. In the carnage I found five pups. I couldn't leave 'em there ter die, so I gathered 'em up an' took 'em back ter my dormitory room. I used what little magic I knew; I was on'y in me third year, ter keep'em safe under my bed. I on'y 'ad 'em a couple o' days when Riddle confronted me about Aragog. Seems 'e'd been followin' me with a tattletale spell. 'e knew all about me, all about my pets. When 'e caught me with Aragog, it was straight ter 'eadmaster Dippet. I never even got ter go back ter my dormitory room. I was expelled straight from the 'ead's office ter the gamekeeper's cabin. Apparently the Ministry found out about the werewolf pups. I never saw 'em again. Well except one, an' that weren't pleasant. Rumor was that the Ministry 'ad 'em put down because they was dangerous. They was just babies." Hagrid dissolved into great wracking sobs.

"I'm sorry to bring up such a painful memory," said Harry quickly. "It's just that the diary implies that Tom Riddle killed the pups, not the Ministry. He even gloats that he laid the blame to Albus Dumbledore and the Ministry."

"Well, I don' know 'bout that," said Hagrid moping his face. "I wouldn' put it past them Ministry devils. But it would explain the werewolves' dislike fer Dumbledore. The only ones in the forest ter talk down 'bout 'im."

"What was it you said about one of the pups surviving?" asked Harry.

"Eh? Oh yeah. I met up with 'im while I was in Azkaban Prison. 'e 'ad gone down the wrong path. Mean 'e was. 'e 'ad no mem'ry o' bein' with me as a pup. I'm not one to speak ill, but it'd been better if one o' the others 'ad survived instead o' 'im." Hagrid paused to think. "Wanted now by the Ministry. Jus' escaped from Azkaban. Wouldn't really want ter meet 'im in the dark."

Harry had a sick feeling, but he asked anyway, "Hagrid what was the werewolf's name?"

"Greyback. Fenrir Greyback. Why d'yer ask?" questioned Hagrid.

The blood seemed to drain from Harry's head. He collapsed on one of Hagrid's huge chairs.

"Blimey 'arry! Are yeh all right?" asked Hagrid in alarm.

"Would the others have been named Volfram, Canisth, Lupine, and Bob?" asked Harry in alarm.

"That's right. 'ow'd yeh know that?" asked Hagrid in amazement.

"I've seen their grave markers in the school cemetery," said Harry, trying to get his mind around the information.

"I never knew," said Hagrid blowing his nose once again. "I was told the Ministry took 'em away."

Harry sat in a swirl of thoughts and emotions. "Fenrir Greyback was the werewolf who bit Remus Lupin, bit him purposefully when Lupin was just a boy. Voldemort raised Greyback to hate the Ministry, telling the werewolf that the Ministry was responsible for his littermate's deaths. I watched Greyback die on the landing outside Dumbledore's office. It might have been better, on the whole, if Hagrid had left the pups in the forest to die."

As the dark thought stirred in Harry's mind, Slytherin's magic stirred in Harry's heart. Capricio began to work his way from beneath Hagrid's beard. Harry mastered the dark-purposed magic just as Capricio dropped to the table.

"It's OK Cap, I've got it under control," said Harry. He reached out and stroked the wyvern.

Suddenly he had visions of just how dangerous Capricio was. "Ron was right! I'm just like Hagrid! I think I can have a monster for a pet. Who's to say what the outcome of my decision will be in forty years? Will other innocents have to pay for my shortsightedness? Like Lupin paid for Hagrid saving the Greyback pups?" Harry groaned at the thought.

The two friends sat in darkening pools of miserable thought for a long time before either one spoke.

Hagrid, I'm so sorry for what you've been through." Harry crossed to the giant and patted him on the elbow. "And I hate to ask, especially while you're sad. But would you watch after Capricio until the end of the term?"

Capricio growled.

"It's only for a few days," said Harry to the bristling dragon. "I wouldn't trust you with just anyone, and you seem fairly picky about your friends. But unless I miss my guess, you already like Hagrid. And you can tell I'm getting much better at keeping the grimorie under control."

Capricio flew to Hagrid's shoulder. The gamekeeper went from morose to ecstatic in the fleet of a thought.

"Yeh mean it 'arry?" asked Hagrid as if he dared not believe his luck.

"Well it would help me considerably. But it really depends on Capricio. It's his decision."

Harry looked into the wyvern's eyes. Understanding passed between them. Capricio turned and hopped awkwardly to Hagrid's side.

"Well that appears to be decided," said Harry. "One last thing. I never had the chance to ask how it turned out with Bane. Is he going to be all right?"

"That's quite a story, that is," said Hagrid. "I went ter the forest as soon as I got word from Moody. 'e sent Dennis Creevey with the news 'e 'ad found an injured centaur. We was barely startin' ter 'elp when Firenze turned up. Firenze studied from Chiron's book, 'e knew just what ter do. Bound up the wounds with some special 'erbs. Amazin' 'ow fast the stuff worked. I thought we might 'ave trouble as the centaur started ter come 'round. You've seen how flighty they can be. Anyway we was jus' getting' 'im ter 'is feet when the rest o' the 'erd came gallopin' up. I 'eld my breath, I'll tell yeh. Magorian stepped forward and looked at what 'ad been done, spent a long time lookin' at the wisp-moon still visible in the mornin' sky. Finally he said, "The debt is paid." Firenze an' the others took 'im inter the forest. 'e'll be all right. 'e was havin' delusions though. 'e seemed ter think you was the one what saved 'im."

Hagrid looked at Harry from the corner of his beetle-black eye. "And I never said it was Bane, you did."

"Chalk it up to Firenze and leave it at that," said Harry. He rubbed Capricio's scaly head, and left Hagrid's cabin for the castle.

« Chapter 28 - What is a Friend   Chapter 30 - Practice Makes Perfect »


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