A Panther's Heart by Copper Vixen
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DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and all other characters and locations belong to J. K. Rowling

Darkness was falling on Privet Drive as Harry exited the home of his aunt and uncle. The thudding of the door behind him cut off his uncle Vernon in mid rant but that didn’t matter because it was nothing he hadn’t heard before. As usual the words tossed at his back bit into his skin; forcing him to raise an unsteady hand to brush along his scar. It was a totem for everything he had become; on some levels he hated it while on others he loved it. At times like this it was a reminder of everything he had learned and come to love; a whisper of freedom that he knew he would taste again in a few weeks.

The entire incident had begun after the arrival of Ron’s owl, Pig. The small owl was horribly excitable and had shrilled and hooted as he fluttered about Harry’s room before allowing Harry to relieve him of the letter tied to his leg.

Which brought Harry to his current condition; he needed just a few hours to forget the contents of the letter Ron had sent. As brief and vague as every letter before; it danced merrily around anything of importance before bowing out and leaving Harry frustrated with the lack of response to any questions he had asked in his own letters.

The past months had been filled with short letters from Ron and Hermione, barely containing anything of interest or significance. No matter how many letters he sent, they refused to answer or update him on any of the events occurring in the Wizarding World. Their letters contained the bare necessities of a letter one would expect to receive from a friend; appearing to be more of an acquaintances letter sent only on special occasions.

Currently he was stalking towards the small patch of woods at the end of the street; the only place he had managed to find any solace over the summer months. He couldn’t help but smile as he felt the welcoming embrace of the dark forest. The cool air whispered against his skin; teasing his hair and causing goose bumps to rise along the flesh of his arms.

Unfolding Ron’s letter, he allowed his eyes to brush over the words he had come to know by heart before shredding the letter and tossing the pieces into the night breeze. Emerald eyes flashed as he moved deeper into the heart of the forest before beginning to shed his clothes. Removing his glasses, he set them atop a stump and stowed the over sized clothes carefully in a rotten log.

Closing his eyes and focusing on the image held firmly in his mind, he heard the familiar crunch of bones as pain rushed through his nerves. Biting his lip to keep from crying out, he focused on the final details before exhaling sharply. Slowly he opened his eyes; sharpened by the change they quickly picked up every minuet detail before moving elsewhere. Rising on to four paws, he carefully flexed, feeling muscles slide powerfully beneath the thin black coat. Claws slid neatly from their sheathes as dainty ears tipped back and forth while nose and whiskers worked together testing the air currents for any vital information.

He had put a lot of thought into his Animagus form but had never considered the Black Panther as a possibility. He had hoped for a stag in memory of his father but after experiencing the body of a predator he didn’t believe he could ever consider inhabiting the body of a prey animal. The panther’s body had proven to be very powerful; quiet and nimble, it allowed him to look at the world in a whole new way.

Harry had worked on his transformation all summer, he had been tempted to inform his friends about his newest project but after several days had ditched the idea. Ron would be all for it like a pig in mud but Hermione would try and talk them out of it and threaten to inform an adult. Of course the vague answers he had received had assisted him in making the decision. He had gotten the idea after his Godfather had died. In honour of the Marauders he had worked all summer to master the abilities they had gained in hopes of rekindling fond memories of them.

Shaking off the plaguing thoughts, he stalked deeper into the forest; allowing soft paws to carry him through the brush silently. All his senses worked madly to prevent possible discovery or capture. Reaching a small creek he dropped into a crouch, allowing his sand paper tongue to dip delicately into the cool water. Flicking his tail, he rose only to freeze as the faint sound of voices crept to his ears. Testing the air quickly he was rewarded with the scent of man, steel, and lead.

Cursing softly he moved into darker shadows, beginning a crouching run back to his clothes. The sharp warning crack of dry wood froze him in mid movement. The thundering crack of a gun and the bite of metal in his flank startled him into loosing a yowl before lunging into a flying run. His mind began to swim and the panther’s body became sluggish and unresponsive. Suddenly he found himself tipping; slamming into the ground he snarled as pain from the wound tracing burning fingers up his spine.

As Harry’s world spun into blackness, the words of the hunters reached his sensitive ears, “…wanted something unusual…biggest panther…eyes like emeralds…ought to fetch us a good price…”

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