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Chapter 31: It’s a Nice Place to Visit

On 6 July, 1987, two men, two women, and four children passed through customs and security at Heathrow Airport in London. Their papers were all in order for a visit to the United States, and it didn’t seem to bother anyone that all eight of them had the same last name. After all, there were plenty of Blacks around.

No one noticed, either, that there seemed to be a lot of duplication on the dates of birth on the passports – the two men had the same stated date of birth, as did the larger three of the children. If anyone had noticed, they would have been quickly reassured that the gentlemen were fraternal twins and the children fraternal triplets, and this explanation probably would have satisfied them.

And so Patrick Black, his wife Carrie, and their daughter Meghan, and John Black, his wife Gertrude, and their children Harry, Drake, and Hermione boarded a plane for America with as little fuss as anyone traveling internationally with children.

Which is to say, a great deal.

xXxXx

“Quit poking me,” Hermione said irritably.

“I’m not poking you,” Harry said.

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you–”

“Stop it,” Aletha said wearily from beside Harry.

“But he’s poking me!”

“I am not!”

“I don’t care who’s poking who, or who isn’t. Both of you be quiet, right now.”

“Or what?” Harry said.

He must be tired. He’s sassing back. Aletha lowered her voice. “Or I will take you to the restroom and put you to sleep, and keep you asleep until tomorrow morning. You’ll miss the airplane landing, and customs, and baggage claim, and everything else fun that we get to do. And that goes for all of you.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Draco protested from beyond Hermione.

“I know you too well, little fox. It’s only a matter of time. Now, I do have some short-term Sleeping Potions with me. Four hours, which means you’d wake up in time for landing. Who wants to take a nap?”

“What do they taste like?” Hermione asked.

“Let me check.” Aletha pulled out a vial. “This batch looks like orange. Who wants one?”

Draco and Hermione raised their hands, and Harry followed suit after a brief moment. Meghan, in the seat on Aletha’s other side, was already asleep and had been for the two hours they’d been on the plane – she was still small enough to carry easily and not big enough to make her own decision, so she’d been dosed before they started. The older three, though, had insisted they could handle the eight-hour flight, had assured their Pack-parents they would behave.

We should have known better.

Or maybe we just shouldn’t have put them all on the same row...

Oh well. We did what we did. And no harm done, either way.

Aletha handed the potions down the row. The cubs drank them off quickly and handed the empty vials back. By the time Aletha had put them away in her bag, Hermione and Draco were already asleep. Harry yawned. “Sorry I was bad,” he murmured to her, squirming into a more comfortable position.

“It’s all right, Greeneyes,” Aletha told him. She stroked her cheek with two fingers, from just in front of her ear down to the corner of her mouth, then touched Harry’s cheek lightly, making him smile as his eyes closed. It was the Pack’s gesture of greeting and farewell, a sort of ritual scent-sharing. Unlike most of the Pack traditions, this one had been begun by the cubs. The adults had picked up on it, and now it was as standard a part of going out or coming home as a hug and kiss.

Maybe someday we should ask them how they came up with it. But it’s probably been so long that they don’t even remember anymore.

It was convenient, as well. One could scent-touch in places where one couldn’t kiss. Such as here. Aletha brushed her fingers down her face again, then leaned forward and slid her hand around the side of the seat in front of her, to touch the face she knew was there.

“Mmm,” said Sirius’ voice. “Letha?”

“Right here.”

“Are we there yet?”

Danger laughed quietly beside him. “You’re worse than the cubs, Padfoot.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Sirius said. “I didn’t draw the losing straw. And I was asleep. So if you don’t mind...”

“Sorry to wake you,” Aletha said with humorous tartness in her voice. Losing straw indeed. I volunteered for this seat... the more fool I. But she understood perfectly. In fact, since the cubs were sleeping, she might just take a nap herself...

The airplane might be a bit cramped and noisy, but it was still a nicer place to sleep than Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. They had camped out in the kitchen, since Remus and Sirius’ one expedition upstairs to the bedrooms had convinced them that the basement was the safest place to be. They’d conjured mattresses and slept den-style, both for warmth (even in the middle of the summer, it was cold in there) and for comfort.

Damn house-elf didn’t help. I’m glad we got married Muggle-style, without a magical ceremony too – that would have tied the thing to me, and quite frankly, I don’t want to be any closer to it than I have to.

Even normal house-elves gave Aletha a small fit of the creeps. (She had met them in the Hogwarts kitchens a few times, when Sirius had asked her to meet him there – it was a good place for rendezvousing, since not many students knew where it was, but it wasn’t off limits per se.) Kreacher simply magnified her usual reaction beyond all reasonable bounds. Put bluntly, he frightened her, with a primal fear she couldn’t quite understand.

Oh well. If I’m lucky, I never have to see him again. And if I’m not...

Burn that bridge when we come to it, as they don’t say.

Aletha let her eyes drift shut and dreamed of a Den in the country, with a music room for her and a kitchen for Danger, with a library for Remus and a writing room for Sirius, with fields for the cubs to run in and other children for them to play with, and no need to run away or hide or be afraid, ever again...

xXxXx

The airport was large and complicated, but the signs were fairly easy to follow, and Amy Freeman was waiting for them at the arrivals gate, an intercontinental phone call having been part of the Pack’s preparations. Aletha hugged her aunt and introduced her husband and daughter, and her husband’s “brother” and his wife and children.

Danger liked Amy Freeman on sight. She was a distinguished looking woman, her white hair contrasting strikingly with her dark skin, and her face with more laugh lines than frown wrinkles. “Come on, you’re all tired, and we don’t want to stand around here all day,” she said after the introductions were complete. “Let’s get going.”

The formalities of entering the United States were duly completed, the baggage was claimed, and they took taxis to a hotel Amy had recommended to them as being decent both in room quality and price. They paid for three rooms, each with two double beds, and stowed their luggage there – Remus and Danger in one, Sirius and Letha in another, and the cubs in the third. Then Amy gave directions to the cab drivers, and they were soon at her apartment, small but pleasant and sun-filled.

“I’m not used to cooking for so many,” Amy said, slicing mushrooms, “so you’ll have to tell me how much is enough.”

“I’m very used to it,” Danger said, rolling her eyes. “And some of these people eat like you wouldn’t believe. Want some help?”

“Certainly. Knives are right over there.”

Sirius, to Amy’s obvious surprise, found himself an apron and started washing the dishes that collected as the two women prepared the food. “Goes faster this way,” he said in response to her questioning look. “And if I don’t do it myself, I get dragged into it. I prefer making a choice.”

“You have him trained well,” Amy said with an approving look at Aletha, who was relaxing at the kitchen table with a glass of something brown and fizzy.

Amy wanted to know all about them, how they lived, where they worked, where the children went to school. She somehow didn’t seem surprised to hear that they were homeschooled. “Mass education sometimes hurts more than it helps,” she said. “Kids need to be with other kids, certainly, but they don’t need to be cut off from everyone except their very own age.”

“Ours are a little cut off as it is,” Remus said, watching the cubs play in the living room. “We tend to stay close to home, and there weren’t many other children in our neighborhood, so they’re better friends with each other than they are with anyone else. At least they didn’t have any good friends they had to say goodbye to when we left.”

Amy worked for a small bank, it developed, one in the business of staying small in an age of large corporations. “We haven’t been bought out, merged with, or bankrupted so far,” was the way she put it. “And our customers keep trusting us with their money. So we manage.” She enjoyed Remus’ stories about the grocery store, Danger’s about the booksellers, and Aletha’s carefully edited anecdotes about her middle-level bureaucracy job.

Her reaction when Sirius told her what he did for a living was a bit unexpected. “Under a female pen name?” Amy repeated, putting down her knife. “Do tell.”

“Valentina Jett,” Sirius said. “Romance novels, but clean ones, stuff we can read to the children – I started with period short stories, but I found I liked contemporary once I tried it.”

“You’re Valentina Jett?” Amy erupted into whoops of laughter. “Oh, that’s priceless. One of my secretaries is crazy about you! Claims she’s never found any other writer who understands a woman’s heart and soul like you!”

“Yes, the press back home said much the same thing,” Aletha said, grinning at her husband. “ ‘The truth of being a woman’, wasn’t it, love?”

“Oh, lay off,” Sirius said, flicking water at Aletha. “Or come over here and do a few of these yourself.”

“Why should I? You do such a good job.”

“Do they do this often?” Amy asked Remus and Danger over Sirius and Aletha’s good-natured wrangling.

“Only every day,” Remus said with a long-suffering sigh.

“As if you don’t,” Aletha shot in his direction, then turned back to Sirius without missing a beat. “And I do not hog the bathroom.”

They talked all through dinner and into the evening, and said good night reluctantly. Amy had work the next day, but she had given them a list of places they might want to take the children, and had promised to take them to a baseball game herself on Thursday evening.

“And this weekend begins my vacation time,” she said. “There’s a little town a couple hours north of here where I usually go for my two weeks. It’s very restful, with some nice beaches and such. You’re welcome to come.”

“We’d love to,” Aletha said.

xXxXx

They went to the city’s amusement park the next day. There were lots of old-fashioned rides, including some nice old wooden roller coasters, and the cubs loved it. Their favorite was the one that had two roller coasters that raced against each other, so that you could ride in one and your friend in the other, and no one ever really knew which train would win. They rode that one six times (the Pack having wisely paid for all-day passes) before they got tired of it.

The day after that was the zoo. Before they went in, Remus had some last-minute instructions for the children, partially sparked by the previous day’s occurrences. “Harry, if you talk to the snakes, do it quietly, when no one else is around. Hermione, you may read the information on the signs, but not aloud. Draco, no comments on other people’s clothing. Meghan, stay with us, no running ahead. Everyone understand?”

Four heads nodded eagerly.

“Then off we go,” Danger said with a smile. “Four adults, four children, please.”

Harry did talk to the snakes, but as per orders, he kept it quiet. “Zoo snakes are usually boring anyways,” he told the other cubs later. “Either they want out, or they want to talk about how long it’s been since they ate last, and what they had. They think humans look funny – they think we’re here for them to look at, instead of the other way around.”

“I guess we are, kind of,” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“Capybara,” Danger read from a sign in front of one exhibit. “Native to South America. World’s Largest Rodent.”

“So it’s a really big rat?” Sirius said lazily, looking at the tawny thing as it gnawed a piece of wood.

Remus choked on his lemonade. “What?” Sirius said.

“World’s Biggest Rat,” Remus got out once he’d recovered. “Peter.”

Sirius cracked up.

xXxXx

They stayed in the next day, sleeping late, swimming in the hotel’s pool, letting the cubs watch television in their own room. The adults found other things to do.

“After all, it is a vacation,” Aletha said lazily, trailing her fingers through Sirius’ hair.

“Mm-hmm.” Sirius reached up and caught her hand. “Never thought I’d be grateful to Snape, but if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here.”

“I still don’t want to be grateful to him,” Aletha said a little more forcefully than she had intended. “Greasy bastard. Sneaking into our Den, scaring Neenie like that. Hope his parts still hurt.”

“Oh, they will, if she hit him as hard as Remus says she did. But let’s not think about him any more.” Sirius turned his head toward his wife. “Let’s think about us...”

xXxXx

“So, go over this one more time,” Sirius said as they sat in their seats at the baseball park. “The man at bat has three tries to hit the ball. Right?”

“Not exactly. He has three strikes – pitches that he should have been able to hit – or four balls – pitches he probably couldn’t have hit.”

“And the umpire decides if a particular pitch is a strike or a ball,” Danger put in.

“Yes. Now, when a man’s at bat, three things can happen. Three strikes mean he’s out. Four balls means he gets a free walk to first base. Or he can hit the ball. If it’s caught in the air, or if someone on the other team gets the ball and touches the base the batter is heading for, then the batter’s out. If he gets to the base before either of those things happen, he’s safe.”

“And the batter’s objective is to get around the bases and score by touching home plate,” Remus said. “The team in the field wants to stop that from happening by getting three outs as quickly as possible.”

“That’s right.”

“And three outs from each team makes an inning,” Aletha concluded. “And nine innings, if the score isn’t tied, makes a game.”

“You’ve got it,” Amy said triumphantly. “That’s baseball in a nutshell. There’s other things that can happen, but we’ll get to those if they happen.”

“It’s worse than Quidditch,” Danger said quietly to Aletha.

“I’m sorry?” Amy had sharp ears for an older woman.

“Nothing.”

“All right. Would anyone care to learn how to keep box-score?”

Remus volunteered, and he and Amy soon had their heads together over a large piece of paper with a bunch of incomprehensible markings on it.

The American national anthem, with its rather ridiculous tune, was shrieked by a large woman in an amazingly ugly sequined gown, and the umpire shouted, “Play ball!”

“If you think baseball is hard to understand, don’t ever try American football,” Amy advised them between innings. “I once heard it described as a combination of the two worst facets of American culture: violence and committee meetings.”

Danger laughed so hard that her drink went up her nose. “I needed my sinuses washed out anyway,” she commented after she got done sneezing into a napkin.

At the seventh inning stretch, Amy taught them all how to do the YMCA dance, and when the home team pulled ahead with a two-run homer in the eighth and hung on to their lead for a win, the Pack cheered as loud as anyone.

Meghan slept through it all, having drifted off in her seat sometime in the fifth inning. Hermione joined her in the cab back to the hotel, and Draco and Harry didn’t take long to fall asleep once they got into bed.

That was nice, Danger said as she turned off the shower. Did you have fun?

Yes. Box scoring is very interesting – describing an entire game with just a few numbers and symbols. Have to see if it can be adapted for Quidditch.

Probably not. Baseball has clearly defined parts of play, so there’s time to keep the score, whereas Quidditch is a continuous play game. You’d have to have something that could keep up...

Like a magical score sheet? Remus suggested. I bet it could be done.

You and Sirius can discuss it to death tomorrow. Right now, I’m tired and I want to go to bed...

I’ll see you there.

xXxXx

The Pack spent Friday at an interactive science center, which had lots of hands-on exhibits which the cubs could touch, play with, run around in, climb on, and investigate to their hearts’ content. The floors were connected by huge ramps, which occupied Meghan for an hour to the exclusion of all else while she ran up and down, up and down, up and down. The Pack gave up trying to follow her and just stationed adults at each floor to watch her as she went by.

Amy had rented a large van to drive everyone north, and Friday evening saw the Pack loading their suitcases into the back of it. They had decided that they would stay only a week with Amy at her vacation spot before starting their own tour of America, so it made more sense to check out of their hotel in Amy’s home city.

“Where do you think we should start?” Aletha asked her aunt as they lay on the beach Saturday morning, watching the older cubs play in the water. Danger reclined on a towel, keeping an eye on Meghan as she built a sand castle with two little girls about a year younger than she was, whose mothers had introduced them as Sarah and Jen. Remus and Sirius were both asleep in the sun, and Aletha hoped Sirius had remembered his sunscreen, because she didn’t want to be treating him for sunburn for the next week.

“How long do you plan to stay?” Amy answered.

“Probably until around Christmas time.”

“Then I’d say start up north. It’s more bearable up there this time of year. Go to Canada for a while. See Niagara Falls, certainly. It’s not too far from here.”

“Should they be drinking that?” Aletha interrupted, pointing at Harry, who was tasting the water in his bucket.

“It shouldn’t hurt them. It is fresh, after all, and clean enough to swim in. I’d imagine they won’t like it very much, though. Now, where were we?”

“You were telling me where we should go.”

“Yes. I’d recommend the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains at this time of year as well. Then when fall comes, go to New England. Lovely area of the country. I went to school in Massachusetts, you know.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Now you do. Make sure to see the leaves turn, though if you travel there in the fall you can’t miss it. And then winter’s the time to travel in the South. The heat is more bearable then. What are those children doing?”

“Making trouble,” Aletha said, watching Harry, Draco, and Hermione coming up the beach, each carrying a full bucket of water. “They excel at it.”

“I wonder what they plan to do with those,” Amy said, a slight smile on her face. “Let’s watch, shall we?”

xXxXx

A shadow fell across Sirius. “Don’t even think about it,” he said without opening his eyes.

“Awww,” said three disappointed voices in unison.

Okay, what did I just foil? Sirius opened his eyes and surveyed the scene. Hmm, cubs, water, and me asleep... I have an idea.

“Moony’s still sleeping, you know,” he said casually.

Wicked grins blossomed on the three faces. Ever so carefully, they walked over to Remus and positioned themselves.

xXxXx

Wake up, dear, you’re about to have a shower.

Wha... Remus opened his eyes.

And quickly closed them again as three buckets of cold lake water drenched him.

Squeals of glee rang in his ears as he wiped his face.

So you want to play rough, do you?

“Of course you know, this means war,” he said, and grabbed Draco.

Harry and Hermione attacked him repeatedly as he hauled the yelling boy down the beach, but they couldn’t take him down. He tossed Draco into the water and grabbed Hermione to do the same, when a hand yanked at one of his ankles. Taken by surprise, Remus went down hard, and the cubs swarmed him, splashing him and pushing him under as he did the same to them.

xXxXx

“Boys,” said Aletha with a sigh.

“And one girl,” her aunt rejoined. “A bit of a tomboy, isn’t she?”

“Occasionally. What she is, is a full-time bookworm.”

“Good. Intelligent, strong, and not afraid to challenge the boys on their own ground. Very good.”

“I’ll be sure to tell John and Danger that you approve,” Aletha said with a light laugh.

xXxXx

“Aunt Amy, why’re we here?” Hermione asked as the cubs climbed the stairs to the front entrance of the brick building.

“Your parents need a day off from you, and I need a day with you,” Aunt Amy answered. “So I’m taking you to one of my favorite places.” She showed a small card to the man at the door.

“What is this place?” asked Draco, looking around. There were people in shorts and T-shirts using all different kinds of machines in the lobby.

“A gymnasium. People come here to get stronger.”

“Do we need to be stronger?” Harry asked.

“No, I don’t think so.” Aunt Amy laughed. “I come here for another reason.”

She led them down a hall at the back and turned left, opening a glass door.

“Oooh,” was the reaction from the cubs as the room was revealed.

It had a wooden floor and three mirrored walls. The wall that wasn’t a mirror had a wooden bar attached to it at about adult waist-height. There was a cabinet in the corner with some kind of machinery in it. Aunt Amy went over to it and started pressing buttons. “Take your shoes off,” she said over her shoulder. “This floor needs either special shoes or bare feet.”

Draco loved going barefoot. He kicked his shoes off eagerly and wiggled his toes. “What do we do here?” he asked.

A blast of music surprised everyone. “We dance,” Aunt Amy said, turning away from the stereo. “What else?”

“We don’t know how,” Harry said.

“This isn’t a formal dance with steps. It’s something you do on your own. Like this.”

Aunt Amy began to move. First she swayed standing still, then she took small steps, then suddenly she leaped into the air. It didn’t look like anything Draco had ever seen.

It was pretty, though. He liked it.

He started trying to move with the music. It was harder than it looked. Sometimes the music did things he wasn’t expecting, and he had to fix what he was doing to match it.

Harry took running leaps, twirling wildly around. Once, he fell to the floor right at Aunt Amy’s feet. She leaned down and pulled him up, brushing his hair back from his eyes and laughing.

Hermione was taking small, stiff steps. “Be loose, Neenie,” Aunt Amy called. “Be loose and let the music tell you what to do.”

Draco got a silly impulse. He bowed to Hermione. “Madam, may I have this dance?”

“My pleasure,” said Neenie, curtsying, like Danger did when Moony bowed to her that way. They put their arms around each other and tried to imitate their Pack-parents’ dancing. Harry stopped what he was doing to laugh, and after the fourth time they’d stepped on each other’s toes, Draco and Hermione were laughing too.

Harry looked past them and stopped laughing. “Look at Meghan,” he said quietly.

Draco turned around. Meghan was dancing by herself in the middle of the floor with a funny look on her face. It was a look Draco had seen before, but never on his little sister. He had seen it on Harry, while he was flying, and on Neenie, while she sat in her tree and read. Letha said he looked that way when he sang.

“She’s a natural,” Aunt Amy said softly. “She’s got the gift. She’s beautiful.”

Watching Meghan sway perfectly in time with the music, Draco agreed.

xXxXx

On their last night with Amy, she insisted on treating them all to a bottle of champagne. The cubs each took a tiny sip and made a face, though Draco wanted to try it again. The adults laughed and put their glasses aside until the cubs had gone to bed.

“There is something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” Amy said, running her finger around the rim of her glass and making it ring.

“Go ahead,” Sirius said, putting his arm around Aletha’s shoulders.

“Are you aware that my boss is approximately three and a half feet tall and named Landog?”

“Er, no, we weren’t,” Danger said, exchanging puzzled looks with Sirius and Aletha. Should this mean something?

Yes. “You’re a witch,” Remus said bluntly. “Aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Amy lifted her glass. “Well done, sir.”

“And you work for the American equivalent of Gringotts,” Remus said, nodding. “Wizard/Muggle relations are a little different in America, if I understand correctly. It’s harder to find places Muggles can’t go. So most wizarding businesses look like Muggle ones, at least on the surface – do I have this right?”

“You do indeed,” Amy said approvingly.

“They have to be able to handle the accidental Muggle coming in off the street. So they need human tellers. And I’d imagine, over the years, humans have worked their way up in the hierarchy...”

“I am the highest-ranked human currently working at Noxet Bank,” Amy said in a bland tone, but Danger noticed that she had transferred her glass into her left hand, and her right was working its way into her pocket.

Watch her, she may have a wand, she warned Remus.

“That gives me certain privileges the other employees do not have. Such as the right to examine the bank’s records, even request – and receive – records from other banks.”

“Goblins don’t show their records to anyone, not even the Ministry of Magic,” Sirius said. “They take pride in it.”

“Landog trusts me,” Amy said. “As I trusted you. Until the other day when your Harry fell down in front of me, and I helped him up and got a good look at his face.”

Sirius casually slid his hand into his own pocket.

“An interesting scar on his forehead. So interesting, it made me Apparate back to headquarters and do some research into recent British history. I found the name Harry Potter – hardly an unknown name in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, I should think – linked with one Sirius Black, who resembles my niece’s husband quite closely, and who is supposed to have betrayed the child’s parents, killed a dozen or so people, broken jail, stolen the boy, and vanished.”

Amy’s eyes fell on Sirius. “How surprised I was, then, to find frequent withdrawal notices from his personal vault, including quite a large one within the last two weeks, with a note that the woman doing the withdrawing – whose description matches my niece quite well – had wanted it changed into Muggle money.”

“You say he was ‘supposed to have’ done all those things,” Remus mentioned, drawing Amy’s attention away from Sirius for a moment. “Do you disbelieve what the newspapers have to say?”

“Shall we say, I give Aletha credit for having better sense than to marry the man the newspapers depicted,” Amy answered calmly. “And you certainly don’t act like a mass murderer,” she said to Sirius. “But I have a feeling there is a story here I would simply adore hearing.”

Well, there’s one good thing, Danger said privately to Remus. By the time we can actually come out of hiding, we’ll be used to telling this story.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this story, and I lived the damn thing.

“You told me you went to school in Massachusetts,” Aletha was saying. “You meant the Salem Witches’ Institute.”

“I did. Lovely place, Salem. Shame about the history. I must admit, you piqued my curiosity at the baseball game, when I heard you mention Quidditch,” she said to Danger. “I assume all of you went to Hogwarts.”

“Not Danger,” Sirius said. “But that’s part of the story.”

“Tell on, then.” Amy inclined her head. “If you would be so kind. The night is young and the bottle is still mostly full.”

“This story will remedy both conditions,” Remus said dryly. “I suppose I should start. It began on 15 March, 1982, in a park in a place called Little Whinging...”

xXxXx

“I have some recommendations for your reestablishment,” Amy said the next morning over breakfast. “Had you considered claiming a Canadian alma mater? It would explain why no one knows you from Hogwarts.”

“That’s a good idea,” Aletha said. “Any suggestions?”

“Yes. The Vancouver Magical Academy, or VMA for short. It’s an excellent school, if a bit on the small side – some of the students who might go there go to Golden Gate in San Francisco instead. You can visit it on your trip and get to know the campus, just in case you run into someone who’s actually been there.”

“That makes sense,” said Remus, catching Meghan as she threatened to fall out of her chair. “Anything else?”

“Hide that damn scar, obviously,” Amy said feelingly. “Anyone could see it the way it is. Harry, come here.”

Harry came around the table, a little nervously. “This won’t hurt,” Amy told him. “Just hold still.”

She waved her wand around his head. His skin went several tones darker than its normal color, as if he had just got an extreme suntan.

“And a small additional charm on the forehead,” Amy said half to herself, “and there!”

Harry looked down at his chocolate-brown hands with wide eyes.

“Now he’s yours, Aletha, Sirius,” Amy said. “Harry Black, Meghan’s older brother, Draco and Hermione’s cousin. And that takes care of your other problem, which is three children the same age, who look nothing alike, in one family. Someone’s going to suspect something. Your story about triplets won’t hold up.”

“But twins and a same-age cousin aren’t nearly so rare,” Danger said in satisfaction. “It’s perfect.”

“And we should start today,” Remus said. “Show me how to do that again.”

“I’ll work on altering our papers,” Aletha said.

“I’ll help,” Sirius said quickly.

“And I get stuck with the dishes,” Danger muttered, but without any real anger. “Come on, Hermione, Draco, let’s get this done.”

“I help too,” Meghan said, picking up a plate.

“Yes, of course, Pearl. You help too.”

Meghan danced as she carried dishes to the sink in the hotel suite’s tiny kitchenette.

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