Chapter 16: Something Old, Something New (Year 6)
Important news in bottom author's note! Please read.
"I don't quite understand it myself, so I don't know how much I can tell you," Aletha said, sitting with her back to the wall of the drawing room. The Pack, much to her private amusement, had chosen to see in the new year in the same room as the restored Black family tapestry.
Though it does make sense, if you look at it logically. The old, the new, and the fusion of both, which is what this night is about. Discussing who we're going to be in the future, in the presence of the physical reminder of our past…
Her thoughts, conveniently enough, curved back into what she'd just been saying.
"There wasn't any hard and fast boundary on this side, not like there was to begin with," she went on, most of the Pack unaware she'd ever paused, though Sirius was watching her closely.
Though he's been doing that ever since I came home to him. Making sure I don't vanish, I suppose.
"You accepted being Aletha as well as Mare, and the memories just…closed the gap?" Danger hazarded. "Became more and more your own, until the two of you were one, the way you were to begin with? Or not exactly, but close enough for Ministry work?"
The cubs all laughed at this, and Aletha smiled. "Something like that," she said. "At first, I had to make a conscious effort to access my old memories. Like remembering a spell you've memorized but haven't practiced. And even then, they weren't fully real, they weren't personal and strong. They weren't…me."
"And yet, they were." Remus had his fingers twined through Danger's hair, tiny flames running down the strands, smoothing the snarls her wild curls tended to pick up over the course of an average day. "Even if you couldn't bring them fully into your consciousness, you felt the familiarity in them. You'd make most of those same choices again, because who you were hadn't changed with the Memory Charm, only what you knew."
"That's right." Aletha winced. "And thank you for putting that 'most' on there. I've had my shining moments of idiocy over the years."
"Who hasn't?" Sirius covered her hand with his. "But the longer you thought about yourself as yourself, warts and all, the closer the memories got. Like practicing that same spell over and over, until you do it without even thinking about it. It's reflex, muscle memory, drilled into you at the deepest levels you've got."
"And once that happened…" Shutting her eyes, Aletha relived that single brilliant moment of realization, in the middle of an everyday Potions lesson, that she was no longer the woman called Mare with the implanted recollections of a witch named Aletha Freeman-Black but both of them at once, her memories running in a single unbroken stream at last. "I may not be perfect, but I am myself. And I'd like to think there's more good than bad in me."
A cold nose against her elbow made her yelp. Wolf had crept up beside her while she was thinking, and was now favoring her with his best soulful green-eyed puppy look.
"Troublemaker." Aletha scratched the back of the dark-furred neck vigorously, earning herself a long-legged, sharp-toothed lap decoration. Meghan, leaning against her other side, batted away Wolf's muzzle as it encroached upon her space. Across the way, the two halves of a furred yin-yang, white and calico curled neatly into one another, lifted their heads to observe their siblings with complacent tolerance. Danger laughed and reached over to stroke both of them, one with each hand.
How could I ever have resisted this?
The sight of her Pack, together and savoring the quiet joy of their den-night, brought another line of thought to Aletha's mind. She tagged it for later discussion with Remus and Danger, privately. It wasn't the sort of thing the cubs should hear.
Not that it would be any great surprise to them, but even in a Pack, some things don't need to be shared.
"Someone else's turn," she said aloud. "Best and worst moments of this past year, and hopes and fears for the year to come…"
"Any wishes for the new year?" George Weasley asked Crystal Huley as they sat together at a table in the Pepper Pot, the rest of the Red Shepherds occupying the other tables around them. The membership of the small group had grown somewhat over the course of the autumn and winter, but even so, the tiny restaurant was far from overcrowded, and George could have named every member without trying hard at all.
But quality's going to beat quantity every time, unless the quantity's ridiculously high. And the more we can expose about what the Death Eaters really think and believe, the better our chances of cutting down their membership, because a movement like theirs only ever gets really wide popular support if it manages to disguise itself behind something like what Grindelwald used to spout—"for the greater good" and all that rubbish—until it's so firmly entrenched that nobody dares to fight it…
"Oh, the usual. Peace on earth, good will towards Muggles, all that sort of thing." Crystal sipped her drink. "But I do have one that's a bit different." She glanced around them. "Can you…" One finger twiddled in a circle. "You know. So nobody hears us."
"Sure thing." George drew his wand and cast a Privacy Spell around them, taking the extra moment to Disillusion it from the outside, so that his brothers and the rest of their cohort would see not a wall of gray smoke but himself and his girlfriend, still chatting about inconsequentials. "What's on your mind?"
"It's a bit delicate. I'm not sure if I can explain it properly." Crystal set down her mug, spinning it back and forth between her hands. "You and Fred, you're close. Well, of course you're close, you're twins, but what's between you goes beyond even that. You've got almost everything in common, most people think you're interchangeable…but you're not." She looked up at him. "Because I'm not in love with Fred. And I am in love with you."
George sat very still, feeling a wave of heat sweep across his face, drawing the corners of his mouth upwards into quite possibly the biggest, most idiotic grin in the world.
And I've seen a few in my time.
"How flattering," Crystal said dryly, but she was smiling. "But I mean it, George. I do love you. And if you love me back—you don't have to say it, I'm not asking, but if you do—then there's something I'd like you to do for me. A piece of your trust I'd like to have, if you're willing to share it."
"I…" George coughed once, clearing the squeakiness out of his voice. "I think I can do that."
"Then tell me your biggest secret." Crystal met his eyes steadily. "Tell me how I can always tell which of you is which. I know there's a way, because I do it every day, but my mind won't let me in on how I'm doing it. And I don't like having to say 'because I just know', because sometime I could be ill, or tired, or Confunded, and I wouldn't 'just know'." She grinned briefly. "I promise not to tell your mum. Or your brothers or Ginny, either. But I want to know for myself."
All these years, brother mine. George smiled ruefully to himself, thinking back over his lifetime of changing places with Fred at will, of using their inborn talents for wreaking havoc to spin all probabilities in their favor, of baffling even their own parents and siblings with ease. All these years, and it's my very Muggle lady-friend who finally susses it out. Who'd have thought?
"All right," he said aloud. "But only because you promised not to tell Mum."
Leaning close, he let her in on the secret, even going so far as to provide a demonstration.
"Goodness." Crystal held up her hands, looking at them closely. "Well, that makes a great deal more sense than it doesn't. But something that big, that obvious—"
"People see what they expect to see," George reminded her. "Besides, we've both trained ourselves to swap at need. But in a pinch, if we're startled or moving too fast to think about it…I'm only glad Mum never did suspect. There aren't many people in the world who scare us, but she's high up on the list."
"She won't hear it from me." Crystal sketched an X on her chest with one finger. "Cross my heart. Or do wizards use something else?"
"Unbreakable Vow." George held out his right hand, and Crystal clasped it with hers, grinning.
"Appropriate," she had time to say, before George took advantage of their respective positions.
The Privacy Spell dissipated to the applause of the rest of the Red Shepherds, with Fred and Danielle leading the chant of "Snog! Snog! Snog! Snog!" in time with Roger and Selena's "Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven…"
No one noticed Percy, near the back of the room, turning his face discreetly away.
"Three…two…one…" Peter Pettigrew snapped his pocket watch shut. "A very Happy New Year to you, my dear lady," he said formally to his companion, bowing to her.
"And to you, good sir," Evanie replied with a deep curtsey, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by her giggle.
Peter laughed in answer and scooped her into a hug, marveling as he always did at the incredible miracle that was this woman and the tiny sanctuary of joy she had carved out for both of them, nestled in the heart of the darkness he'd thought he would never escape.
She gave me back the person I used to dream about being. The man who had a future, had a life beyond scuttling through the shadows, doing what he's told, and hating every minute of it. And someday, if we're both lucky and we stay strong, we might get a chance to have that future, have that life, together.
What more than that could this year bring to me?
"So, now you're going to tell me," he said, setting his wife down and tapping his wand against the side of the bottle he'd slipped away to a Muggle shop to buy a few days earlier. "Why in the world did you insist this be non-alcoholic?"
"After you pour." Evanie caught the cork as it rocketed through the air and laid it on the palm of her hand, smiling secretly. "There's no hurry, you see. We've got quite a few months still to go."
Quite a few…
Peter set the bottle down hastily, just in time, as both his hands, flesh and silver, began to shake uncontrollably.
"When?" he whispered, staring at Evanie's small figure, still so slender but suddenly, impossibly, doubly precious to him. "When?"
"September." Evanie tipped her hand back and forth, letting the cork roll around in the cup of her palm. "I began to suspect a few days ago, and one of the house-elves was able to confirm it for me—"
She broke off in a squeak as Peter snatched her into his arms again, holding her as close as he dared, feeling the rise and fall of her shoulders through his own violent trembling.
How could you do this to me? he wanted to demand, at the same time as he wanted to collapse in a fit of fear, and to laugh hysterically for the wild improbability of it all. How could you—you know perfectly well how frightened I am just for you some days, I can barely make it through what's expected of me for waiting to see if my ring will heat up or cool down, how could you load another person onto my shoulders, someone else for me to care about, to be afraid for—
"Well, then," he said into the brown head resting against his chest. "We'll just have to look into getting a larger room."
Or into doing again what I once did. Only with all the roles reversed, this time. He bared his teeth briefly, as his other form might when cornered. I can never fix what I did in the past, but I can admit that I was wrong, and make new choices, better choices, for our future.
And I refuse to raise my child, our child, in a world containing the Dark Lord—no, containing Voldemort—for one instant longer than necessary.
Bending his head to kiss his wife, Peter Pettigrew never noticed the tremor which ran through his right hand, nor the momentary burst of heat from the wedding band on his left.
Gold is worth more than silver as long as it is true.
A new year, a new start. Or, in a lot of cases, a continuation.
Harry stepped from one tile to the next in the front hallway of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, imagining each step as another task he had to complete over the course of the new calendar year.
Step. Enjoy what's left of my holidays. Hop. Train with Percy and the other Red Shepherds on how to use their Red Roads, so we can train the rest of the DA when we get back to school. Three steps in quick succession. Go on with that same training, and with building Sanctuary, in between classes, Quidditch, and studying up on Horcruxes. A small, careful step. Sneak in a little time for sleep and eating somewhere along the way. Stretched-out, long step, across several tiles at once. Meet with the goblins at the end of the month…
His great-aunt's influence had worked in his favor, as he'd hoped it might, and he and Ginny were due in Gringotts' lobby on the evening of his own half-birthday.
Good thing that's a Friday. Aunt Amy says goblin negotiations can go for hours, even days…
Another step, and a little leap in place. Then comes the Slytherin St. Valentine's Soiree. Harry grinned to himself. Wonder how many people will be expecting what they came up with for it? It's both sides of Slytherin, both good sides of Slytherin—first the traditions, the certainty of ritual, of question and answer where everyone knows what it ought to be, and then later into the night, they'll give us that touch of wickedness, that openness to unconventionality, in pursuit of getting what it is that you truly want.
Harry craned his neck to look up at the speaker, who had appeared on the landing above him. "I'd have more if you'd come down," he said.
Ginny seated herself on the banister. "If you insist," she said, and pushed off.
Laughing, Harry darted up the hall to catch her as she arrived on the ground floor. He spun her once, cutting their momentum, then came to rest with her cradled against him. "Hi," he said, looking down at her.
"Hi yourself." Ginny leaned up to kiss his cheek. "May I get down?"
"On whether you're my Ginevra or her evil sock-stealing boy-snogging trick-doing banister-sliding house-elf twin Virginia."
"Well, you did just pick me off a banister." Ginny made three mystic passes with her free right hand and produced a Knut from thin air. "And I can do plenty of tricks. Like this one." With her left arm, still around Harry's neck, she hoisted herself up in his grasp.
"Takes care of boy-snogging," said Harry a few moments later, a trifle breathlessly. "And I think we can skip the other bits for the moment." He planted a foot on the lowest step and balanced Ginny against it. "So you're real after all. I'd been wondering."
"Yes, Harry, there really is a Virginia." Ginny tapped his nose with the Knut. "And she'd like to know what had her Harry grinning when she first spotted him, as she thought she was the only thing which put that particular look on his face."
"Oh, it was her. Or you. Or both." Harry shrugged. "Whichever. But you, or her, or both, put together with the Slytherin party." He set her on her feet. "Both parts of that as well, really. Formal teas usually aren't much fun, but I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with for dress robes, since I don't think you'll want to wear the same thing then as you will on May Day—"
Ginny snorted. "I should say not. Those have to be new, absolutely new. The shoes, though, those I'll wear ahead of time. That way, they'll already be old by May Day."
"Makes sense. So you'll have something else for St. Valentine's, something pretty, like you always have." Harry slid his fingers into Ginny's hair, thinking of the way Moony had fire-combed Danger's the night before. "Not that you really need anything special to look good, Lynx. Honestly, I like you best in your Quidditch robes, because that's one of the truest yous there is. Fast, strong, sneaky, and dangerous. Prefect or not, you'll probably be captain next year, after…"
"Yes. After." Ginny turned with Harry to look at the photograph of the Pack now hanging on the wall where the portrait of Walburga Black had once held pride of place. Meghan was giggling silently as Padfoot and Moony rocked back and forth the cauldron she'd been photographed inside. Photograph-Harry tossed and caught the Snitch he'd been pictured holding, dodging fiery Bludgers created by Danger and swatted his way by Letha with Danger's wooden spoon as a bat. Hermione had taken over Padfoot's chair and was pointedly ignoring the chaos behind her, her nose buried in The Horse and His Boy.
Standing to one side, the gold captain's C gleaming on his red Quidditch robes, Draco twirled his flute between his fingers, watching his Pack play with a wistful look in his eyes, as though a date engraved in stone had already separated them forever.
"Knut for your thoughts," Ginny murmured after a moment, planting the coin in Harry's palm.
"Nothing you probably aren't thinking yourself." Harry closed his hand around the small disc of bronze, feeling the engravings on it pressing into his skin. "Except that I'm hoping you never have to stand here looking at me that way."
"Seconded." Ginny leaned back against him. "But if we do a good job with the goblins, that'll get less likely. How do you want to handle that, or should we wait until closer to the actual time to talk about it?"
"A little preplanning never hurt." Harry slipped the Knut into his pocket. "Though really, it shouldn't be too hard for either of us. Don't let rudeness rattle us, since goblins do that on purpose, to see if they can get a rise out of wizards—answer back whatever we get with more of the same, manners with manners, bluntness with bluntness—"
"No lies," Ginny added. "Not out-and-out lies, anyway. Telling part of the truth, playing with words, seeming to say one thing but actually saying another, goblins respect all of that, because they think if you're not clever enough to see through it, then you deserve what you get. But an outright lie, or even stating something you're not sure about and later having it fall through, will lose you their confidence forever."
"And if we're not sure about something, or we don't know it, or we've been told not to tell it, we can say so, because they understand all those things." Harry slid a finger along his pendant chain. "Though they might be a bit surprised that we do, because they think of wizards as completely undisciplined, without any structure or order in their lives. Doing whatever they want, whenever they want, answering to no one and nothing."
"Clearly they have never met my mum." Ginny twitched an eyebrow at Harry. "Or yours. Either of them."
"Yes, speaking of which." Harry sat down on the step, Ginny seating herself beside him. "How're we supposed to handle the goblin girl? Woman, female, whatever—" He pounded the step lightly in frustration. "How am I supposed to talk to her when I don't even know the right word?"
"You might try her name," Ginny suggested lightly. "I'm guessing she'll have one."
"Yes, but how do you know she'll give it out? I'm a wizard, remember. Proper goblin girls don't talk to the likes of me."
"Then we ask the goblin man if we can be introduced to his companion, and go from what he tells us." Ginny tweaked a strand of Harry's hair between her fingers. "Direct and honest, remember? We don't know what's right and what's wrong, so we ask. It should impress them."
"From your mouth to the Founders' ears." Harry glanced upwards and coughed significantly, then leaned forward to give some attention to the part of his girlfriend he had named.
A mental wolf-whistle just as they were getting to the good part nearly made both of them choke.
"Very funny, Alex," Ginny muttered against Harry's lips.
That wasn't me! protested Alex's mind-voice. That was Paul!
"Oh, I beg your pardon. Very funny, Paul."
Thank you, thank you very much, said the only son of Godric Gryffindor in a near-perfect imitation of the voice Harry had used during his brief acting career in his fourth year.
Ron, coming downstairs to see where Ginny had got to, found both his alphas rolling on the tiles of the front hallway, helpless with laughter.
"Well, here we are," said Remus, shutting the library door and flicking an Imperturbable Charm onto it before sitting down at the table with his wife and Pack-sister. "So what is this good news and bad news you have for us?"
"Start with the bad news," Danger added. "That way, we'll hear the worst of it first, wail and weep and tear our hair, and then we can be cheered up by the good news."
Aletha laughed. "It doesn't work quite like that, not with this set, but if you insist." She opened the folder she had carried into the room with her. "The bad news is: it would almost undoubtedly kill you. Remus, that is."
"I would tend to consider that fairly bad news, yes." Remus twined his hand with Danger's. "As I have quite a number of reasons to go on living these days. So what could possibly be the good news to go with that?"
Turning her folder around, Aletha pushed it across the table towards them. "Something you've both wanted for as long as I've known you," she said. "A way for you to have children, born children, of your own."
Danger perked up, peering at the parchments inside the folder. "Just how deadly are we talking here?" she said.
Remus released her hand and pointedly hitched his chair several inches away from her, making both women laugh. "A good question, though," he said when they were finished, returning to his place beside his wife and joining her in perusing the reports and articles Aletha had culled in her research. "You said 'almost' undoubtedly…"
"In the same way that falling out of a high window without a wand would 'almost' undoubtedly kill you." Aletha sat back in her chair, running over the information in her mind as she watched her Pack-siblings taking it in. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, or even more than that, you'd die."
"But if I remember the story right about a certain Pridemate of our cubs', there's just the slightest chance you might bounce." Remus was sitting back now as well, his eyes shut, Danger's swirling with equal parts blue and brown. "What would the equivalent be here?"
"Honestly, I don't know. It's why I wasn't certain I should tell you about this yet, but at least it is progress, even if it's not quite what I was hoping for." Aletha drew her wand and sketched an outline of a human body in the air above the table. "The problem is limiting the spread of the potions I'd have to use." Another flick of her wand highlighted the portion of the body most directly affected. "There's no way to safely reroute the blood flow around this area without irreparable harm to some very delicate tissues, both there and elsewhere, but allowing it to continue would spread the potion throughout your body. Which, as I said, would kill you." She shrugged. "I suppose I could use a Stasis Spell, but that stops all change, including the one I'd be trying to make. The only way I could really see to do it effectively…"
"Yes?" Danger said, looking up when the pause had gone on for several seconds.
"Please note, I'm not advocating it here." Aletha scratched absently at her left elbow. "But I might be able to make these changes safely on a body which was already dead."
"How glad I am she took the time to state she's not advocating it," Remus remarked to thin air, then returned his attention to Aletha. "And would you mind telling me what the point would be, in that case? I somehow doubt I would have the capability to appreciate this particular new ability of mine, if the condition you have mentioned applied to me…"
Aletha shook her head at him. "You weren't listening. I said, on a body which was dead. By which I mean, heart not beating, blood not flowing. That would isolate the potion very nicely, and if I worked quickly, I could have everything finished inside two minutes. Which is well within the limit most Healers recognize."
"Recognize for…" Danger stopped, her eyes widening. "Of course. Of course. If only the body has stopped working, if the mind is still undamaged, the soul still present—even Muggles can do that much, I learned the basics in school when I was sixteen! Restart a person's heart, get them breathing again—"
"It's still a risk," Aletha pointed out. "Quite a large one, even with magic. But yes, I do think it would work. As you said, Danger, Muggles have the capability for that as well—would you believe one of the cubs' yearmates is living proof?"
"Oh?" Remus sounded politely inquisitive, but Aletha could hear in his abstracted undertone that his thoughts were working at lightning speed. Though he would remember her words, he was not truly hearing them at the moment, simply using them as a way to keep the top layer of his mind busy while the rest of him considered this new information.
The way I'll play over a piece of music I already know very well, when I'm trying to work out the precise proportions of ingredients for a new potion. Or, alternately, brew something common and much-needed, like burn salve or Pepper-Up Potion, when I'm thinking over how a new bit of music should sound…
"Yes, I found it in the St. Mungo's records while I was researching," she went on, watching as Remus's hands moved idly back and forth, as though he were already writing out his ideas on a scroll. "Obviously, I can't give you a name, but I can tell you it's a Muggleborn girl, about their age, who fell into a swimming pool when she was three years old. Her father was able to get her lungs emptied, get her breathing again, her heart restarted, but the doctors all told them it was hopeless, she'd been under too long, she would never recover, never wake up…"
"And instead, she woke up magical." Danger laughed. "I do love happy endings."
"What was it doing in the St. Mungo's records, if she's Muggleborn?" Remus asked, blinking out of his trance. "Unless she has magical relatives from somewhere else."
"No, it was a follow-up visit, after her Hogwarts letter had come. Her parents wanted to be perfectly sure she didn't have any lingering issues."
"Makes sense to me." Danger nodded. "They'd want to take advantage of everything they could to make sure their daughter could enjoy her new life."
She looked over at Remus, her eyes whirling with color again. He returned the look for a long moment, after which they both sighed in unison.
"Thank you for telling us, Letha," Remus said, standing up and coming around the table to embrace her. "It's a bit unsettling to think about, and certainly nothing I want to try while the war's still going on, but it's a place to begin, isn't it?"
"And that's better than what we had yesterday, or the day before," Danger added, waiting until Remus finished before bestowing her own hug on Aletha. "Or all the days, and years, before that." She shook her head as Aletha let her go. "What's the matter with me, anyway? A Pack like ours ought to be enough for any sensible woman…"
Remus and Aletha traded a long look of their own.
Danger whirled. "I heard that, Remus John Lupin! I'll deal with you later," she snapped over her shoulder to Aletha, then spun back to face Remus, transforming as she went. Moony the lion was already most of the way out the door by the time wolf-Danger's paws hit the carpet.
Aletha chuckled under her breath, stacking her parchments back in their folder as the crashes and growling began in the hallway. "And thus ends another calm, adult discussion among Packmates," she said. "Why did I want to come back to this again?"
Oh, that's right. Because as mad as it inevitably becomes, it's also the most fun I've ever had.
With a happy sigh, she strolled out of the room to watch the battle.
"So how do they work?" asked Ron, peering at the bit of floor which looked a bit different than the rest of the boards. To someone with normal eyes, like the rest of the Pride, currently also observing the Pepper Pot's entrance to the Red Roads, he knew it would be a bright shade of scarlet, but to his modified sight, it appeared…the best way he could describe it was "shiny".
English doesn't have words for this sort of thing. Might have to make up my own…
"Well, it started as a tap into the Muggle collective consciousness of roads, with sufficient Cheering Charms to counteract the general gloominess found there." Percy glanced across the Pepper Pot's back room at Crystal, who was doing something fancy with ink and parchment. "Present company excepted, of course, but Muggles seem rather a dreary lot overall."
"Why do you think I was so happy to come play in your world?" Crystal blew on her parchment. "You've got your own troubles, but at least you believe there's something you can do about them. Most Muggles seem to believe everything's a bit useless and everybody's got a nasty streak a mile wide. Including themselves."
"Lovely," commented Ginny. "So you took the way Muggles think about roads, Cheered it up a lot, and then what?"
"Combined it with the basic theory behind an Undetectable Extension Charm." Percy held his hands about six inches apart. "The spell which is used to create what's often called wizardspace. The sort of thing Dad did on the seats and boot of our car, or your godfather's family, Harry, on his townhouse."
"Bigger on the inside than the outside." Harry grinned briefly. "And it's not even a police box."
Crystal choked at this. Percy looked baffled, but went on. "Roughly, that's correct. So it occurred to me, if we can make something small larger by magic, why couldn't we make something large smaller? Or, more precisely, something long shorter?"
"So if I walk along the Roads, I can get anywhere that Muggle roads go, but a lot faster than I'd get there, even by car?" Hermione edged a foot towards the shiny boards, but pulled it back before it broached the line. "What does it feel like, when you're riding on them?"
"Ever been to an airport?" Crystal asked, looking up. "Or is that a stupid question?"
Hermione grinned. "Actually, we all have," she said, indicating herself and the Pack's other cubs. "We flew to America to visit our Aunt Amy when we were about seven."
"Excellent." Crystal skimmed her hand along the table's surface. "Think of the people movers they've got there." She pointed at Harry and Draco. "Those two probably tried to walk against the motion and tripped each other up, and your parents had to stop them from tripping other people as well."
Meghan giggled, as did Hermione and Ginny. Luna regarded Draco curiously. "Did you?" she asked. "It seems like the sort of thing you would have done."
"He did," Hermione recovered enough to say. "And it's a little sad that you knew that, just from knowing them now," she said to Crystal.
"I may not have brothers, but I have a boy cousin or two, and I've had friends who're boys all my life." Crystal leaned back in her chair. "I know what boys get up to."
"In any case," said Percy in a tone which suggested he wasn't quite sure how he'd lost control of the conversation, "because we're using the theoretical underpinnings of the Undetectable Expansion Charm, but not the exact incantation of the Charm itself, we won't run into the spaces that other wizards have borrowed over the centuries—we're starting fresh, in a space all our own. The space where the Red Roads run is similar to, but not exactly congruent with, the roads in the Muggle world that each individual Red Road is named after…" He stopped, seeing the same glazed look on most of the Pride's faces that Ron could feel on his own. Hermione was nodding eagerly, Draco frowning in concentration, and Ginny was chewing on a bit of her hair as she did when she was thinking her hardest, but Harry, Neville, Meghan, and Luna all looked as baffled as Ron felt.
Though with Luna, you can't tell—she always looks like that.
"While you're traveling on the Red Roads, you won't be physically in the same place as all the cars using the Muggle roads," Percy tried again. "Though you'll be following the same line of travel, and you might see them as…images, I suppose. Translucent, rather ghostly in appearance. Or they might see you, in the same way." He paused, apparently struck by a thought. "I wonder if this, or something like it, is the source of some of the more ridiculous ghost stories Muggles like to tell?"
"I suppose it could be, but there's no way to tell." Crystal blew on her parchment once more, then got up and came over to the shiny square of floor, holding out what she'd made for Percy to see. "What do you think?"
"That'll do." Percy drew his wand and Stuck the parchment to the wall, then traced the little rune Ron knew well, the one that made anything dark on a flat surface glow with just enough heat that he could see it.
He never forgets to do that for me. Fred and George do sometimes, Mum every now and again, even Ginny or Neenie or the rest of the Pride have once or twice, but Percy never does.
The knowledge buoyed Ron as Hermione's sharing her eyes with him had once done. Not even his reading of the sign, as he could now see it was meant to be, could deflate his good mood.
WELCOME TO THE RED ROADS
Please respect your neighbor!
Keep to the left at all times.
No running, no horseplay, and
ABSOLUTELY no broomsticks!
Harry's hands wove in patterns as soon as Percy had turned away. Going to need some new lines on there if Padfoot and Moony ever try these out, Ron translated, and snickered under his breath.
Fred and George too, he signed back. Want to set them up against each other? Old Marauders versus new?
Maybe if there wasn't a war on. Harry grimaced. Snakeface ruins all our fun.
Which is why you need to kill him. Ron glanced at the rest of the Pride, who nodded in agreement. We'll help.
Thanks. Harry grinned reluctantly. I appreciate that.
"So," said Crystal, coming back from the table where she'd been tidying up her inks. "Who's for a run on the Red Roads?"
Next time, more Sanctuary, possibly Quidditch, Apparition lessons, and goblins! But now, for something completely different…
As I type, I am uploading the files for Homecoming, the very first Dangerverse-based Anne B. Walsh original novel! It is available right now on Smashwords for $4.99, in all major e-book formats, and should be available on Amazon for the same price within 24 hours. Paper copies will be on presale on the Etsy shop within an hour, and through Amazon by the end of the week.
Seven sample chapters of Homecoming are available on my Fictionpress account (username is AnneBWalsh, if you couldn't guess), and here is the description. Please enjoy!
For this Cinderella, midnight is only the beginning...
Avani of Shroca has never danced at a ball, in glass slippers or any other kind. Her world is her bad-tempered cousins' kitchen, and her only pleasure her escapes to the nearby forest, though she must be back by midnight or she risks being found out. One night near the beginning of autumn, she overstays her time, and her world changes.
Overnight, Vani is transformed from a cinderwench to a Duke's pampered daughter, courted by the King of Anosir himself. Her only worry now should be the far-off unrest of the kingdom's non-human races. But as she knows, what should be, is not always.
Though Vani makes friends among the young nobles, her truest help comes from her teachers in music and magic, a palace cook, and a storytelling woodcarver, who guide her as her parents have not. What will she do when the King's laws threaten her mentors?
Vani's destiny seems determined to give her a fairy-tale ending, when nothing could be further from her wishes. Will she be able to trick her fate into allowing her a true Homecoming?
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